This is a restorative version of a common yoga pose. Forward folds are helpful for turning attention inward and for instilling a sense of calm. They can help to ease anxiety and improve digestion. However the traditional version of Paschimottanasa, done without any props, is difficult to perform properly and may even cause injury. This restorative version of the pose will decrease the risk and increase the benefits.
Muscles Stretched: Hamstrings, gastrocnemius, erector spinae
Points of Body Awareness:
*Before folding forward, ground the legs by pulling the gluteals out toward the sides. This will help you to better feel your 'sit bones' and it will encourage internal rotation of the hips.
*Feel the thigh bones rolling inward. Let the weight of the bolster help to support this inward rotation.
*All seated forward bends should be done with a sense of lengthening of the lower back.
*Do not fold forward from the waist, instead initiate the movement from the hips and move the belly toward the thighs.
*With each inhalation, lengthen the torso. As you exhale, allow yourself to let go more deeply into the pose.
*Do you feel the sternum move away from the pubic bone as you inhale? If not, try to elevate the hips more or support the head up higher as described below.
*Become aware of the back body. Feel the ribs move up toward the ceiling with the inhalation. Feel them move back down toward the center of the body with the exhalation.
*Thick connective tissue called the thoracolumbar fascia connects the back of the lower ribcage to the back of the pelvis. Notice if you can feel a slight stretch of this fascia with inhalations and a sense of release with exhalations.
*Remain in this pose for at least 10 breaths or up to 5 minutes.
Use folded blankets to elevate the hips. Sit on the folded edge. Use as many blankets as you need to allow the pelvis to tip forward.
For a less intense variation of this pose, sit in front of a chair or bench with the legs underneath. Place the forehead on the seat of the chair, either on the back of the hands or on a folded blanket or other soft surface.
The traditional version of Paschimottanasa can be very difficult to perform correctly and can place great strain on the spine. Therefore it is not recommended for anyone with acute back injuries such as herniated discs (HNPs), vertebral body fractures, or ligament sprains. Traditional Seated Forward Fold should not be used for the goal of increasing hamstring length because there are better stretches that isolate the hamstrings without risking back injury.(See Reclined Hand-Foot Pose for a good hamstring stretch)
However the restorative versions of Seated Forward Fold can be good for those with tightness or spasm in the errector spinae muscles. It can help to ease stress and anxiety which can sometimes be related to back pain. It is also a useful pose for practicing calming breathing techniques. Supported Seated Forward Fold may be tolerable for those with chronic conditions worsened by spinal flexion (HNP, osteoporosis, SI joint instability) if approached slowly and modified to limit the degree of spinal flexion.
Images from Smart Now and Examiner.