Ardha Matsyendrasana

{PLEASE note- this was previously Posted on April 29, 2010, you can view it here: }

Writing: Chrisandra Fox

Photography: Faern

Ardha Matsyendrasana

In the Tantric universe, Shakti represents infinite energy and the catalyst for change, and Shiva represents supreme consciousness. In other Hindu systems, Shakti is the divine feminine creative power, embodied in the feminine form and as fertility. Shakti is the energy that animates and is interdependent with the entire universe.

Picture this: Shiva is meditating, deep in stillness, and all is well. His beloved consort, Parvati—an embodiment of Shakti—sneaks up from behind and covers both his eyes.

The entire universe begins to shake, the pulsation causing great movement, activity, darkness, and the imminence of death. Shiva’s third eye opens as a blazing sun, and again, all is well as Shiva regains quiet stillness.

In the physical body, when we practice twists, we enter the dance of these two lovers—the masculine and feminine, consciousness and energy. According to the tradition, the cosmic feminine energy lies dormant as the coiled serpent and spiritual potential within each of us, Kundalini. Upon activation, this cosmic energy emanates forth in spiral waves, and within this spanda, we experience the rising of Kundalini Shakti, the energetic spiritual potential of the individual.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, when ardha matsyendrasana is practiced, prana and apana vayus are brought together in the navel center, thus activating this process of awakening knowledge of the Self.

Ardha Matsyendrasana is named for the great fish, Matsyendranath, who overheard the teachings of yoga by Lord Shiva to Parvati, and who reincarnated to be one of the world�s greatest yogis.

This deep twist stimulates digestion and detoxification, balances the parasympathetic nervous system, stimulates liver and kidneys, energizes the spine, and can be therapeutic for sciatica, infertility, and asthma.

In practicing this seated twist, we can attune to the great spanda, and experience the subtle spiraling pulsations of energy that make up all of creation. Awareness of these waves brings us more deeply into an awareness of prana shakti, or the power of who we are, not just as physical beings, but as beings with a spiritual nature. As we attune to this energy, we may become more aware of our place within the entire universe, and grow within this awareness to realize the fullest expression of our unfolding, creative Self.

The Pose

Prepare for this seated twist with standing postures, including standing twists and poses that help open your hips and shoulders.

Sit in Dandasana (staff pose). Extend both legs, and place your hands alongside your hips. If your low back is rounded, sit on the edge of a blanket, so that your pelvis remains in an upright position, and you maintain your lumbar curve.

Bend your left knee and place your left foot to the outside of your right knee. You can work from this position if your hips are tight. Otherwise, bend your right knee and place your foot close to your outer left hip.

Place your left hand behind your back, close to your pelvis, and hug your left thigh in towards your chest with your right arm.

Keep an active press through the base of your left big toe, and drop the weight of the right side of your pelvis towards the ground.

Inhale and left your chest. On an exhalation, draw your navel towards your spine and twist to your left. Use your inhalation to lengthen your spine, and your exhalation to deepen the twist. You may also raise your right arm alongside your ear, lengthening the right side of your body as you inhale. If the flexibility is there, sweep your right arm to the outer left thigh on an exhalation, and maintain pressure between your arm and thigh. From here, you can bend your elbow and point your fingers towards the sky, or, if your elbow clears your left shin as you extend your arm, rest your hand on your left foot.

Twists invoke a beautiful, deep contracting aspect in the organs, while creating space for the breath to fill and expand the back body. Gently fan your back ribs and expand your kidneys as you empty your belly and coil your ribs into the twist.

Feel the twist arising from deep in your belly and low spine, and allow your heart to follow the twist. Turn your head, so that you are gently twisting your neck in the line of your spine. Continue to deepen your sense of grounding through your sitting bones as you create spiral action in your spine.

Now, tune into the spiral action by lengthening your exhalation and creating space for your next inhalation. Turn your neck in the direction opposite the spine, and turn your chin towards your right shoulder.

Twists help us challenge our habitual patterns of mind by inviting new patterns of be-ing in our bodies. As we squeeze our organs and tap into the spiral action of the twist, we are asked to move our breath into different parts of our bodies, while finding equanimity in the twist. This can influence a shift in our awareness and ways of thinking.

Take time in the twist to make sense of your new orientation, using the breath as your guide for understanding the pattern of the twist.

When you are ready to come out, use an inhalation to slowly release your spine, and gently twist in the opposite direction, offering a brief counter-balance to the strong spiraling energy.

Bring your spine to neutral and sit, witnessing the subtle pulsations of energy, and the radiant dance within your Shakti-full being before coming into the second side.

Chrisandra teaches daily doses of twists and other poses at Yoga Tree.

Chrisandra Fox teaches weekly classes at Yoga Tree, Yoga Garden and leads The Heart of Renewal Retreats in California and beyond. She teaches in Yoga Tree’s 200-hour Teacher Training.

Faern is a mixed media artist, photographer and yoga practitioner in San Francisco. Visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook.


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