PASCHIMOTTANASANA (BACK STRETCHING POSE) – Stages

Stage 1: starting position

Sit on the floor with the legs stretched out in front of the body. Place your hands on the knees, palms facing downwards. Relax the whole body, especially the back muscles. This is the starting position.

Stage 2: forward movement

Breathe in deeply. Then, while exhaling, slowly bend your head and trunk forwards. As you move forwards, slide your hands along the legs towards the feet. Don’t bend your legs. Bend forwards as far as the flexibility of your back will allow. Don’t strain under any circumstances. The aim is to hold your big toes with the fingers and to touch your forehead to the knees; however many people, especially beginners, will find this impossible at present. Merely bend forwards as far as you are able. If possible, grasp your big toes with your hands. If you cannot manage this, hold your feet at the heels. Otherwise grasp your ankles. If this is impossible, hold your calves. Stay in this position. Consciously relax your back muscles again.

Stage 3: accentuation of forward stretch for beginners

Those people who can easily grasp their feet or toes and who touch, or nearly touch, their forehead to their knees should proceed directly to stage 4. Breathe in deeply. As you breathe out, try to gently pull your back a little further forwards; you should only use your arms to do this, allowing the back muscles to remain passive. Don’t use excessive force or try to bend too far forwards; even a few centimetres forward movement of your head is more than adequate. Make sure you firmly maintain your grip on the legs, feet or toes. Keep your legs perfectly straight – this is important. Hold this slightly accentuated forward bend. Breathe in. Breathe out and again try to gently but firmly pull your back and head a little further forwards in the direction of your knees and feet. Don’t strain. Breathe in while holding this position. Repeat the same procedure once more. Then beginners should breathe in while slowly raising their back to the starting position. After a short rest repeat the whole procedure again.

Stage 4: final pose

This stage is to be done by those people who have a supple back; that is, people who can place, or nearly place, their head on the knees. The aim is to gradually elongate the back muscles and stretch the whole spine by gently pulling the head further towards the feet. Gaze at your feet. Make sure that you have a firm grip of the toes or feet. Relax your whole back. Exhale and gently pull your chin towards the feet. Keep your legs straight. Remember, the stretch of the back should be applied by the arms, while the back remains passive. If you are holding your big toes, then bend your arms downwards and try to touch the floor with the elbows. If you are holding your heels, then bend your arms sideways. Don’t try to pull your head too far forwards. At the end of exhalation hold the new position. Slowly breathe in. Then while exhaling, again gently pull your head a little nearer to the feet. Hold the position and breathe in again. Repeat this procedure three or four times, until your head will no longer move forwards.

Then relax your arms and the rest of your body, but maintain the grip of your hands on the feet or toes. Rest your forehead or face on your legs. In this position, the abdomen and chest should press against the thighs and the legs should be straight. Close your eyes. This is the final pose.

Breathe slowly and deeply. Stay in the final pose for a comfortable length of time. Then breathe in while slowly returning to the starting position.

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