Finding a comfortable seat in Dandasana, start by moving the flesh out from underneath the sit bones. Sit up as tall as possible, with the hands resting lightly by the sides of the waist. Rotate the thighs slightly inward with the outer edges of the feet pulled back toward the outer hips. On an inhale, lift the arms overhead, pull the inner thighs back into the pelvis and lean forward from the hips, keeping the spine straight and heart lifted as you come forward on the exhale. As flexibility increases, you can take hold of the shins, grab the big toes, reach over the soles of the feet, take the outer edges of the feet with the hands, and finally, take the right wrist with the left hand or vice versa. As you take hold of the feet, gently lengthen the spine forward making sure not to pull so hard that you create strain in the muscles of the arms.
If tight hips or hamstrings prevent you from coming forward here and you find gravity working to pull the hips back, not forward, sit on some height (a blanket or bolster) or bend the knees to come forward. Relying too much on the abdominals and hip flexors to come forward can create unwanted tightness at the hips, so use modifications until you can comfortably relax into your forward bend, aided by gravity.
After coming forward into the forward bend, check in with the outer edges of the feet again. If you find they have moved away from the hips, pull them back again. Engage the quadriceps to gently pull the kneecaps back toward the pelvis. The body actually extends here in both directions, with the heels, sternum, and the crown of the head moving forward, and the shoulder blades, sit bones, and head of the femur moving back. The shoulder blades should stay wide. Use the breath – as you inhale, lengthen forward in the spine and as you exhale fold a little bit more deeply.
While there is a lot to think about in the pose, try to stay relaxed. As Pashimottanasana is often held for a significant amount of time, the key here is to let go into the pose, letting the breath lead you gently further, and not your will power. Fill the back of your legs and back with breath, and surrender to the work in the posture. The rewards of patience are well worth it here.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you or see you at one of my classes!