The name comes from the Sanskrit words paschima (पश्चिम, paścima) meaning "west" or "back" or "back of body", and uttana (उत्तान, uttāna) meaning "intense stretch" or "straight" or "extended", and asana (आसन) meaning "posture" or "seat".
The yogi sits on the floor with legs flat on the floor, straight ahead then bends forward from the hips to bring the trunk parallel with the legs.
A runner performing a seated, forward bend stretch.
A similar frontbend is Uttanasana (a standing front bend). Paschimottanasana enables much easier rotation inward or outward of the legs, abducting or adducting them at the hip, flexing or extending the knees, or enacting plantar or dorsi flexion of the ankle. These variations can be performed either as a combined stretch, to change emphasis on different tissues, or simply to take the mind off the hamstrings and lower back stretch. They can be used rhythmically to aid in relaxation.