As a yoga teacher and naturally flexible person, people often tell me they don’t practice yoga because they’re not flexible. But that’s why you practice yoga! Among my favorite poses to increase flexibility is the seated forward fold, known also by its Sanskrit name, paschimottanasana. (Pronounced PAH-she-moh-ton-AHS-uh-nuh.)
Seated forward fold may not look like much in a single still image. But what you can’t see is how this stretch benefits so many different parts of your body.
“Paschimottanasana stretches the entire backside of the body, which is a continuous chain of fascia and muscle,” says Stephanie Saunders, executive director of fitness for Openfit. So it’s much more than just a hamstring stretch.
Ready to learn how to master this beneficial basic?
How to Perform Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)
- Start in staff pose: Sit up tall on the floor with your legs extended together in front of you, your feet flexed, and your toes pointed toward the ceiling. Your hands should rest on your thighs or the floor beside them.
- Drawing your abs inward and hinging at your hips — not your waist — lean forward, and slowly walk your hands down your legs, toward your feet. Avoid rounding your back or using your arms to pull yourself into the pose.
- Grab your big toes, sides of your feet, shins, ankles — whatever your flexibility allows, without forcing it — and rest in the pose while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Hold for five or more breaths. With each exhale, try to relax into the posture to get a deeper stretch.
How to Make Seated Forward Fold Easier
Paschimottanasana is an intense stretch that can be made comfortable for everyone, even beginners. Modifying this posture won’t reduce its benefits, it will simply make seated forward fold more accessible.
- “If you have tightness in your hamstrings or hips, getting a release in your lower back might require you to elevate your hips (by sitting on a yoga block or folded blanket), or put a bend in your knees,” says Saunders.
- “If the tightness is in your back, try reaching out with an extended spine before relaxing forward, use a block on either side of your knees to support your arms, and trust gravity to do the rest,” she says.
- You can also separate your legs so your heels are hip distance apart. This should leave more room for your chest and belly.
How to Make Seated Forward Fold Harder
Seated forward fold is an intense backside stretch. For those with flexible hamstrings and no lower-back pain, it’s possible to intensify the posture.
- Flex your toes with straightened legs, and you can intensify the stretch in your hamstrings.
- Hold a yoga block in place against the soles of your feet to deepen the stretch.
Beginner Tips for Doing Seated Forward Fold
Paschimottanasana isn’t about depth. Many beginners think they need to keep their legs straight and touch their nose to their knees to “accomplish” this pose. In reality, maintaining a neutral spine and bent knees is safer and just as “correct.” Rounding your spine to bring your nose to your knees can cause lower back pain and compression. Instead, focus on resting your torso on your thighs.
When you begin practicing seated forward fold, it’s important to listen to your body and breath. If you can’t maintain the posture through three long breaths, you may have gone too deep, too fast. Take your time finding your depth in this pose. Stay, breathe, deepen.
Benefits of Seated Forward Fold
Paschimottanasana is a simple pose with a wide range of benefits.
- Stretches the backside of your body from heels to head
- Helps promote lengthening of the spine
- Creates inner calm through breath