the spinal twist : ardha matsyendrasa

Teaching in a yoga centre in the city, I see the effects of stressful lifestyles often related to work – the tight shoulders, the worried brows, the feeling that "I don't have time." Hatha Yoga gives us the opportunity to step out of habitual ways of ignoring the body or driving it on without compassion. Instead we learn to listen to the body, finding where we hold tension, learning how to release it and discovering the renewing energy that is available whenever we remember it.

The principles that are learned in class can be taken back to work. Once you experience the difference between tension and relaxation, you can relax in the moment. Sometimes you need only remind yourself to breathe and let go. Sometimes you can actually do an asana right where you are.

The Spinal Twist, in a modified form, can be discreetly practised in most work situations. Symbolically, too, the Twist relates to work. How often do you walk onto the job, wind yourself into action and only take time to "unwind" when you leave the workplace?

In Hidden Language Hatha Yoga you can use the physical pose as a metaphor, asking what each movement means psychologically and spiritually. For example, in the Spinal Twist a balanced foundation is important. Starting from a good base allows the spine to remain aligned and centred, even as you twist. Psychologically you can ask, What can help me remain straight and centred even in challenging or stressful situations?

In the Twist, the movement is like an upward spiral, with the spine lengthened as you gradually twist from the tailbone upward to the head. Can you bring this same uplifting feeling into your work, using your position to help you spiral up and evolve rather than as a burden that pushes you down? Bringing awareness into any moment gives us the choice to change our attitude and reflect on what we are learning.

In the same way that we can get ourselves into a twisted position, we can also untwist. As you do the Twist, ask how you may have gotten yourself into a tight situation and observe how you can get yourself out. This pose can teach us that if we are the doers, we can also undo.

The Spinal Twist physically offers a new perspective as you turn to look to each side and also behind you. Symbolically, what is the greater perspective or broader vision for your life or your work? Can you look beyond yourself and your own concerns to see a bigger picture? Looking back can also be looking into your past, giving you a chance to reflect on your own past conditioning and to question if your attitudes and opinions are still valid now.

Many people find the Spinal Twist rejuvenating, yet as we twist we put ourselves into a physically stressful position. The key is awareness. Can you use awareness to transform anxiety into concentration? Just a little twist and your world can change.

Twist: there are many ways of working with a twisting position in yoga – sitting, standing and lying down. Twists can release tension and bring new energy and vitality to the body. They provide a quick awakening during a slump and a nice release in times of pressure.

How to do the Twist

A sitting twist
(for your office chair)

  1. Take a moment to observe your body. Breathe into your back. Relax your shoulders and your neck with some gentle movements.
  2. Sit upright in your chair, being aware of the length of your spine, mentally creating space between the vertebrae, continuing to breathe slowly and evenly. Have your feet firmly on the ground and feel yourself sitting balanced in the chair.
  3. Become aware of your spine and slowly begin to twist from the base of the spine upward through the torso and all the way to the head, the eyes following the movement. You can place one hand on the opposite leg as you rotate, and the other hand behind you on the chair seat or back. Think of creating an upward spiral.
  4. Hold the twist, breathe and silently repeat a mantra.
  5. Slowly, with the same awareness of the movement, untwist and come back to centre.
  6. Repeat on the other side. Use the pose to explore your own questions or any of the ones from this article, taking time to write down your reflections afterwards so you can put your insights into action.

Swami Lalitananda's latest book,The Inner Life of Asanas,is a collection of her hidden language hatha yoga columns, from timeless books . She is a resident teacher and part of the collective at radha yoga & eatery - a yoga centre, cafe, arts and events venue at 728 Main Street in Vancouver, BC. Contact her at .

   read more of swami lalitananda's past columns

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