Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Spinal Twist). Direction of Twist

Many people make the mistake of twisting in the wrong direction. In other words, they place their right arm against the right leg or their left arm against the left leg. In this position there is no leverage. Under these circumstances, one thinks how easy the asana is to perform, which it is, but unfortunately it gives little or no benefits. The correct direction of twist is essential to obtain full benefits from the asana.

There is a very simple and direct method of quickly knowing if you have twisted the trunk in the correct direction. Imagine that the leg that points backwards, the one with the heel pressed against the buttock, is an arrow or a pointer. Your trunk must be twisted in the same direction as the arrow. In other words, in the final pose you should face in the direction that the arrow points. If this is not the case then you will definitely know that you are doing the asana incorrectly.

Points to remember

The reader should bear the following points in mind when practising the asana:

  1. Do not sit on the heel; merely place the heel in contact with the side of the buttocks.
  2. Make sure that the back is as passive as possible; this is important to obtain optimum benefits.
  3. Do not try to twist the spine more than its flexibility will allow; with time and practice your muscles will become more supple and you will gradually find that you will be able to twist more and more.
  4. In the final position the shoulders should remain at the same level.
  5. Keep the back straight and upright in the final position.

Breathing, awareness and duration

Exhale as you twist the body into the final pose. Breathe slowly and deeply in the final position.

Your point of awareness will depend on whether the eyes are open or closed.

Eyes closed: be aware of breathing, or the eyebrow centre. When you become sufficiently proficient to remain in the final pose for some time, then you can imagine that the breath is moving inwards and outwards at the eyebrow centre. As you breathe in feel the ingoing air piercing the eyebrow centre; as you breathe out feel the outflowing air being pushed out at the eyebrow centre. Your awareness should be on this process.

Eyes open: direct your gaze as far behind the back as possible, preferably fixing your attention on a point or spot on the wall.

Experiment and find out for yourself the method which you prefer. Keeping the eyes closed is more beneficial because it is more likely to concentrate the mind and also induce introspection. When the eyes are open there is more of a tendency for one’s attention to wander over the objects in vision instead of remaining focused on one point on the wall.

Beginners should only spend a few seconds in the final pose, if necessary alternately twisting the body three or four times on each side. This will loosen up the back. In fact, we advise beginners to stay in the final pose, hold their breath for a comfortable time, and then return to the starting position and repeat on the other side of the body. This procedure can be repeated a number of times.

When the back becomes more supple then start to gradually increase the duration of the final pose, while breathing slowly and deeply. This can be done over a period of weeks. Eventually you can spend a few minutes in the final pose in each direction of twist.

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