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Season 1 - Episode 5

Choosing Our Forward Fold

40 min - Tutorial


Paschimottanasana (Intense Western Stretch) can strengthen or stretch the back depending on our approach. In this practice, we explore our options and choices in this pose. Kira helps us establish a curious and kind relationship with the hamstrings, heart, and back body. You will gain an inner intelligence and freedom.
What You'll Need: Hard Floor, Blanket, Strap, Block (2)

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Hi, welcome back. Thank you Megan for being here. We've got our friends still here with us, Saraswati and this is our teacher, Eric Schiffman. As I've mentioned before, he's our teacher because, it's curling a little, he's our teacher because he's given us permission to find the teacher within us. And this has been the call for a long time of the yogis. You know, postures go in and out of fashion like everything else. If you, I mean, even just since the time of photography, as you look through different books, you know, they've done the postures very differently over time. You know, even just between the 60s and the 70s, there was a radical change. Like the Swamis in the 60s are all kind of round and chill and relaxed and suddenly in the 70s, everything got very straight. So as we approach these postures, the play is to allow them to be containers for ourselves and to allow ourselves self-discovery. If we become rigid with assuming that there's one way to do something, we stop looking, we stop listening, we stop noticing. And the purpose of the techniques of yoga is to continually encourage us to be aware of the truth that we know nothing and to be open to what we might be able to learn. So as we delve into the posture of Paschimottanasana today, which has different translations, the rumor is, is that our early yogi brothers and sisters would practice facing the East. And so as they would come into this forward fold, Paschimottanasana, the translation, okay, is sometimes intense Western stretch because the Western side of the body was getting stretched. But sometimes you see it translated as Eastern facing stretch. You know, one of the things we have to realize about translation is more often it's about the translator than the actual word. So we'll begin and we've been beginning. Megan will go ahead and demonstrate the posture so we actually know what we're talking about. And that just has Megan to come into the shape as she would. And so like watch what she does, she does this little wiggle back through her sit bones. She's gonna walk right off the mat doing that. Then she finds her way towards her toes. Now she's choosing to bring her second and third finger around her big toes. That's one variation. And just notice she's let her elbows bend so her shoulders are soft. Notice she adjusts her head and neck. So just notice like what she does is she comes towards the shape. And so the benefit of having Megan demonstrate the shape in the beginning is to help us be able to see what might be required to allow the shape to be more comfortable. So you can see perhaps or maybe feel even if you're if you're going along with us at this moment that there is a lot of demand on the backs of the legs. You know not just the hamstrings but as the hamstrings become tendons underneath the knees. You see that Megan has her knees you know slightly lifted up off the floor. She's not jamming them into the ground. If you flex your feet a lot you'll start to feel it more in your calves. And you can see that you know where the back is rounding is where the back is going to be stretching. And then you have this compression in the belly. And so the way we're going to be approaching this posture is we're going to make our way through a sequence that tries to understand different aspects of the shape, different ways of approaching, so that it by the end of our time together you might have more of a sense of your choices and options. Okay so I'll let Megan be there for just a few more moments and I'll say that in this particular episode we are going to be using two bricks. We'll be using a strap and we'll be using a blanket. And you'll want to be in a room where you have a surface that's sort of slippery. So we will eventually ditch our mat. If your shag carpet at home is slippery that will work but a blanket or a towel on a wood floor will work great. Okay okay you can roll on back up. Nice job, beautiful. Pause, get the hit of the after-effect. Now what do you feel when you come out of that pose? I guess I feel energy moving up my spine. I feel like... Energy moving up your spine.

