Paschimottanasana, or "Seated Forward Bend" (Fig. YPS.6, page 125), is one of the best overall stretches for the back and the hamstrings—the long, often tense, muscles that run along the entire length of the back of the upper leg. In this posture, you will assume the position for Seated Forward Bend and execute the posture while your partner assists you in deepening your stretch.
Sit on the floor with your trunk, neck, and head erect with your legs straight out in front of you, touching. Place the palms of your hands firmly pressing into the ground at your sides to ensure that you are sitting as straight as possible. In turn, gently lift each of your buttocks off the floor as you use your hands to spread the tissue in the gluteal area away from the midline of the body: This will help you to sit as directly as possible on your sit-bones. Raise you arms overhead. As you exhale, slowly lower your arms toward your feet. Take hold of your feet or legs with your hands at whatever point you are able to reach most comfortably. Try not to round your back, but rather fold at your hip creases, like a hinge. Take several deep, full breaths.
Your partner can help you get an even stronger stretch in this position. Your partner stands or kneels behind you, facing your back. Your partner can begin by gently massaging your back, moving his or her hands up from your lower back toward your shoulders. When your partner locates the area of your back that feels tightest, your partner places his or her hands on that area of your back, hands alongside the spine (see Fig. 15.2). Your partner should avoid placing any direct pressure on the spine itself. Pressing firmly into your back
within your level of comfort, your partner helps you to extend your spine and torso even longer. Your upper body and face will most likely come closer to your legs—perhaps even to the point where they rest directly on your legs. Try to keep your legs straight, but not locked, at the knees. Hold onto your feet if you can; if not, place your hands wherever they most comfortably reach. If necessary, bend your knees as much as you need to. Breathe several full deep breaths in this position.
Paschimottanasana literally means "intense stretch of the west." In Eastern thought, the back is considered the western part of the body. It relates to our past, to all the baggage we have acquired during our lives and are still carrying around with us. No wonder we develop such back pain! Use this opportunity of support and trust offered by your partner to let go of some of this baggage. Mentally say that you don't need to carry around the baggage of the past. Let go. Surrender into the pose as your back opens and breathes, like a newborn. Stay in this position for as long as you like. Take advantage of the luxury of having a partner assist you in going even deeper into your own release than you could do if you were practicing Seated Forward Bend on your own. Thank your partner for this support.
When you are ready to come out of the pose, on an inhalation, round your back up as you return to a full upright sitting position. Take a few deep breaths. Feel the opening that has taken place.
Change roles with your partner: Now he or she performs Seated Forward Bend and you provide assisted support.
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