The Benefits of Supports and Counter Posing in Paschimottanasana

The Hatha yoga pose Sitting-forward Bend, or Paschimottanasana, need not illicit a groan of displeasure from the class when it is given by the teacher.

The groans come from the fact that, although it is a simple pose,  it challenges students with tight hamstrings (which is most people). However, it can be done with supports to make it more enjoyable.

A folded mat or thin pillow under the tailbone, plus, a rolled up blanket or bolster cushion under the knees, make good supports for Sitting-forward Bend.

Keep the spine erect, allowing the energy summoned while doing the pose to move out the top of the head. Flex the feet so the toes are pointing toward the ceiling, or if this feels too tight at first, the toes can point toward the wall. In micro movements, straighten the spine and lean forward from the hips. Stage by stage bring your face toward your knees, but try not to curl the neck and spine. Only go as far as feels right to you, creating a circuit is all that matters and this can be achieved by touching the toes or knees with the fingers.

Supports are not intended to be an easy way out. They were first brought into popularity by the great yogi Iyengar, who still teaches in India, as a way for anyone, irregardless of the condition of his or her body, to achieve correct posture. To achieve correct posture in yoga means the ability to truly to let go of tension and doubt, a precursor to the ability to relax/expand the entire consciousness.

The image behind the Sanskrit word Paschimottanasana is of the setting sun (Intense Stretch to the West). Use the visualization of the sun lowering on the horizon to guide your movements, and ask yourself as you fold toward the front part of your legs, “how can I enter my inner self more comfortably?”.

Ask yourself, Where is my peace?

Most poses work only certain muscles groups and joints, and so it is a good idea to include a counter pose, or equalizing stretch, at the end of each of the main asanas in your session. This practice brings more completion to movements. It keeps the energy moving in a circle as opposed to moving in one direction only.  If you have ever taken a yoga class you will be familiar with a similar concept to this – as teachers have surely taught you from the beginning to “do one side and then the other”. It’s all karma really:

Every action has an opposite and equal reaction

All students can benefit from adding counter poses to their routines. An excellent counter pose for Paschimottanasa is Purvotanasana.

Translated, Purvotanasana means Intense Stretch to the East, and can also be referred to as  Reversed Chatturanga (push-up). Come out of Paschimottanasana by grounding your hands into the mat in a position that is comfortable on your wrists, and rise up through the chest, lifting the buttocks, using your heels for support. Tuck in your tailbone, and protect your neck. The neck can be held straight if letting it lay backwards is too advanced. The ultimate neck protection for beginners is to tuck the chin to the chest.

If this heel-to-floor variation of Purvotanasana is too much, point the toes down so the feet are laying as flat as possible on the mat.

Either foot position is fine. Keep breathing and go back and forth between Paschimottanasana and Purvotanasana once you become more adept at both poses. The image behind Purvotanasana is of the rising sun. While in the asana ask yourself… What is the source of my divine light? Flowing movements will increase the heart rate, so be sure to cool down slowly after finishing any sequence of moves.

Take time when you are through to quietly observe while sipping some water:

  • increased circulation
  • feelings of exhilaration
  • loosened shoulders
  • draining tension
  • deeper breathing


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