The hamstrings feel longer. So that helps to know what the effect of the posture might be because you know as you choose your medicines usually we choose our medicines based on their effect. And there's this old Ayurvedic saying the difference between a medicine and poison is just dosage. Okay so as you're ready I'm gonna ask you Megan to turn around and roll down with your head on this end. Actually I lied, stay seated but let your feet come this way. So we're gonna start with something we call impressing the heart. Now I'm gonna set up the block for Megan which is a lot easier than setting up the blocks for yourself but it's not so hard to set it by yourself. This first block is gonna want to be supporting her shoulder blades. Now I've chosen that word very carefully because it's not under the shoulder blades it's supporting the shoulder blades. Okay well this second brick is gonna want to be at her occiput. So just right now you at home and you too Megan bring your hand to your occiput which is the base of the skull. Okay so it's this little spot right at the base of the skull. This top edge of this brick wants to be in there. Okay so I'm gonna set the bricks up where I imagine Megan's gonna be when she lies back and we'll see if we got it right. So as you're ready love you're gonna start to lie back. Okay did we get the right spot? Okay could it be more comfortable? Okay and that's really how you know if you found the right spot. If it feels good it's usually the right spot. Now keeping your knees bent in this one is often more supportive on the back. Okay some of you might choose to let your legs go straight or let the feet come together and the knees go wide. You choose. Now the play here the reason we're starting with a little bit of a backbend which might seem counterintuitive since we're moving towards a forward fold. We're trying to create a memory of the backbend. Okay big deliberate inhale exhale everything because one way of doing Paschimottanasana is this deliberate attempt to keep the heart lifted and the back flat as we come into Paschimottanasana and if we're going to try to do that we have to have a reference point and so this isn't a giant big intense heart opener. The play here is to just allow for some support to allow a memory to start to be created. Does that make sense? And the back of the heart as we've talked before the back of the heart for most of us tends to be in immense grip. Okay the nerves of the sympathetic that hold the heart emanate from here and it's just so normal to feel the necessity of a certain amount of protection and so to offer some support big deliberate inhale nice exhale everything yes. To offer some support yes. And the reason for the brick like this and the tall is it's creating this little sense of what we call Jalandhar Bandha and the gaze is towards the heart. And now Megan what I'm gonna ask you to do is please use your hands on the brick underneath your head and you'll turn it towards the medium setting. So what you'll do is you'll bring your hands to the brick underneath your head you'll turn it to the medium setting so it's no longer in the occiput it's underneath the back bulb as part of your skull yes. So now you still feel a sense of opening in the heart but you also have this slight beginning of this vulnerability in the collarbones softness in the throat. This starts to tune the listening facility. Absolutely necessary to being a good listener is a quality of vulnerability because unless there's some vulnerability to change it's too scary to listen. Okay you might stay here some of you might turn the brick that's under your head one more down one more notch so it matches the brick underneath the heart so Megan you can either keep the brick there or turn it down one more notch so it's the same you decide. And then this is always those of you that might have chosen to turn the brick to the lower setting this is always an interesting moment for me because even though the bricks are the same you tend to feel it much more in the back of the heart yes. Okay and this becomes a lesson on the kyphotic curve of the upper spine. So the lumbar spine curves in and then the thoracic spine the upper spine goes back out and so we're just naturally more rounded up here okay and so you you tend to feel the brick there. Okay a couple more moments just letting the back of the heart feel supported letting the collarbones feel more vulnerable. Beautiful you might choose to stay here longer in which Chris you have the option to pause but what we're gonna do now is Megan's gonna let her knees come together since her knees are wide she's gonna so gently reach her right arm over the top of her head and she's gonna so gently roll to the right off the bricks pausing on her right side. I'm gonna move the bricks out of the way now you don't have somebody to move the bricks out of the way but so you'll have to move them out of your own way and then I'm gonna ask her to lie back down on her back so you're gonna come back onto your back knees bent and pause and just feel okay notice the results like sometimes you can feel this magnificent spaciousness behind the heart that you didn't know is available simply because your attention has been brought there that makes sense can you feel that and so just like rest there for a little bit like that's yourself like part of this of course is is is letting ourselves just be embraced by what we didn't know was there and because if you can really soak in this then you'll have access to this quality no matter what like the feeling that you can access from the yoga postures starts to become more and more the normal feeling okay that doesn't mean you don't have to practice your yoga postures but it changes because there becomes this new normal of openness of happiness of joy now as you saw in the demonstration we have to pay attention to the hamstrings and I'll just say now that supine hamstring stretching is way more safer and maybe even slightly more effective because of its safety then a seated forward fold the seated forward fold starts to put pressure in the lower lumbar discs and if you work with anything like herniation in those discs or sciatica or other mischievousness this will be your pashimoto nasana okay so I'm gonna ask Megan to bring her right leg her right knee into her chest and Megan's gonna show with a strap a noisy strap I'm gonna have you wrap this around the ball of your foot I doubled it for Megan and then the play here is she extends her leg actually yeah let's do it like that good idea so she's gonna keep her knee and close to her chest you keep your knee close into your chest keep the knee quiet soften the outer hip and soften the hip pocket you keep the knee quiet and then you just let the foot come up towards the sky so you're