HOW TO PRACTICE Seated Spinal Twist Pose IN YOGA (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Seated Spinal Twist Pose
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Sanskrit name: Ardha Matsyendrasana), also known as Seated Spinal Twist, is a seated twisting yoga posture that can help promote healthy thoracic movement and relieve stress.
Seated twisting postures are often introduced toward the end of yoga practice, as they tend to take the spine deeper into rotation than some of their standing cousins. In spinal rotation, the focus is on stability first, then spinal mobility. When moving into and out of the yoga pose with breath awareness, spinal twists can have a calming effect as well.
There are many variations of this yoga posture. It can and should be modified to accommodate each individual practitioner’s ability and skill level. Some of our favorite ways to modify Ardha Matsyendrasana are shown in the Yoga 2.0 tab.
Benefits of Seated Spinal Twist Pose
When practiced with healthy alignment, twisting yoga postures can promote mobility in the thoracic spine, which can help to alleviate mild back pain and support good posture. Twisting yoga poses strengthen the abdominal and back muscles. The twisting motion can stimulate circulation and the organs in the abdomen, which can be beneficial for digestion.
Seated Spinal Twist opens the chest and shoulders, and stretches the muscles under the shoulderblades, along with the outer hips. Twists are generally considered to be asanas that calm the mind and nervous system, and Seated Spinal Twist is no exception. Because it is a seated twisting yoga pose, rather than a standing twist, balance is not an issue. You are able to focus entirely on twisting the spine and breathing deeply.
It’s important to remember that the lumbar spine is not designed to twist. The popular yoga alignment instruction to “square the hips” in seated twists can cause the sacrum to twist within the sacroiliac joint. Over time, this can cause sacroiliac dysfunction. In Ardha Matsyendrasana–as well as in other seated twists–it’s important to allow the pelvis to move in the direction of the twist. When you begin to rotate in this and other seated yoga twists, you will feel the pelvis wanting to twist too. Make sure you allow this and, if you are a teacher, that you remind your yoga students to do this. This action keeps the sacroiliac joint in a more neutral position.
How to Practice Seated Spinal Twist
- Start in Dandasana (Staff Pose) on your yoga mat. Have a folded blanket or two handy.
- Check your spinal alignment. Palpate your lumbar spine. Are your vertebrae poking out in your back? If so, elevate your hips onto a folded blanket or even more than one blanket. You can also sit on a bolster. Take time to find whatever support you need to begin the yoga pose with a long, relaxed spine and your tailbone pointing back (not tucked under).
- Bend your left knee and pull your left foot toward your right hip so that the outer side of your leg is resting on the ground.
- Step your right foot beyond, in front of, your left shin bone on the ground. Depending on your hip mobility, you can place the heel of your right foot either near the ankle of the left foot, or (for more flexible hips) you can place the right foot higher up toward the knee, or cross your foot all the way over your left leg so that your right foot is on the outside of your left thigh. That final position requires that you draw the left knee more toward the midline of the body and the left foot will come closer to your right hip.
- Sit up tall and reach your left arm straight up toward the sky, creating length from your left hip to your left fingertips. Inhaling, grow even taller, and on an exhalation rotate through the trunk of your body, placing your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Allow your right hip to draw back as you twist, moving in the same direction as the spine. If you find that your torso hunches forward when your elbow is on the outside of your knee, release that position and place the forearm or hand on the outside of the knee instead.
- As you inhale, continue lifting the sternum up away from the ground. As you exhale, engage the abdominal muscles to allow you to move more deeply into the twist, but take care that you work with the body and the breath, rather than trying to force a deeper twist with your arm.
- Externally rotate your right arm and reach your hand back behind you on the mat. This will help expand your chest and the front of your right shoulder joint. Make sure you are not leaning into your right hand. Instead, stack your shoulders over your hips.
- After several breaths, gently return to center. Square your hips to the front again. Spend a moment sitting tall in Dandasana (Staff Pose) or Sukhasana (Easy Pose or Cross-Legged Pose) to integrate the experience of the twisting yoga pose. When you are ready, repeat the steps above on the second side.