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6 Ways to Practice Seated Twist

Also known as Half Lord of the Fishes, this twist often inspires thoughts of "I don't think so." Think again.

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Do you notice that certain yoga poses feel different on one side compared to the other? Maybe it’s relatively easy for you to reach your hand toward the floor when you practice Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) on the right side but much more of a struggle when you practice on the left. It might be easy for you to bring your left arm behind you in Marichyasana I but almost impossible to find the bind with your right arm.

The fact is that our bodies are not symmetrical—and they aren’t meant to be. Our left hip and shoulder joints are not identical to our right hip and shoulder joints. The thoracic spine (the upper portion in the region of the rib cage) cannot be symmetrical because the underlying organs are not symmetrical. Your anatomy may be even more asymmetrical if you have a structural injury or scoliosis. Therefore, the poses we practice will always feel somewhat different on one side compared to the other.

Each pose has its own unique expression of our asymmetry. This includes Ardha Matsyendrasana, or Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, in which twisting to the right will always feel at least subtly different compared to twisting to the left.

Often called Seated Twist, Ardha Matsyendrasana strengthens and stretches the oblique muscles of your core and stretches the muscles of your chest and outer hip. Practicing the pose improves spinal mobility and many people find that twists have an invigorating quality to them.

Twisting poses can be challenging, though, particularly for those of us who have limited spinal mobility or experience tightness in the shoulders, outer hips, or chest. Twists need to be practiced with caution if you have osteoporosis because of the higher risk of vertebral fracture.

As with any pose, there are many ways to approach Ardha Matsyendrasana, so you can find a variation that works for your individual needs.

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6 ways to practice Half Lord of the Fishes or Seated Twist

Preparation

Practicing Cat and Cow can help warm up the spine and stretch the front of the chest in preparation for Ardha Matsyendrasana. Garudasana (Eagle Pose) and Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) can help prepare the hips for the pose.

Man sitting on a yoga mat with his right foot crossed over his left knee and his chest twisting to the right in Half Lord of the Fishes
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

1. Half Lord of the Fishes with one leg crossed over

Begin seated with your legs straight in front of you. If you feel your pelvis is tilting backward, sit on a folded blanket, cushion, or block. Bend your right knee and place your right foot to the outside of your left thigh. Turn your ribcage to the right and place your right hand on the mat behind you and your left hand on your outer right knee.  Or you could bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest. Turn your head and look over your right shoulder or keep your chin in line with your chest.

Tip
The lumbar spine, or lower back, is designed to rotate only a small amount, while the thoracic and cervical spine can twist much more. I like to imagine my spine as a spiral staircase that starts off small at the bottom and grows larger with each step. This allows me to focus the twist more on the upper spine. If you feel any discomfort in your lower back, minimize the twist by allowing your pelvis to turn subtly in the direction of the twist rather than keeping it facing forward.

Man sitting on a block on a yoga mat with one knee bent and another leg straight. He is twisting to the right.
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

2. Half Lord of the Fishes without crossed legs

Begin seated with your legs straight in front of you. If you feel your pelvis is tilting backward, sit on a folded blanket, cushion, or block. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the mat in front of your right hip or slightly further to the right. Turn your ribcage to the right and either place your right hand on the mat behind you and your left hand on your outer right knee. Alternatively,  bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest. Turn your head and look over your right shoulder or keep your chin in line with your chest.

Man standing on a yoga mat with one foot on the seat of the chair and the upper body twisting to the right
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

3. Half Lord of the Fishes while standing

Begin standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet together or hip-distance apart facing a chair positioned a couple of feet in front of you. Place your hands on your hips and lift your right foot onto the seat of the chair. Keep your hips somewhat facing the chair as you turn your ribcage to the right. Either place your left hand on your outer right knee or place your hands in prayer position in front of your chest. Turn your head and look over your right shoulder or keep your chin in line with your chest.

Man seated on a chair with his right leg crossed over his left and his upper body twisting to the right
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

4. Half Lord of the Twist on a chair with crossed legs

Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet underneath your knees and cross your right leg over your left leg. Turn your ribcage to the right, placing your right hand on the back of the chair and your left hand on your outer right thigh. You could instead bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest. Turn your head and look over your right shoulder or keep your chin in line with your chest.

Man sitting on a chair on his yoga mat with his upper body twisting to the right in Half Lord of the Fishes
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

5. Half Lord of the Twist on a chair with uncrossed legs

Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet underneath your knees, whether together or hip-distance apart. Turn your ribcage to the right, either placing your right hand on the back of the chair and your left hand on your outer right thigh. Or bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest. Turn your head and look over your right shoulder or keep your chin in line with your chest.

Man lying on his back with his arms extended straight out from the shoulder and his right leg crossed over his left and twisting to the left in Half Lord of the Fishes
(Photo: Andrew McGonigle)

6. Half Lord of the Fishes on your back

Lie on your back with your arms reaching straight out from your shoulders. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the mat under your knees and step your feet out toward the long edges of your mat. Move your knees toward the left with the option of placing your left outer ankle on top of your right outer thigh. Try to keep your right shoulder pressing gently into the mat. Look toward the ceiling or turn your head and look toward your right hand.

About our contributor

Andrew McGonigle has studied anatomy for more than 20 years. After initially studying to become a doctor, he moved away from Western medicine to become a yoga and anatomy teacher. He shares his knowledge of the body and the ways it moves in yoga teacher training courses throughout the world and leads his own Yoga Anatomy Online Course. His second book is The Physiology of Yoga. To learn more about Andrew, check out doctor-yogi.com or follow him on Instagram @doctoryogi.