creating a 90-ish degree angle here does that make sense and then just so gently keeping the knee exactly where she is you're just gonna let the big toe move towards the head so you're just gonna gently let the leg draw straight without pressing out through the back of the knee so you just keep the knee quiet and then you bend again and then you draw a little straighter and then you bend again does that make sense so what you're doing here by keeping the knee quiet and just kind of slowly letting her straighten and bend you're just testing towards the hamstrings without risking blowing out the knee tendons yes beautiful beautiful now this next one bend again soften the outside of that hip soften the hip pocket and now can you just slowly let the leg draw straight but without using the back of your knee blowing out to do it does it make sense you have to let some line out yep yes yes if you experience shaking or wobbling at home it's a good sign yes now keep this leg straight as you let this leg extend straight let the other leg extend straight beautiful and the way we're gonna play with this particular hamstring stretch is we're gonna add the abdominal and so as you're ready Megan inhale and as you exhale you're gonna curl up and you're gonna bring your forehead towards the shin okay so you're curling up forehead towards this shin so you're getting the combination of the abdominal and the hamstring stretch and the rounded back this is gonna come in really useful later last couple moments okay let the head come back down to the floor I'm gonna remove this strap you can remove the strap let the leg shake out a little bit ankle circles and then let the leg float all the way back down to the floor perfect and rest and same as when we came off the bricks like notice the results and like start to know the results of the yoga techniques as closer to the real you like start to know the feeling of freedom the feeling of space the feeling of flexibility as more the truth of the way things are does that make sense and they become more the truth of the way things are the more time you spend in them okay let's do the other side so bend the knees again soles of the feet on the floor and you'll let the left knee come into your chest and then that was good instincts we'll wrap your strap around the ball that foot is that enough strap for you would you like that longer it's good okay now as she did on the other side soften the outside of that hip soften the hip crease it keep the knee quiet and then by keeping the knee quiet as you begin to hinge at the lower leg and then let it bend again and so what you're doing here by by just kind of touching that point of intensity right and then coming out of it again couple things are happen when you just like because the body's response okay the sympathetic nervous system particularly when she perceives that we're stretching her first response is stop that and she sends out the message of contraction so what Megan's doing two things that she's doing here and two things you're doing by moving in and out of it you communicate that there's an exit route and people are gonna relax more second thing this creates a little bit of a contraction in the hamstring which also in a weird tricky way communicates that the body's not stretching okay nice now next time you come into the bend so do finish this last round I like how your eyes roll back into your head pause here and then see if you can let the leg draw straight without pressing through the back of the knee so you just see if you can let the leg draw straight ish without blowing into the back of the knee tendons that's a really common tendency for all of us because she's a vulnerable joint so she'll do the work you have such strong hamstring tendons nice okay and then let this other leg the right leg extends straight okay and the purpose little flex in that extended leg the purpose of this next one because we've got the hamstrings but we are also adding the abdominals so as you're ready okay you'll start to walk your hands and for you Megan it's probably more comfortable to hold on to the leg on this huh so you can do that you can grab a hold of the leg okay and curl up beautiful so pretty let a little happen stick your tongue out when you stick your tongue out you're actually stretching your hamstrings more nice okay let your leg come all the way back down pretty maybe a few ankle circles or shaky shaky and then you let that leg lower all the way back down beautiful now just to show like let yourself rest in this let yourself experience and really do is you trace your awareness down through the inner line of the leg down through the knee the calf the foot as you trace this like like know this feeling as new and so how would you describe the quality in your left leg juicy so Megan's word for how that left leg feels is juicy you find the word for you of how it feels because that becomes your search tag like now you really know what juicy feels like now before we come up to sitting let's just show one more thing would you let both of your legs like bend your knees into your chest so bend your knees into your chest and then extend your legs up towards the sky okay so now right you're basically preparing for Pashimottanasana it's just the difference of 90 degrees so when she reaches her hands towards her legs okay and she starts to draw her legs towards her and she starts to curl her head maybe towards her legs okay okay right now Megan's in Pashimottanasana and it's not putting so much strain on her back okay so for some of you this is a much better version of Pashimottanasana than coming up to seated does that feel okay does that make sense what I'm saying yeah okay okay hug the knees into the chest and then we'll rock and roll up to sitting so only as you're ready you're gonna rock and roll nice pause there what we're gonna do now is we're gonna ditch this mat so that we can just be on the slippery floor and then we'll be back in a moment son see that worked so we're gonna set up Megan would you sit here facing this way so again I mentioned that we're gonna be using a blanket and then we'll also be using a strap so bend your knees and I'm just gonna put this blanket in the front we'll use it in a moment so the point here now is hold on to your knees now Megan can do this with her legs together okay some of you at home just because of how you're designed this will be much easier with your legs apart okay so you've got to find out what that is so what we want to explore now is the relationship of the movement of your sacrum and your heart so here what I'm gonna ask you to do Megan is hold on to your knees and as you inhale roll your pelvis forward let your heart lift nice and as you exhale hold on to the knees let the sit bones tuck under and get