Twisting Basics For Ashtanga Yoga
The Ashtanga Yoga method purifies the internal systems of the body, clearsemotional and psychological
blockages and frees the student to experience a new depth of consciousness within themselves and their lives.
When you begin the practice, there are a series of simple movements in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series that will help you tap into the immense power of this sacred lineage to heal your body and train your mind. One easy tool is the simple seated twisting posture called Marichasana C. All Marichasana postures are named after the great sage Marichi. This posture is the third variation and it cleanses the digestive system, opens the muscles along the back and shoulders, helps build a deeper awareness of the essential breath-bandha connection and encourages the life energy rise along the central column of the subtle body.
If you are new to Ashtanga Yoga, there are some crucial pieces of information that will help you practice this asana with ease. First, be conscious of the usage of the lower belly and your breathing when attempting to enter the posture. Many students push their bellies out while twisting because the motion itself is difficult. But actually, the only safe way to enter twists is by sucking the lower belly deeply into the body, utilizing the lower stomach lock called uddhiyana bandha and then using this space to safely twist.
Although the most traditional counted vinyasa for the posture suggests that you enter it directly after jumping through, using the same inhalation to jump through as to create length in the spine, most students need an additional breath to prepare the alignment of the posture. When physical movements are difficult, a common first response is to hold the breath and tense the stomach. For twisting postures, not only is this counterintuitive, but it will also predispose you to injury. In order to safely move the spine into a twist through extension, you need to softly draw the lower belly in and up into the body to support the spinal extension all the way out through the top of the head. Additionally, you will need to breathe deeply into the lungs, but keep the lower stomach drawn into the body. Before you even start the posture, prepare by drawing in the lower belly, breathing into your lungs, and lifting the spine straight up out of the pelvis to create space, then exhale and twist from the waist to begin the movement that will lead you into the posture.
Marichasana C is a spinal extension that uses space created between the vertebrae to twist and bend. If you fail to create this space then the posture will not achieve its maximum benefit. Some benefits that come from creating space between vertebrae include increased flexibility in the spine, healthy posture, good digestion, decreased lower back pain and, most importantly, the slow rise of life energy or prana along the central column of the body. Lifting the spine up out of the pelvis is only possible when you carefully and consciously apply the tools of breath and bandha to connect with the core muscles of the body.
Once you have established this as the foundation, you can then keep both sitting bones grounded with the careful application of the pelvic floor muscles, known as mula bandha. The sitting bones will remain on the same plane, and the pelvis will not twist to the right or left as it is your foundation and link to the ground. As you lift your spine up and out of the pelvis, try tipping your weight slightly towards the front of your sitting bones. Be careful here not to arch too far forward into a backbend because the purpose of tipping the weight slightly forward is just to prevent leaning too far back and to letting the lower back round. It is very important that you keep the weight forward and the hip joint that you are twisting around flexed or bent deeply to protect the lower back during this twist. Once you have established the breath-bandha connection along with a solid foundation through the pelvis, exhale as you twist towards your leg, deepening the hip crease. Initiate the twist all the way from the core of the pelvis and lean over from the side to get the whole torso, chest, mid-section, and stomach wrapped as deeply around your thigh as possible.
Twisting in this manner helps open the back muscles, stretching key areas that often get tight from lack of mobility. When the body is immobile over a long period of time, muscles, fascia, and other tissues often build up like a protective armor. This twisting posture is an easy way to access some of the cleansing benefits of the Ashtanga Yoga method. Do not be surprised if some emotions surface after you dig through some of the most tight and stuck areas of your body. Furthermore, sucking in the belly while twisting literally wrings out the digestive track and help push through any old accumulated toxins or other materials from the system. Purification of the digestive track is a key cleansing aspect of the Ashtanga Yoga method. With a healthy digestion, the body of the longterm yoga practitioner is healthier and more free. Once the proper technique is established and the body has been sufficiently cleansed the twist itself will be light and easy.
The last and often overlooked portion of Marichasana C is the shoulder girdle. This area must also participate in the twist. The emotional and psychological body are often tested from deep movement in the shoulders, as the shoulders themelves form the gateway to the heart. In Marichasana C, there is also a twist in the shoulders as the arm that binds around the forward thigh must tip forward and down around the shin of the bent leg, while the hand that reaches around the back must rotate in the opposite direction. In essence, there is a second twist along the shoulder girdle that is needed for the full expression of the posture. Many people lift their spine only along the center line and thereby twist themselves off of the bind around the leg. Pay careful attention to keep the body close to the thigh that you bind around and avoid the temptation to just reach with shoulders. Instead, twist from deep within the body, lean the body weight around the bent knee and rotate the shoulders to reach the arms. Grabbing your hands is really a secondary movement that finishes off the twist along the shoulder girdle. Placing too much emphasis on grabbing the wrist or any other goal might damage your ability to feel the subtlety of the posture. Be conscious and patient and remember to feel the inner body.
The benefits of this simple twisting posture are available to everyone. You do not need to be young or flexible to experience the powerful effects of Marichasana C. As my teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, said and as it states clearly in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, yoga is for everyone of all ages, genders, sizes and shapes. The same principles developed in a relatively simple twist like Marichasana C can be applied to much more complex twisting motions that come in more advanced Ashtanga Series. However, the key alignment pointers and subtle principles must be established from the beginning in order to assure a practice with the perfect mix of strength and grace.