The third of four poses dedicated to the Sage Marichi, Marichyasana III is a seated twist named after the Sage Marichi, who was one of Brahma’s seven sons. Marichi means “ray of light” and he was chief of the Maruts, or “the shining ones.” He was a powerful being, so it’s only fitting that this pose will bring strength and energy to the yogis who practice it.
When you’re getting into Marichyasana III, press down with a neutral pelvis and soft belly, then lengthen through your back before twisting evenly along your entire spine. If you have trouble keeping your pelvis level (think of it like a bowl of water that you don’t want to spill!) and you find your back rounding, it can help to sit on a thickly folded blanket.
You often see pictures of the yogi’s arm pressed against the outside of the bent knee but this can force you to hunch over your bent leg, which shortens the spine, obstructs the twist, and can, over time, strain the lower back, says yoga teacher and author Richard Rosen.
Instead, wrap your left arm around your leg, hug it into your torso, and press your right hand into the floor just behind you, pushing your torso up and forward. Pressing your inner right foot into the floor is crucial: this will help release the inner right groin. Lengthen your tailbone away from your pelvis and downward into the floor. With each inhalation, inch your belly up along the inner right thigh, keeping your belly soft and slightly hollow. With each exhalation, twist a tad more.
As in all the poses, you’ll never reach the “end;” no matter how long you stay, you’ll always be able to add something to your twist. Remember that every pose is a process, like a movie, rather than a state, like a still photo.Section divider
Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III basics
Sanskrit: Marichyasana III (mar-ee-chee-AHS-anna)
Marichi = a ray of light (of the sun or moon)
Pose type: Twist
Targets: CoreSection divider
This pose is good for toning your core, keeping your spine supple, and stretching your back muscles.
Other Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III perks:
- Improves posture and counteracts the effects of sitting
- Stimulates proper digestion by facilitating movement through the digestive tract (peristalsis)
- Stretches around your back, outer thighs (abductors), and buttocks (glutes)
- Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your quadriceps and kneecaps facing the ceiling.
- Sit directly on top of your sitting bones, rather than falling behind them.
- Draw your right heel back, close to the right sitting bone—this is often a bit further to the right than you might realize.
- Imagine a central axis running through your torso from your pelvic floor to the crown of your head.
- Keeping the left leg active, inhale your left arm to the ceiling and take your right hand to the floor behind your right hip.
- Exhale and twist to the right, hooking your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Make sure your extended leg doesn’t lose its vigor or flop open.
- Inhale and find more length along your spine. Exhale to revolve around that length.
- To exit the pose, release back to Staff
Explore the pose
Students often use their arm to create the torque necessary for the twist instead of twisting from the pelvis. It’s better to create as much of the twist as you can before using your arm—this will decrease the possibility of separation and strain at the SI joint.
If you want a deeper shoulder opener, instead of placing an arm behind you, wrap it around the front of your shin. Wrap your other hand behind and try to clasp your hands behind your back for a bind.
Use caution or modify if you have any knee or hip pain, injuries, arthritis, or other limitations.Section divider
Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III variations
Gentle seated twist
For a more gentle twist, place your palm over your knee rather than hooking your elbow to the outside of your knee. Bend only one knee and put that foot flat on the floor. You may keep that foot there or cross it over your other leg.
Chair Seated Twist
Sit in a chair with your feet under your knees at hip-distance apart and your thighs parallel to the ground. If you are taller, you may need to sit on folded blankets. If you are shorter, you may need to put folded blankets or blocks under your feet. Sit as tall as you can. Then, gently twist to one side. Place your hands on the side of your thigh, side of the chair, or arm rests of the chair (if it has them) to help you stabilize and sit taller. Take several deep breaths. Repeat on the other side.Section divider
Preparatory and counter poses
Before coming into Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III, practice any mild twists to open your spine, including the following. Afterward, lengthen through the spine.
Counter posesSection divider
Your body in Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III | Anatomy
In this version of Marichyasana, you turn your upper body away from your straight leg and toward your flexed knee. Similarly, your lower body, from your pelvis down through your legs, turns away from your upper body, explains Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga teacher.
The point where your twisting upper and lower extremities connect—where your upper arm wraps over your bent knee—forms a focus of leverage with different variations, depending on the way your arm and leg are positioned. You can fix your knee in place and then press against it with your arm to turn your body. Or you can brace your arm against your knee and push against it with the side of your leg. Finally, you can press your arm and leg equally against each other.
In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.
When you flex your hip, you activate the psoas and its synergists. When you bend your knee, you contract the hamstrings. Plant the ball of your foot into the mat and gently attempt to externally rotate it. With the knee bent, your thigh and lower leg move as a unit. This means that the external rotation of the tibia internally rotates your hip. This action contributes to turning the lower body away from the upper body, deepening the twist.
Press the outside of the knee into the arm to engage the tensor fascia lata, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. These muscles also have fibers that internally rotate the hip; they turn the lower body away from the upper body to deepen the twist.
Activate the quadriceps to extend the straight-leg knee. The upper body will tend to draw this leg into some degree of internal rotation. You want it to rotate away from the upper body, but only to the point where the kneecap faces up and not more to one side or the other. This balances internal and external rotation of the thigh. Press the entire back of your leg into the floor to engage the gluteus maximus.
Wrap your arm over your knee by internally rotating your shoulder. Engage the pectoralis major to initiate this action. You can feel this muscle contract by placing one hand on the chest and the other hand behind the back, lifting the hand off the lower back. The anterior deltoid, teres major, and subscapularis muscles synergize this internal rotation.
The back shoulder also internally rotates in this pose. Begin to straighten your elbows and draw them away from the back by contracting the triceps and posterior deltoids, respectively. Activate the triceps of the arm that is wrapped around the knee more strongly than your other arm to draw your trunk deeper into the twist.
This twisting pose stretches the oblique abdominals and transversus abdominals, as well as the deep muscles surrounding the spine, the spinal rotators. The external rotators of the shoulders, the infraspinatus and teres minor, and elements of the posterior deltoids also stretch.
The further you twist away from your straight leg, the more it will rotate internally. Balance this by engaging the gluteal muscles to press the back of your leg into the floor and externally rotate your thigh to bring the kneecap to face straight upward.
Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga by Ray Long.Section divider
Put Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III into practice
Ready to put this twist into practice? Here are a few flows to try:
About our contributors
Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.
Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.