round yes inhale roll the pelvis forward letting your heart lift beautiful exhale round yes okay continue okay so you're getting this sense of pelvis forward heart open talking the sit bones under heart under rolling the pelvis forward letting the heart lift rounding the spine okay next time you come to rolling the pelvis forward letting your heart lift pause now the tendency with this for all of us is to overdo this a little bit so do you remember the sense of support behind your heart yeah let the back of the heart widen yes so that the heart is lifted without hardening does the difference make sense okay now let's see if this makes sense round again hold on to the legs and round all your sit bones under okay so now you've got this nice big stretch right in the back of your body you've got this nice big stretch can you feel how your heart is collapsing can you maintain the stretch but can you remember how the brightening of the front of your heart a little bit does that make sense so almost like while you're in the rounded stretch can you like soften the compression of the front of the heart yes exactly does that make sense so you're you're counter posing in the middle of the situation so you're not so extreme beautiful so it's more balanced okay and now come back up to neutral nice now here's where our slippery surface and blanket and strap come into play so place your feet on the blanket please and you want to make sure that your feet are on the blanket and not on your sticky mat if you still happen to be on one and just to make sure the instruction will be this so Megan just make sure that you can slide your legs straight and that you can stay seated up and then slide your legs back and just do that a couple times so this is what you want to make sure you can do so if you wherever you are you want to make sure that you have this skill of your surface tension lack there of okay next step so we're gonna use a strap I'm gonna ask you to flex your feet and then I'm gonna ask you to wrap the strap around the balls of your feet okay now here's the play because we're gonna approach poshimoto's in a two-way this first way we're gonna put the constraint on keeping the front of the heart open so roll your pelvis forward and let your heart bloom okay now same thing we just practiced let the back of the heart soften yes now the play here the constraint here the request is keep this part of your body open keep the pelvis rolling forward and only start to slide the legs as far forward as you can maintain this restraint does that make sense okay so Megan will slowly start to slide her heels forward but she doesn't go any far forward then she can maintain yeah the lift of her heart she'll let a little line out on her strap okay nice that makes sense and so this version of poshimoto nasana okay where you're putting the emphasis on maintaining the opening of the heart with some awareness of the back okay if she starts to fold forward from here rotating her pelvis forward she's focusing much more on strengthening her back so see if that makes sense can you feel the work involved in keeping your heart open okay and the play is only coming as far forward as you can yeah you can continually maintain this opening through the front of the heart so that you're exploring poshimoto nasana as much more of a back strength in her hamstring stretcher okay now she's gripping that strap like her legs are gonna get away you can say yeah okay now you can see like and so using the strap helps her but you can see how her body's wanting like oh please let me round but we're just it's not that rounding is bad yes but we're just putting a particular emphasis remember that brick behind the heart let the heartbeat open yes yeah and so you at home your legs might not be straight as we've seen from Megan her hamstrings and her legs are quite naturally long so your knees might still be bent yes okay a few more moments okay a few more moments yeah beautiful okay slow then let yourself come back up you can soften the grip on the strap and just let her relax towards the earth pause and then like just notice for a moment like notice the effect of that in your spine notice the effect of the strengthening of the spine and then what would probably feel good is just a little counter pose so if you just bring your hands behind you maybe it's fingertips pointing straight back or maybe it's fingertips pointing in and just kind of roll the pelvis forward and let the heart open a little bit and just kind of like oh I give yourself a little bit even though that's what you were just doing in a way it'll feel good okay nice okay then come on back up and now we're gonna explore it much more from the rounded position so you're gonna bend your knees bring your legs in towards you and some of you might easily naturally find your feet and the strap might not be helpful but what the strap does is it just it allows in fact actually on the section let's not use the strap just so you don't feel like you have to have one to do this posture so on this next one then Megan what I'd like you to do is flex the feet hold on to the outsides of the feet and then I'm gonna ask you to curl your chin into your chest and round and bring your forehead towards your knees so as she curls and rounds and bring her foreheads towards her knees now do you remember those abdominals we were doing earlier with the hamstring stretch so she's got a big rounding through here the request is you just find a little bit of light in your heart so she's not getting totally mushed and now this is the constraint keep your forehead on your knees so keep your forehead on your knees as you start to let the legs draw straight so you're only gonna let the legs draw straight as far as you can keep your forehead on your knees okay now depending on your particular girth or width or what you're working with in your belly or your chest the forehead doesn't always find the knees okay nice now this is actually apparently and we'll find out from her when she comes back up but this is actually a much more natural way for our friend Megan to be doing Pashimottanasana we'll see if that makes sense if she has the same experience but now you can see she's not strengthening her back she's stretching her back so it's just a very different way of doing Pashimottanasana as her legs are straightening she's getting more of a stretch because the same connective tissue runs from the bottom of the feet up through the backs of the legs up through the back of the spine some of it descends into the eyes and that descends into that tongue so if she sticks her tongue out she'll get a little extra stretch yeah okay couple more moments okay then as you're ready Megan you can release your hands and then just roll on back up feel the belly feel the