Paschimottanasana: The Forward Bend
Paschima means “the West”, referring to the back of the body. This asana stretches from the heels to the top of the spine and encourages the life force energy to flow to every part of the body.
Step by Step
1. Sit upright with your legs straight and feet together. Stretch your heels and pull the flesh of your buttocks out from beneath you, so that you are directly on the sitting bones.
2. Take a few deep breaths
3. Stretch your arms above your head with the palms facing each other. Lengthen your spine and lift up out of your hips.
4. Exhale and stretch your arms towards your feet. Fold forward from the pelvis, leading with the chest and keeping your back straight.
5. Bring your chest towards your thighs, taking care not to bend from the middle of your spine.
6. Hold on to whatever part of the legs you can comfortably reach with out bending your knees or rounding your back. If possible grip the big toes of the feet with the first two fingers and thumbs of both hands. Bring your elbows to the floor.
7. To release, exhale and slowly return to the starting position.
Practice Tips: Don’t try to force your head to your knees as this will curve the spine. Instead, aim to bring the torso as far forward as possible, while keeping knees and spine straight.
A Few Benefits: Stretches hamstrings and increases flexibility in the hips, tones and massages abdominal organs, removes fat, invigorates nervous system
Caution: Respect your body’s limitations and inner wisdom, if something feels wrong, please do not do it. Avoid during pregnancy or if you have a slipped disc.
“This is the most excellent of all asanas... stimulates the gastric fire, makes the loins lean and removes all the diseases of men” - Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevendandacomes highly recommended for deeper study.
Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) is an ancient yoga practice which flows through 12 positions and a wonderful way to start the day. Discover the deep benefits as you ignite your inner sun!
With my feet firmly grounded, rooted to the earth, I stand tall with my hands in prayer. With gratitude and thanks, I offer humble respects to the source of all life, Surya (the sun). I am fully aware of my existence; I listen to the wisdom of my body, this pure vibrating mass of energy. I listen to the voice of my breath, the breath of life as it carries me from one position to another, evolving from the lower states of consciousness to the seat of the soul. My mind is a silent witness and fully present as I effortlessly move through the sequence, beginning where I shall end, without expectation just complete surrender to the flow and cycle of life… moving beyond the mind, through time and space… the journey begins.
I face the sun, feeling love and joy in my heart. I reach out and upwards, looking to the sky, I slowly arch back and let the sun fill me with warmth. Bending backwards, I open my heart to receive the dawn of a new day and the fruits it will bring.
I bow before the sun’s radiance; tension in my body begins to melt away and I give myself permission to let go, let go. My leg lunges backwards, opening and freeing my hips allowing me to step forward freely in life. I face the sky feeling the light of life between my eyebrows. Holding my breath, the life-force intensifies like a blazing fire in the core of my being; I am straight as a stick, feeling strong, centred and present. Deeply exhaling, I softly place my forehead to the ground in humble respect, and duly remember that to achieve great heights, I must be as the dust of the earth.
The rhythm of the breath carries me; my body’s wisdom intuitively knows its direction of travel. Tension becomes less; I greet the serene face of freedom and grace in each movement. Resistance and tension are now but a distant memory. As I stretch up towards the light, the clouds have now dispersed… there is only clarity, serenity and illumination. Now the cycle is complete, I am back where I started from, yet something has changed. Again, I stand tall as I remember: the true sun is within me.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) is a traditional form of sun worship that can be traced back to the Vedas (a body of sacred texts originating in ancient India). Worship of the sun was one of man’s first and most natural forms of adoration; many ancient traditions worshipped the sun as a symbol of health and immortality. Surya Namaskar is a graceful sequence of twelve positions performed as one continuous flow. Each position complements the other, flexing and stretching the spinal column and limbs, expanding and contracting the chest, synchronising the breath with each flowing movement. Each of the twelve positions has its own mantra, celebrating aspects of the sun’s divinity. By practising the sequence regularly, we can overcome the signs of ageing, increase flexibility, and lead a happy, contented and joyful life.
Stand with the feet together, heels and big toes touching. Centre your body weight evenly and keep your chin parallel to the floor. Standing tall, arms relaxed at the sides of your body, feel that you are being pulled upwards through the top of your head. Maintain a comfortable upright position and become aware of the whole body as you mentally offer homage to the sun.
Practise one round first leading with the right foot (as in positions 4 and 9) and the second round leading with the left. Always complete both right and left sides. Start with four rounds and gradually increase up to twelve. Respect your body’s capabilities and do not strain. Not suitable during pregnancy (unless with modifications). Practise daily with devotion, humility and prayerful contemplation of the divine power the sun represents. Reflect on the sun as a symbol of the light of love, knowledge, wisdom and understanding that resides within our heart and soul. Mantras don't need to be included but are a beautiful addition to your practice.
To celebrate International Yoga Day and the Summer Solstice, we will be taking the Surya 108 challenge. 108 is an auspicious number in the yogic tradition and performing 108 sun salutations is beneficial on so many levels! The practice is both physically challenging (it takes around an hour or so to complete the full sequence!) and is spiritually uplifting. Please do join us! For full information and advance tickets please visit http://www.yogaprema.org/yogathon-surya-108.html or if you can't make it, maybe donate here and support your fellow yogis.
All proceed to Sri Radhey Seva Trust Charity
Lila Conway founded Yoga Prema in 2008 and has 19 years of teaching experience. Lila is inspired to share the wisdom and joy of yoga from the heart. She teaches weekly yoga classes, workshops, meditation & yogic study courses, international yoga retreats and yoga teacher training in India and Glastonbury, UK.