Who doesn't love a great hamstring stretch? Up until a few years ago my hamstrings where so tight and full of knots that I would regularly get cramps. This is one of the best hamstring openers I've found in yoga.
Paschimottanasana literally translates to Intense Stretch of the West. It implies that the whole back of the body, from the head to the heels in getting stretched. The front of the body is considered the eastern side and the back of the body is the western side.
To come into this post sit with your legs directly out in front of you. If you need to slide the flesh out from under your sitting bones so you are sitting evenly on the floor. Try having your inner heels touching and your legs as straight as possible. The first step is to let your hands rest on the ground by your hips and breathe while straightening your spine and reaching the crown of your head towards the sky.
After a few breaths slowly walk your hands down your legs bringing your chest towards your feet. You can hold onto your legs, feet, big toes, or reach around your feet to clasp your hands.
The trick to doing this pose is to make sure your goal isn't to get your nose to your knees but instead to focus on tilting your hips to bring your lower back towards the ground. This will keep the focus of the stretch on your hamstrings, while giving a slight stretch to your back muscles. Make sure to focus on your breath. Feel your lungs filling up your back as you inhale and the stretch becoming deeper as your exhale. You can hold this pose for anywhere from a few breaths to 5 minutes. The longer you hold it the deeper the stretch.
Benefits: Improves digestion; relieves stress and mild depression; stimulates liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus; soothes headaches; reduces symptoms relating to menopause and menstrual discomfort
Warnings: If you have a back injury only do this pose with an experienced teacher.