heart feel the throat and feel the face nice and I was making up rumors about you while you were down there and couldn't say anything but does that feel like a more natural push it just look it just looks like your body is more comfortable there is that true okay so counter pose little hand hands behind you and this time actually that's fine I'm gonna move this out of the way for safety so take your feet up off the blanket and then bend your knees and you'll find tabletop by pressing into the feet lifting up through the hips okay some of you will choose to let your head fall back okay this is another counter pose if this isn't for you then you repeat the other counter pose we just did beautiful okay slow let yourself come all the way back down nice now let's scooch this way just a little bit so we're still in frame okay now the play on this next one the play on this next one will be to see if we can find a balance between those two does that make sense so one's one extreme of doing it one's another can we find more of a balance okay and you know I apologize for not even saying this but will you extend your legs straight for a moment if you have hips that tip back a little bit like right which a lot of us do this gets a lot easier if you sit up on a blanket where you just show okay because it helps the pelvis roll forward a little bit and and some of you just to show another possibility I'm gonna borrow that blanket we're like we're like prop impoverished on this particular shot some of you might prefer to have a blanket underneath your knees because that will give support for your hamstring descendants as you work this okay so just to show a few other options but let's come into this one more time with more of a balanced approach so bend your knees we're gonna put this underneath your feet okay so the strap might be helpful for you okay the strap might be helpful for you the strap might not be Megan you know Megan is a goat farmer and a bread maker and so she's more kind of natural and props and accoutrements just don't seem to be your thing so straps might be helpful straps might not be helpful Megan's gonna show just holding on to her feet so flex your feet hold on to your feet nice now I don't you've probably not noticed this detail but this is a really great thing Megan's just done she usually tends to grab the balls of her big toes and then she tends to pull the balls of her big toes in and these outside pinky toes go don't get much of a stretch so this wonderful decision she's made to hold the outsides of her feet instead of the balls of the big toes will counter pose her natural tendencies okay so now we'll start out roll the pelvis forward draw the heart open so we'll start out strengthening make sense and then make sure you're not overdoing it soften the back of the heart maintain that as you slowly let the legs draw straight and if you need to slide your hands back more towards the ankles you will yes beautiful now just maintain that strength for a few more moments feel your heart bloom okay feel your feet flex back and a little trick one of the reasons that sometimes in alignment instructions the instruction is to engage the quadriceps though the reason for that is the engagement of the quadriceps encourages the backs of the hamstrings or the hamstrings not the backs of them but the hamstrings have to relax okay because that's how muscles work okay so that may or may not be useful okay now a few more moments just stay strong and then as you move towards your natural tendency which for all of us is we want to get a stretch in the back so as you make the decision to move towards letting the back of the body stretch and round can you maintain that little core awareness of that length does that make sense so maintain a sense of length even as you start to round okay this apparent contradiction of what you're being asked to do this play of opposites okay is how we create capacity in the middle nice so as Megan's letting herself round but she's still lengthening she's rounding but she's still lengthening beautiful does that make sense can you feel that okay she's letting the heart front of the let your front of the heart feel bright at the back of the body feel wide nice and then usually in Pashimottanasana you reach a point where you're done working where you just want to rest and you do so you relax the intensity you relax the grip you let it be soft sometimes your hands might even come down by your sides palms might turn up beautiful so nice and for the last few moments Megan if you remember some of the nostril work from earlier from last episode just tune into the back channels of your nostrils okay if you weren't with us our last episode don't worry about it but if you were tune into the back channels of your nostrils yeah yeah okay so nice as you're ready chin into the chest let yourself roll all the way back up feel the belly feel the heart through the throat and feel the face and pause and notice how you feel how do you feel and so you may or may not want to counter pose we've shown to now just arms behind heart open we've shown tabletop Megan's going to demonstrate a third possible counter pose I'm going to remove the blanket for safety purvottanasana let your legs go straight now purvottanasana requires a strong internal rotation and reaching through the balls of the big toes she'll bring her hands behind her fingertips pointing usually fingertips pointing towards the torso she'll wiggle in here she's reaching through her legs she'll draw the sit bones under she'll lift up through the heart pressing lengthening reaching back through the toes nice and then when she's done she'll slow slow slow lead with the heart let her hips land and come on back up beautiful and usually after something like that it's super nice to just slip into a meditation so even though she doesn't need it I'm gonna offer her a blanket for underneath her hips you can just face the way you're facing and just let your legs set up or your ankles okay we won't be here long and so you just big deliberate inhale exhale you let a happen and so with all that work up through that spine the strengthening and the stretching okay to sit after a practice like that is is quite nice because usually you've got this beautiful natural upward flowing motion up through the front of the body there's this natural well spring that you've been honing this natural what's I'm not sure of the word like inspiration and then there's this really natural cooling waterfall down the back of the body skull is light lips are soft eyes are kind you might sit here for a little bit longer until you've cooked enough thank you Megan for your practice for sharing your yoga thank you my friends for being here with us thank you my friend and have a sweet rest of your day


