“Paschima literally means the west. It implies the back of the whole body from the head to the heels. The anterior or eastern aspect is the front of the body from the face down to the toes.” BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga
Paschimottanasana (Intense Stretch to the West Pose, 6* on the scale of difficulty) is one of my favorite asanas. Both the deep stretch and the meaning behind the pose reverberate with me. Physically, the intensity of the stretch in my back body – from my heels to the nape of my neck – offers the perfect release toward the end of a vigorous practice. As Iyengar explains, the pose provides the practitioner with many benefits. “A good stay in this pose massages the heart, the spinal column and the abdominal organs, which feel refreshed and the mind is rested. Due to the extra stretch given to the pelvic region more oxygenated blood is brought there and the gonad glands asorb the required nutrition from the blood. This increases vitality [and] helps to cure impotency.”
While the physical benefits and sensations of Paschimottanasana definitely contribute to my enjoyment of the pose, I fell in love with Paschimottanasana for its symbolism. Stretching the western side of the body, the back body, represents a letting go of everything that has come before. Bowing down to the western sunset of your practice, you acknowledge all that may have happened to lead you to this moment, and gently release your ties to those memories. You honor your experiences and, with the reverence of a deep bow, you leave them behind to reside in the beauty of the present moment.