The seated forward bend, aka Paschimottanasana.
Benefits of this stretch include lengthening the spine and hamstring muscles and reducing stress.
1. Begin by sitting on the floor and rooting your sit bone toward the earth with your legs stretched in front of you. Keep your knees face up, heels firmly on the ground, flex your feet and spread your toes.
2. Lengthen your spine, and maintain a strong core by tightening your abdominal muscles. Bend your left knee and bring the heel as close to your groin as possible (shown in photo at top). Keep your shoulders level and line your fingers alongside your right leg. As you take a big inhale, gently fold forward over the straight leg.
3. Allow your breaths to lead, so you can fold deeper with each breath. For a deeper pose, you can extend the left arm out to reach for the outside of the right foot or just outside your right shin. At this point, you may feel that your left side is longer than the right.
Rest your right hand fingertips on the floor and raise the elbow. Push your shoulders away from your ears and pull the shoulder blades toward each other (see photo below). This action keeps both sides of your body equally lengthened and helps maintain a flat back and square shoulders.
4. Take 5 to 10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
5. Once you’ve done both sides, bring both legs straight in front of you. Keep your heels down, feet flexed and curl your toes toward your face. Push your inner thighs toward the floor. Lengthen the spine, lift your upper chest and maintain a strong core.
6. Take a deep breath and begin to fold forward (the end position is shown above at right).
The intention of this pose is not just to reach for your toes with your fingers by rounding your back.
Rather, maintain a flat back and lengthened spine. Imagine you are folding yourself like a book by hinging at the waist and bringing your belly to touch your thighs.
Keep your back flat and shoulders squared. In the beginning, you may only be able to fold half way. But no matter what your flexibility level is, you should already feel the intensity of the stretch by just maintaining the correct posture and techniques.
Disclaimer: Do not begin any physical activity described in this column without prior approval from your health care professional.
Paula Liu, a yoga instructor at Shula’s Athletic Club in Miami Lakes, demonstrates the seated forward bend pose with one bent leg. Photos by Megan Jacobo, The Miami Laker.