Paschimottanasana shouldn’t be taught to beginners
In an earlier post, I listed some resources that might help you safely do seated forward bends. Walk into any yoga class, and chances are Paschimottanasana will be part of the session. But unless you’ve receive personalized instruction, I recommend you skip it entirely. Seated forward bends look easy and safe, but I’ve met practitioners who’ve hurt themselves in this popular pose. I just wish that more teachers recognize that Paschimottanasana isn’t something to be taken lightly. Sadly most teachers just include it in their classes, and many don’t even provide instructions as to possible safer variations (e.g., bend your knees).
Back in the 1970’s, some yoga teachers recognized that Paschimottanasana shouldn’t be taught casually. But nowadays classes can be both large and packed with so many poses. Fewer teachers are taking the time to think through the dangers inherent in some routine poses. (From a profile of Diana Clifton in the Sep/Oct 1979 issue of the Yoga journal):
Diana’s beginning classes are likely to include primarily standing poses and Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). The standing poses are important, she says, for “strengthening the legs. We have to start with the legs, because you’re constantly standing on your legs. Most peoples’ legs are weak, so they get very tired. When the legs begin to be strong, you can get a tremendous upsurge of health.” For the beginner she recommends Utthita Trikonasana, Virabhadrasana II, Parsvakonasana, and Parsvottanasana. which she feels are “…enough really for the beginner to take.” As for poses which the beginner should avoid, she feels that these are “…the forward bends [such as Paschimottanasana, mainly]. If ever I give people forward bends at an early stage I always point out to them that it’s for a particular reason, nor is this given to beginners in the normal way. If you teach more than you should to beginners they may pass it on, and one of the first mistakes is giving forward bends too soon in the wrong way. If someone has a weak back, the disc can be squeezed out.