10 Asanas for a Lifetime - All About Twisting
Updated: Oct 27
I have been twisting in my Yoga practice and teaching twisting to all my students for quite a long time, with very good side effects!! Well, the kind of twisting is all Yogic, of course!!
I'm talking about Spinal Twist Yoga Asanas, one of the most important asanas which are done in every class.
Spinal Twists wring out your body and are especially good for the entire spine, strengthening the small muscles that connect the vertebrae, and keeping the whole structure; from the base of the spine to the crown of your head, free and mobile. The spinal twists assist in releasing enormous amounts of stored tension all along the spinal muscles.
I think Twists are the most cleansing of all the poses. It basically follows the 'squeeze and soak' theory.
The action of twisting the spine squeezes the muscles, spinal disks, and abdominal organs. When you release the twisting, wringing-out action,and the muscles relax again, the whole area becomes flooded with nutrients, fresh blood streams into all these areas and continued practice make the spine more flexible and mobile. Since every nerve throughout the body stems from and originates in the spinal cord, every part of the body will function in more harmony and health. Also, as the trunk rotates, the kidneys and the abdominal organs are activated and energized. This improves digestion and removes constipation.
One of the major points of deep work involved in twisting is the conscious lengthening of the spine before you go deeper into the twist. You have to breathe deeply and elongate the spine, creating spaces between the vertebrae which is the only way to deeper, safer twisting; otherwise, you exert pressure on the disks and leave yourself open to injury.
There are various Spinal Twists that I teach regularly in classes. I've described a few of them here. If you want to try them at home, do follow the instructions and enjoy the feeling of having a flexible spine!!
1. Dandasana / Parivritta Dandasana:
Sit up tall with your legs extended strongly on the floor, turn the toes towards the body, and let the hands rest beside the hips. Focus on breathing deeply, filling up the lungs and creating space between the ribs, lengthening the vertebrae and the disks. This is the starting position for this simple spinal twist.
Now, bring your left hand onto your outer right knee and place the right fingertips on the floor behind you. Inhale, lift the spine, exhale and twist to the right. Hold the pose for 5 breaths, keeping awareness into the middle of the back and the spine. Repeat on the other side. This pose frees up the muscles of the chest, makes shoulders elastic, and massages the abdominal area. Take your time being in this pose, allow your awareness to sink within the superficial layers and feel the knots release within...
2. Marichasana :
For this pose, which is dedicated to Sage Maricha, we start again in Dandasana and work towards Marichasana. Sit on the floor, again extend both legs strongly, turn toes towards the body, lengthen the spine, and now starts the real work, hopefully with sage Maricha's blessings!!
Now, bend the right leg, and let the left leg be extended on the floor. Place the right hand beside the right hip, and hold the right knee with the left hand. Now, breathe in deeply, lengthen your spine, exhale and turn to your right, turn your neck to gaze over the right shoulder. You can close your eyes and move inward, letting the body do the 'talking' -- stretching, breathing, opening, experiencing..
That's it!! you are in Marichasana Twist!! Endeavor to release any hint of strain. Breathe deeply, maybe stay in the pose for six breaths, learn to let go of the 'what's the next pose?' thinking, and enjoy being in this pose. Slowly release the legs and the hands, come back to the center and then repeat the whole process on the other side. The pose I've described here is the simplest version of Marichasana, there are a couple of complex postures which can be learned as one becomes more adept at the first version. After practicing the pose, relax in Dandasana, and understand the difference the body and the mind are feeling after the twist. Give yourself a few moments of 'being'...
3. Bharadwajasana :
This next pose is also named after a sage, Bharadwaja -- my guess is that the sages held these poses for a long time in their pursuit of 'Moksha' and so some of these asanas have the sage's names for them. Maybe, every sage had a particular pose as his favorite!! So, there are lots of Asanas named after sages, like the previous Marichasana, Bharadwajasana, Vasishtasana to name a few.
Well, our aim to practice Bharadwajasana is also just as lofty, even though 'Moksha' might feel like a stretch for most of us, but a few moments of thinking-less awareness would suffice for us, right?
Let's start in Dandasana again. Bend both legs, and bring both feet next to the right hip. Place your left ankle on the thigh of your right leg. Place the right hand on the left knee, and the left hand on the floor behind the left hip. Now, consciously, breathe in deeply, feel the spine grow in length, and exhale, as you slowly turn your torso towards the right. Allow the twist to deepen as you stay in the posture, breathing in and breathing out.
Hold the pose for 5- 6 breaths, and immerse yourself in the beingness of the posture. Let the mind's judgement of the pose, of the body, of any other imperfection it can find, let them all be in your awareness, without trying to change anything...this is the inner experience of 'thinking-less' awareness..In this way, we are also on the path of attaining ' Moksha' -- as small as the experience may be!!
Practice the posture on the left side. Then, relax deeply in Dandasana.
This is the simplest version of Bharadwajasana, there are more complex versions that you can do as the practice progresses.
And, I have always felt, it is not the complexity of the postures that determine whether we are doing Yoga, it is the simplicity, sincerity, inner compassion, and mindful silence which determine the quality of our Yoga Practice.