Paschimottanasana Seated Forward Bend Pose

Many men suffer from back pain—in particular, pain in the lower back. Paschimottanasana, commonly referred to as "Seated Forward Bend Pose," is one of the best asanas that you can perform to help relieve back pain, especially lower back pain. Back pain is often caused by tight hamstring muscles, an important muscle group that runs along the entire length of the backs of the thighs. For many men, the hamstrings are among the tightest (that is, most contracted) muscles in the body. Seated Forward Bend Pose helps to relax and stretch the muscles all along the entire length of the spine and the backs of the legs. When properly performed, it is an excellent pose for sciatica. In addition, it helps to stimulate the organs in the abdominal cavity, thus promoting digestion and elimination.

Come to a seated position on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, parallel to one another. Sit on your buttocks with your upper body in a 90-degree angle to the floor. If this position is uncomfortable for you, place a blanket or folded towel under your sit-bones. Make sure that your buttocks are securely resting on the floor or the padded support you've selected. Use your hands to grasp the flesh of your buttocks to pull the fleshy tissue away from your sit-bones. Feel that your sit-bones are resting firmly on the floor. To increase your preparedness for the posture, press the palms of your hands directly on the floor outside of your buttocks as you lift your back and head up into a straight vertical position.

As you inhale, lift your arms overhead, parallel to one another and in line with your ears. As you exhale, slowly hinge forward from the groin. Do your best not to round or arch your back, and don't try to touch your feet or legs yet. Maintain your stretch in this position for several breaths. Deepen the stretch by folding from the hip joints. Feel as though your groin area and the creases between the pelvis and your hips form a hinge and your torso is folding forward from this hinge. Keep your back as straight as possible as you fold and reach forward. Feel as though someone is pulling on your fingertips, lengthening your entire back.

On an exhalation, allow your body to fold completely forward. Use your hands to grasp your heels, toes, balls of your feet, arches of the feet, ankles, shins, or even just your knees or thighs—wherever you are able to reach most comfortably. Maintain this full stretch for several complete deep breaths. With each inhalation, feel yourself lengthening forward. With each exhalation, feel your torso coming even closer to your legs. Be kind and understanding to yourself. Accept your body wherever it may be in terms of flexibility and stretching capacity. With practice, your stretch should deepen even further. With each breath, feel life and energy circulating into your back, legs, and throughout your entire body. If you feel any areas of particular tension or holding, allow your breath to travel there. To help support you in this pose, you might try wrapping a belt, strap, or towel around your feet and holding the strap or whatever support you've chosen with both your hands to stretch forward more comfortably.

Paschimottanasana is often referred to as a pose of surrender. Allow yourself to surrender and release. Let go. Let go of any holding you may have—especially in your lower back. In Asian thought, the back is associated with the West, which represents our past. Paschimottanasana literally means "Intense Stretch of the West." Often, in the tension we carry in our backs we are carrying a lifetime of physical and psychological traumas. Let go of whatever you are holding onto. Abandon yourself into the pose.

To come out of Seated Forward Bend Pose, raise your upper body up away from your thighs as you straighten your arms and raise them overhead. Come back to sit securely on your sit-bones as you release your arms down alongside your body.

Close your eyes and take a few moments to feel the effects that Seated Forward Bend Pose has had on you—body, mind, and spirit.

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