Spring on the east coast has had a bit of a late start, but it’s still the season for clearing out and starting fresh (see our colon cleanse post for a specific sort of purge), and twists are where it’s at when it comes to self-cleaning.
Deeply stimulating for our internal organs, twists improve digestion and create heat in the belly — great fuel for starting a new project or finishing one that’s been lingering. Twists also energize the spine by creating space between the vertebrae, letting energy flow more freely (consider the energetic difference between a slumped spine and a tall one).
So, let’s get into one!
A challenging standing twist we love is Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle). There is a lot going on in this posture — twisting, forward-folding, hamstring-stretching, and balancing. It requires rooting down into the ground and ascending up toward the sky; there is an ease and lightness in the upper body and a strong level of action in the legs. The center of this pose is an engaged belly, fired-up enough to support the low back as the spine lengthens forward, and soft enough to allow the twist to happen from the navel.
How to prepare:
Start by lengthening and warming up your hamstrings in Janu Sirsasana:
Sit in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with both legs extended out in front of you. Draw the sole of your left foot to the inside of your right thigh, ground through your sitz bones, extend through your spine and hinge forward over your straight front leg. Move the crown of your head toward your flexed toes, keeping your spine straight. Bend your elbows out to the sides to draw yourself deeper. Repeat on the left side.
Next, take a seated twist, like Ardha Matsyendrasana or Marichyasana III:
Come back to Dandasana and bend your right knee toward your chest, sole of your foot on the floor. For Marichyasana III stay here and wrap your left arm around your bent right leg, bringing the elbow to the outside of the knee. For Ardha Matsyendrasana, place the sole of the right foot outside the left thigh and take the twist. When coming into both, twist from the navel first, slowly turning your chest to the left. Repeat on the second side.
Come into Triangle pose in your legs, right foot forward. The distance between your feet will depend on your own body geometry, but start with your back foot behind you by about 3½ to 4 feet. In Triangle, the heel of the front foot is in line with the arch of the back foot, like in Warrior Two; traditionally, Revolved Triangle maintains the same set-up, but I like to work with the feet slightly wider apart (toward the long edges of your mat). Find a happy distance somewhere between Warrior Two and Warrior One. The back foot should be at a 45-degree angle or so.
What’s happening in the legs? Good question. The thighs are moving away from each other (outward rotation), away from the midline. Knees are slightly bent, quad, hamstring and calf muscles engaged. The outer edge of the back foot is pressing firmly into the mat.
If you have one, use a block. Place it, to start, on the inside of your front foot at the highest height.
Bring your hands to your hips. Use an exhale to square them, as much as possible, toward the top of the mat (this is where having your feet slightly wide apart comes in handy). You’ll most likely need to drop your front (right) hip point down, shift it toward the back of your mat and and pick your back (left) hip point up.
Keep your hands on your hips and hinge forward. Find a long spine and flat back; reach the crown of your head out in front of you until there’s no where else to go and then reach a little more. Keep your right hand on your hip and place your left hand on the block inside your right foot.
Hook your thumb into your right hip crease to draw your right hip back.
Inhale to draw your belly up and away from your hip crease. On your exhale, turn your torso to the right, keeping your hip points as square as possible. Ground your back heel, press through the knife edge of your back foot and move your left thigh bone back in space.
Press into the block with your left hand or come onto fingertips. Continue turning your torso to the right, twisting from the navel. Think about pressing your heart against the ceiling.
Keep your hand there or slowly raise your right arm up, shoulders in line, shoulder blades drawing toward the spine.
Being mindful of your neck, shift your gaze to your top thumb if that arm is extended. Other options for the gaze are out in front of you or toward the floor.
Stay here for several long, grounding breathes. On an exhale, release the twist and bring your torso back upright on your inhale. Repeat on the second side, twisting to the left.