WEST STRETCH POSE (Pashchimottanasana)


Contraindications: asthma, diarrhea, back injury.  Sciatica - perform only with bent knees.

How to perform: Begin sitting on the floor with the legs stretched straight out in front of you. Position the pelvis at a right angle to the legs and vertically extend the spine. If you cannot do this, elevate the hips with a folded blanket/a firm cushion under the buttocks. Feet and legs should be active, knees facing up. On inhalation raise the arms overhead, stretching upwards. Exhale and while keeping the spine long, tilt the pelvis forward to stretch forwards from the hip joints, not the waist. Take hold of the ankles or toes. If it's not possible, loop a strap around the foot soles, finding the distance that keeps your elbows straight. Once you are fully in the forward bend (it may take years to accomplish!) you can clasp your hands around the soles of the feet, or turn the back of one hand to the soles and grip the wrist with the other hand.

Variation A with straight knees:

Because of tightness in the back of the legs, a beginner's forward bend might look more like sitting up straight - it's no problem at all! With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly, with each exhalation release the tightness wherever you feel it, noticing that you are able to go slightly deeper, maybe just a micro-movement. When your limit is reached, relax, holding the posture steadily, with deep breathing for 6-12 breaths. As soon as you feel the space between your pubis and sternum shortening, stop, lift up slightly, and lengthen again. Feel the breath opening both the front and back of the spine, and creating expansion of the torso's sides. When you are able to go deeper, you will touch the lower belly to the thighs first, then the upper belly, then the ribs, and the head will lower last.

Variation B with bent knees (if in variation A, tight hamstrings prohibited the spine's stretch):

If the pose is felt predominantly in the hamstrings, bend the knees and lengthen through the spine, reaching the chest towards the knees, and finding a position that allows you to stretch the lower back rather than the hamstrings. Keeping the openness in the front and back of the body, allow the torso to move down towards the top of the thighs on exhalations. Hold for 6-12 deep breaths.

To come up, first straighten the elbows if they are bent. Then inhale and lift the torso up, arms raised over the head, exhale and release your arms down.

Do not force yourself - it is not important how far forward you bend, but how straight your spine is. Much of the stiffness you will feel in this pose is owing to tension in muscles that need to be relaxed rather than pushed hard.

Do draw the kneecaps up to engage the thigh muscles as you lengthen through the legs by pressing out through the heels. Relax the shoulder blades down the back and lengthen the neck, aligning the head with the spine.

Benefits: This is an excellent stretch for the muscles of the back, pelvis, and legs which also tractions and lengthens the whole spine. Stimulates the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, ovaries, and uterus. Relieves the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort, cures impotency and leads to sex control. Allows full breathing in the back of the lungs. Calms the brain, relieves stress and mild depression, and soothes headache and anxiety. Therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, respiratory and kidney problems, insomnia, and sinusitis.




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