Mary Ellen G
1 person likes this.
Really opened hips, back, even occipital release!
Jenny S
1 person likes this.
How am l feeling?........blissed out! That’s very good medicine!
1 person likes this.
This was such a beautiful practice. I really did feel my heart blooming! Thank you.
Kira Sloane
Dearest Ali, so glad you are here. xok
Erin C
All I feel in this posture and when I straighten my leg with a strap is the contraction in my quads and hip flexors. I'm not feeling the stretch in my hamstrings. Is there anything else you'd recommend?
Kira Sloane
Erin, thanks for asking! Your hamstrings could just me more flexible than this variation.

Meanwhile, check your pelvis rotation and make sure its rocked forward with your low back arched. This will increase the ask on your hamstrings as it draws your sit-bones away from your knees. You can also pay attention to the rotation of your hips. Generally, if you externally rotate them, drawing them back and down, you will create a more stable base from which to lengthen.

Then, make sure your feet are flexed, with your toes drawing back to towards your face. 
(See next comment for conclusion).
Kira Sloane
Erin, comment continued.

If you still don't feel it, then you have great hamstring game.  

Maybe check out this lesson to see if you can discover more opportunities.
Plea se feel welcome to ask more questions if I have not been able to be helpful.

Sara S
1 person likes this.
The way your class went for me, was more of a natural and easy way to accomplish a forward bend.  Thank you.
Kira Sloane
Sara S, wonderful to hear. xok

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