A stress buster

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BREATHE AND BEND Pashimottana asana relaxes the back muscles
BREATHE AND BEND Pashimottana asana relaxes the back muscles

Paschimottana asana involves stretching the back to release tension

The world ‘Paschima’ means ‘posterior’, ‘back’ or ‘West’. ‘Uttana’ means ‘intensification’ and ‘stretch’. ‘Ardha’ means ‘half’. In this posture, as its name denotes, there is intense stretching of the back, though this is not a complete classical posture.

In the classical pose, the hands hold the big toe and the back is doubled on the legs. When most people start practising the classical asana, they force the body to touch the toes and hence, the back is rounded and strained. In this variation, we slowly grow into the asana. It is an excellent way of stretching the back muscles.

On a psychological level, the paschimottana asana is excellent for developing patience. If we get easily discouraged or unable to sustain interest or simply cannot enter into long-term commitments, then this is an excellent position to cultivate those qualities.

The back is an indicator for the stress we endure. Stress causes disruptions in relationships, both at work and at home. The logical mind, though functional, leaves no room for healthy emotional expression if one does not learn about it. Hence, as a survival mechanism, emotions are suppressed and stored in the back to be dealt with later. This suppressed stress, apart from causing backache, comes out at different times as bursts of anger or rage. The person may also feel depressed, which is a sign of suppressed anger or irritation. Hence, systematic cleansing of these emotions is needed and can be done through this asana.

When it is done with care and concentration, it releases the layers of stress that builds up in our system. This, of course, requires regular practice and is a function of how intensely as well as for how long the focus is directed on the back. It is also a position that helps us process things in a safe place, as the head is cushioned. It naturally makes us turn more inward. It works through or releases old samskaras or repetitive patterns whose emotional debris is stored as stress in the back. It literally burns out the past.

The dandasana (discussed earlier) counter balances this position. Any gentle bending of the back or upward stretch can be used to release the stress on the muscles. Also, one can shake one’s feet to release tension in the thigh muscles and feet.

The technique

Sit comfortably with your feet stretched out. Hug your thighs from below. Walk forward up to the point where your chest is still in contact with your thighs. The extent to which you will be able to bend forward will depend on the flexibility of your back and hips. Don’t force any movement. Rest your head on your knees and hold the position. Breathe into your back and lengthen your spine. You will find that with this conscious deep breathing will enable your back to naturally open up. Come up gently. Hug your knees, breathe in and stretch up. Breathe out and release. This is a gentler than the classic way of getting into this posture and reaffirms the fact that the body, like a child, responds to loving discipline.


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