Asana of the Month: Urdhva Mukha Paschimottasana I

Each month we choose a pose to focus on in each class through strong attention to alignment, variations, and/or modifications as a way to grow and expand our yogic horizons. – contributed by Asana Girl (aka Danielle Polen)

Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana I is a balancing version of the basic seated forward fold known as Paschimottanasana. Forward bends are cooling and calming poses, and as such, are excellent postures to practice during the often-intense heat of August. Renown yoga teacher Erich Schiffman has this to say about Paschimottanasana, and forward folds in general:

Forward bends are soothing, calming, and very stretchy. They stretch and lengthen the entire backside of the body, thus releasing tension and improving circulation in the ankles and feet, legs, knees, hips, lower back, spine, torso, and neck. The spine, especially, is taught to lengthen, increasing the space and circulation between the vertebrae. This is important because the spine is the “freeway” to your brain, or the freeway from your brain to the entire body. The freer it is, the less congested, the better. Nerves throughout the body have their origin in the spinal cord. As they are freed and fed, nourished and healed, you will experience more vitality. As the spine and backside of the body is being stretched, the front side is firmed and toned. The abdominal organs receive a deep massage, thus stimulating the powers of digestion, elimination, and reproduction. Forward bends can be held for long periods of time, giving you more time to let go of tension and held energy. This is soothing to the nervous system and generates calmness, serenity, and a new outlook on life. Your kinesthetic sense, the feeling-tone of you, instead of being ragged or on edge will become smooth and even, more harmonious—and this feels good. Lengthening the backside of your body…frees you from the past, so you’re no longer bothered by events or circumstances that occurred earlier in your life…. This helps you experience your newness in the now. Done properly, forward bends simulate bowing and are humbling. 

 Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana I (Upward-Facing Intense Stretch of the West):

Urdhva = Upward
Mukha = Face
Paschima = West

Uttana = Intense stretch

Benefits (according to Yoga Journal):

  • Strengthens abdominals and hip flexors
  • Lengthens the hamstrings
  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Stretches the spine and shoulders
  • Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus
  •  Improves digestion
  • Traditional texts say that Paschimottanasana increases appetite, reduces obesity, and cures diseases
  • Hamstring or back injury 
Preparatory Poses:
  • Paschimottanasana (Intense Stretch of the West)
  • Navasana (Boat Pose)
  • Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
  • Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
Song that Most Comes to Mind While in the Posture:

After reading what Erich Schiffman has to say about Paschimottanasana and forward bends (i.e., that forward bends “lengthen the backside of [the] body [and] … free [us] from the past), I would have to choose Captain Beefheart’s “The Past Sure is Tense,” from the 1982 album “Ice Cream for Crow.”

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