Kundalini Yoga Basics: Life Nerve Stretch

(courtesy of Spirit Voyage)

Paschimottanasana, or Seated Forward Bend is also called Life Nerve Stretch in Kundalini yoga. This is a sometimes challenging but comprehensively beneficial posture that ideally would be done daily for optimal flexibility maintenance. This asana stretches and stimulates the muscles of the lower spine, pelvis, and legs, as well as the upper back, kidneys, and adrenal glands. It most significantly involves the stimulation of the sciatic nerves, which are responsible for supplying motor and sensory information to the legs. They are the longest nerves in the human body, beginning in the lower back and running through each buttock and down each leg all the way to the back of each foot.

(courtesy of Gray’s Anatomy)

It consists of two parts, tibial and fibular, which are initially bound together and the separate at a variable level into two nerves. The former goes all the way down to innervate most all the muscles of the foot, while the latter innervates the lower leg muscles. The sciatic nerves are so vitally important to the body’s motor and neurological function, so why not give them a little TLC?

Sit down with both legs extended in front of you. Position your pelvis at a right angle to your legs and vertically extend your spine. If you cannot do this, elevate your hips with a folded blanket under your buttocks. If you are fairly flexible, keep your feet together; if not, place them hip-width apart. Inhale deeply and bend forward, grabbing onto your toes. If you can’t reach your toes, hold your ankles or knees. Keep the knees on the floor—no bending the knees. Gently stretch your chest down to your knees with long deep breathing, pulling back on the toes, so you can feel the stretch in the back of the legs. Keep the back of the neck in line with your straight spine, do not hang your head down or pull it back and up.

You can either stay in this position with long, deep breathing, or make it a kinetic asana as follows. Inhale and lift the body back up, leading from the navel and hips with the head following the body. Lengthen the core of the spine and exhale, bending from the hips and navel and dropping the head to the legs, stretching the head as far from the body as possible.  Continue inhaling and exhaling, lifting the body up and down, always leading from the navel and hips, never with the head. The downward position looks like this:

For a very, very in-depth discussion of Paschimottanasana including some preparatory postures, visit Barbara Benagh at Yoga Journal. For visual assistance, here’s a helpful video:

 (courtesy of Anne Novak)

 Happy stretching!