The Half Spinal Twist - Ardha-Matsyendrasana
Ardha-Matsyendrasana, the half spinal twist, is ninth in the sequence of 12 basic postures of hatha yoga. There are many benefits to this posture, but the most important is that the entire length of the spine receives a lateral twist in both directions - first to the left and then to the right.
- Increases flexibility in each vertebrae of the spine, from the base of the spine through the neck
- Stretches the back muscles and hips
- Massages the abdominal organs, helping to relieve constipation
- Breathing becomes more rapid, speeding up circulation and creating an aerobic effect
- Brings more blood flow to the spine
Energetic (Pranic) Benefits
- Helps rouse the Kundalini Shakti
- Brings peace of mind
- Helps to cure nervous disorders
The half spinal twist begins from the child's pose resting position following the bow pose.
- From the child's pose, slowly roll your body up, bringing your head up last. At this point you will be sitting on your heels.
- Drop your hips to the right of your feet so your sit bones are on the floor.
- Bring the left leg over the right so that the foot is on the right side of the right leg with the foot as close in to the body as is comfortable. The closer in to the body the left foot is, the more difficult this posture is. For people with very inflexible hips, the half spinal twist can be done with the right leg completely straight. Be sure to always use the same leg position on both sides of the body.
- Make sure that both sit bones are on the mat. If necessary move the right ankle away from the hips until you can feel both sit bones squarely on the surface of the mat.
- Bring your left hand behind you and rest it on the floor.
- Inhale and lift your right arm straight up over your head, stretching the spine upwards.
- Exhale and turn the body to the left bringing the right arm outside the left knee. Look over the left shoulder.
- Keep your spine straight and be sure to keep the weight of the body mainly on the spine and not on the left arm. More advanced students can actually lift the left arm from the floor, wrapping it around the back.
- In the beginning it is not necessary to be able to hold onto your left ankle with your right hand. It is okay to leave your right arm straight from the knee, always working to move it closer in to the left ankle. You can also use your right hand to pull against your knee or calf of the opposite leg.
- Make sure the shoulders stay parallel to the floor.
- Try to make this an active posture, twisting the body a little bit more to the left on every exhale.
- Be sure not to hold extra tension in the hips, shoulders and face, relaxing into the posture as much as possble to get a good twist. You should feel an equal stretch in every vertebrae of the spine.
- Hold this posture for 30 seconds to begin with, working up to 2 minutes or more.
To come out of the posture inhale and lift the right arm over your head, stretch up, and exhale and release the hand back down to the mat.
The half spinal twist continues by twisting the opposite direction.
To begin, return to the sitting posture on top of the heels.
- Drop your hips to the left of your feet so your hips are on the floor.
- Bring the right leg over the left so that the foot is on the left side of the left leg with the foot as close in to the body as is comfortable.
- Make sure that both sit bones are on the mat.
- Bring your right hand behind you and rest it on the floor.
- Inhale and lift your left arm straight up over your head, stretching the spine upwards.
- Exhale and turn the body to the right bringing the left arm outside the right knee. Look over the right shoulder.
- Keep your spine straight and be sure to keep the weight of the body mainly on the spine and not on the right arm.
- Relax into the posture as much as possible, holding this side of the body for the same length of time as the other side.
To come out of the posture inhale and lift the left arm over your head, stretch up, and exhale and release the hand back down to the mat.
The Full Spinal Twist - Purna-Matsyendrasana
The difference between the half spinal twist and the full spinal twist is the placement of the foot. As shown in this photo of hatha yoga master Swami Vishnu-devananda, in the full spinal twist the right foot is positioned between the left thigh and the abdomen. This creates a much more intense pressure on the internal organs of the body.
WARNING: the full spinal twist is very difficult to master. Before trying it you should be able to perform the lotus sitting posture very comfortably. Trying the full spinal twist before you have proper flexibility in the knees and legs can permanently damage the knees.
The half spinal twist is part of the basic yoga class.