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Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Spinal Twist)

In most of the poses that we have discussed so far, the spine gets alternately stretched forward and backward. These poses included back bending poses in the lying down position (Locust, Bow, Cobra), forward bending poses in the seated position (Head-to-knee pose, full forward bend) and standing position (Sun Salutation sequence). In our discussion today, I will introduce the spinal twist pose (Ardha-Matsyendrasana – अर्धमत्स्येन्द्रासन ) that will allow the spine to be twisted all the way from the base of the spine to the very top. The pose is named after the great yogi, Matsyendranath, who according to some texts is considered the father of modern yoga practices.

Step-by-step


Spinal Twist

  1. Sit on the floor with the legs stretched out straight ahead. Keep the spine upright, shoulders relaxed.
  2. Fold the right knee and put the right foot on the outside of the left knee. Try to keep the foot flat on the floor and the knee vertical.
  3. Raise the left arm and place the elbow on the outside of the right knee. With the left hand try to hold the left knee.
  4. Raise the right arm, twist the body around, and place the right hand on the floor behind the spine making sure that the spine stays vertical and relaxed.

  5. Spinal Twist

  6. Look over the right shoulder, providing a twisting move to the neck as well, without straining the neck. Try not to twist the spine more than its natural flexibility will allow. Over time, with practice, the muscles will become suppler and provide a greater degree of flexibility.
  7. Breathe your natural, regular breaths and keep the awareness on the entire length of the spine.
  8. You may close the eyes and visualize the spine being twisted from top to bottom and giving a nice massage to the vertebras and the disks in the spine.
  9. Hold the position for about 40 seconds, if you can hold it comfortably for that duration.
  10. Release the pose gently and repeat on the other side.

Variations


Spinal Twist

  1. If you are not able to put enough pressure on the raised knee with the straight elbow (due to lack of flexibility or some discomfort otherwise), you may fold the elbow around the knee and pull the knee toward your chest
  2. You may try to fold the knee that is straight so that the heel of the foot comes under the opposite thigh.

  3. Spinal Twist

  4. More advanced practitioners may be able to fold the elbow around the raised knee from under the thigh, fold the other elbow behind the back and hold the two hands together

Benefits

  • The Half Spinal Twist is one of the best yoga postures for cultivating flexibility and strength in the spine as the back muscles are contracted on one side and simultaneously stretched on the other side.
  • It sooths stiff necks and upper and lower back tension caused by stress, poor posture, or prolonged periods of sitting in one position
  • As the entire nervous system goes through the spine, a healthy spine also means a healthy nervous system which ensures healthy communications between the brain and every cell of the body
  • The alternating compression and release of the abdominal region flushes this area with blood and massages the internal organs, improving digestion
  • Stimulates the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Because of the massage provided to the pancreas, this is highly recommended as a therapeutic pose for control and prevention of diabetes
  • Muscles of the stomach and hips are also toned from repeated practice of the Half Spinal Twist
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort, fatigue, sciatica, and backache

Contraindications

  • People who suffer from peptic ulcers, hernia, hyperthyroidism should avoid this pose unless under expert guidance from a trained teacher.
  • Women past the first trimester of pregnancy should not practice this pose unless they have an established ongoing yoga practice and are under the guidance of a prenatal teacher.
  • Those with sciatica, slipped disk or other back ailments should exercise caution while practicing this pose as a therapeutic aid.

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