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Twist deeply and slowly as you move step by step into Purna Matsyendrasana.
In addition to working your back muscles, this powerful, deep spinal twist cultivates a union of opposite actions in which the prana (inhaling pattern) keeps your heart buoyant and wide while the apana (exhaling pattern) makes it feel like the coccyx is flowing horizontally along the floor.
From a seated position in Staff Pose, fold your left leg into Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose). Use your right hand to very gently roll the left calf muscle outward, so the knee folds comfortably and safely. Place the left heel in the lower right portion of the belly, at least 2 inches below the navel.
Draw your right leg up and place the foot flat on the floor just outside your left knee, toes pointing forward. Begin to twist by turning the belly to the right and pushing out through the left knee so that the pelvis turns to the right along with the torso. Inhale and reach way up through your left arm to release the psoas (a hip flexor) and the quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles, which extend from your hips to your ribs, on the left side.
Exhaling, roll the left shoulder forward and wrap the left arm outside your right thigh as you continue to rotate the torso to the right. Push your right knee in toward the midline as you wrap your left arm. Reach to eventually hold the outer edge of your right foot with your left hand.
Exhaling again, wrap your right arm behind your back, working to eventually clasp your left shin. Inhaling, turn your head in the direction of the twist and gently apply the counteraction of bringing the right buttock and sitting bone slightly back down and in, and rolling the left shoulder back so that there is a sense of the heart floating. Push down through the big-toe mound of the right foot to help facilitate these actions. Spread the toes of the Half Lotus foot and bend them slightly toward the right hip to protect the left ankle. Establish a soft, steady gaze, looking toward a point on the horizon, and eliminate any tension in the face, tongue, and palate. Hold for at least 10 rounds of breath. Exit the pose on an inhalation and repeat on the other side.
Variation: Ardha Matsyendrasana
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
If the previous pose above is too challenging, instead of folding the left leg into Half Lotus, leave the thigh on the floor and place your left heel just in front of your right sitting bone. Follow steps 2 and 3; reach behind your back with your right arm to clasp your left thigh; switch sides.
If you feel any pain in the Half Lotus knee, work on Ardha Baddha Paschimottanasana (page 40), learning to fold the leg comfortably into Half Lotus before proceeding. In Purna Matsyendrasana, don’t overdo the counteraction of bringing the upper hip back down as you twist. Work slowly, step by step. Don’t force or strain even as you place the arm along the outer edge of the upper leg to take the foot. Use the breath, inhaling to stabilize and exhaling to deepen the twist. Work all of the movements from beneath the belly.
About Our Pros
Richard Freeman has been a student of yoga since 1968 and studied in India among a number of traditional lineages, which he synthesizes in the Ashtanga Vinyasa system. Mary Taylor began studying yoga in 1978 and, inspired by her primary teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois, became absorbed by the practice and its transformative impact on the body and mind. Freeman and Taylor teach together throughout the world and have co-authored a new book, The Art of Vinyasa, which will be released by Shambhala Publications in December. To learn more, go to richardfreemanyoga.com.