On paschimottanasana

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Flexibility has always been my nemesis. Tight hips mean my knees have never touched the floor in a cross-legged position; sukhasana is not 'sweet' pose, in my opinion. And neither is paschimottanasana, the dreaded seated forward bend, which stretches me in a way that seems to cause more stress than it releases.

I am most definitely a Type-A-dominant personality. I like to organize, I like to plan, I like logic and reasoning and eating the same thing every day for breakfast. I like to do things I'm good at. So when a teacher of mine suggested, off the cuff during a class, that spending four minutes a day in paschimottanasana was the path to enlightenment, I decided it was time to deal with my tightness and conquer the forward fold.

Forward folds can be excellent for reducing stress and cultivating patience, soothing headaches and relieving mild depression, and may be therapeutic for high blood pressure and insomnia, as well as improving digestion. That's a whole lot of benefit for a relatively simple yoga posture.

I kept up my four-minute-a-day practise for two weeks straight. And at the end of that time, the tension in my hamstrings had eased off a bit, but the main lesson I learned was how to let go: how to have enough patience to allow my muscles to relax, yes, but also how to release any expectations. I learned to not feel pride if I could drop nose to knee one afternoon, because I might not even get halfway there the next day. I let go of expectations about how I should feel and act in certain situations, or of how others should be. I learned to release most of my worrying about the future and to sit in the (often uncomfortable, but occasionally blissful) moment.

I still try to incorporate paschimottanasana in my regular practice, but the amazing thing is that even though it's not an every day thing anymore, I'm still better able to settle into the pose when I do, even if my hands end up beside my knees instead of wrapped around my feet. And even better, it's easier for me to settle into the present moment in times of stress, and even in times of peace -- I'm actually learning to enjoy just being.