Namaste everyone. For this month I would like to share some points about the seated twist Marichyasana 3. Twists in general are a wonderful way to detoxify and energize our bodies: in a twist our internal tissues are squeezed and compressed, thus ridding our insides of waste products and toxins. When our bodies then untwist, the cleared inside spaces can fill up with fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients. Our insides have a chance to rejuvenate! How wonderful is that!
When done with awareness to correct alignment, twists can increase flexibility of muscles in the back, of the abdomen and shoulders and also support healthy spinal mobility.
Before we specifically take a look at Marichyasana 3, I would like to mention some practice points for twists in general:
- Lengthen your spine before you twist. This can be achieved by reaching the crown of the head and the tailbone away from each other. For my personal practice I can achieve a nice spine lengthening effect if I focus on lengthening both sides of my torso evenly.
- Use your breath as you twist: as you inhale, lengthen the spine and as you exhale revolve into the twist. While in a twist, you can repeat this procedure to try to deepen your twist.
- Stabilize the base of your pose. If you are doing a standing or seated twist, it is necessary to stabilize the lower spine (usually the pelvis) as the upper part of the spine (ribcage and shoulder girdle regions of spine) revolves. Be aware that sometimes in a yoga pose the pelvis and legs are turning into a twist while the shoulder girdle remains the stable base—an example would be twisting while in Salamba Sirsasana – Supported Headstand.
- Twists are asymmetrical poses, so remember to practice each side evenly.
- I was taught, as you twist, do the right side before the left side. This has to do with the functioning of our intestines.
So, let’s take a look at the alignment and refinement of our practice of Marichyasana 3!
In this variation of Marichyasana 3 I am sitting on a block to give me height so I can sit tall through the spine. I use a block for my back hand to give me leverage to press down more easily to help me lift up through the spine and keep my trunk as vertical as I can make it. The extended leg foot presses into the wall to keep that leg active. (By the way, that is my doggy Frankie in the background. He sneaked into the photo:-) )
Instructions for Marichyasana 3:
- Come to sit in Dandasna—Staff pose, a seated pose where our legs are extended straight in front of us. If you have difficulty sitting upright and tall (could be that your hamstrings are tight or it’s too much muscular effort), sit on one or more folded blankets.
- Bend your right knee, foot on the floor and its heel close to the right sitting bone. Your right shin needs to be perpendicular to the floor and keep the inner knee close to midline of the body (don’t allow it to fall out to the side. It will help to press the big toe mound into the floor. But also don’t let the knee collapse inward)
- Inhale to sit tall, don’t allow your back to slump. On an exhale turn your torso to the right, have your left arm bent and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Your right hand will be behind you with the fingers pressing into the floor to help you keep your spine upright.
- Keep pressing the right knee and left elbow together to help you turn your navel, ribcage and shoulder girdle to the right.
Inhale lift, exhale turn!
- If comfortable for your neck, turn your head to gaze over your right shoulder.
- Hold the twist for 30 – 60 s. Then exhale as you return your torso back to the front and sit in Dandasana- Staff Pose again. Then repeat for the left side.
Work in the pose:
- It is VERY important to sit upright and avoid slouching. Keep lengthening your spine. Don’t be hesitant to sit on one or more blankets. Allow the hand that will be behind your body to push into the floor to help you achieve getting your trunk as upright as possible. In the tip pictures below you will see some other options to help you stay as upright as possible.
- If twisting to the right, be aware that there might be a natural tendency to lean to the left. Reach the left side ribs away from the pelvis to straighten out as much as possible.
- Keep your extended leg active by pressing the thigh down to the floor and press the big toe mound of the bent leg foot down. This will also help with lengthening the spine.
- Try to maintain a neutral stable pelvis by not allowing the bent leg side of the pelvis to shift back.
- Keep both shoulders rolling back and down. Have your top chest lifted and broad. From this, when twisting to the right, allow the right shoulder blade to move closer to the spine and allow the left back ribs and left shoulder blade to move away from the spine and actively press that left shoulder blade forward into the back to spin the right side ribs back and the left side ribs forward.
- If you want to practice the classical version of the pose, your left arm will wrap around the front of the right shin and grab the fingers of the right hand behind your back.
- As you gaze over the shoulder that moves into the twist first, keep your chin parallel to the floor, your gaze soft and your face relaxed.
Some tips for you:
In the above two photos I am practicing a standing variation of the Marichi pose. The chair seat, blocks, my right hip and right knee are touching the wall. The right foot is on 2 blocks so that I can form a 40 to 45 degree angle with the right thigh (it could be that you just need one or no blocks for this) . The standing left leg should be as perpendicular to the floor as possible—keep pressing this thigh back. The right outer hip on the wall stays close to midline due to the wall and you want to have the pelvis stable and neutral—both hip points facing forward. Keep that as you twist to face the wall.
When you lift the standing heel up, you can create more space and length in the spine and so deepen the twist.
In these two photos I am using a chair to help me sit upright / I can use the backrest as leverage to sit tall and twist deeper. Notice the extended leg foot pressing into wall as help for pelvis stability by keeping extended leg hip even with its opposite side hip.
Marichyasana 3 from behind. The back hand on the wall allows me to keep my torso nicely upright.
This is the classical version of the pose involving the clasp behind the back. You will notice that I am not ready for this variation. By using a strap as an arm extender I can take some roundness out of the left shoulder and upper back. I should have pressed the tips of the shoulder blades more into the back and strongly rolled my collar bones up to the ceiling!
Two ideas from Iyengar Yoga teachers on how to use the chair in your practice
- Yoga, The Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira and Shyam Mehta, published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 1990
- Yoga, The Path To Holistic Health by B.K.S. Iyengar, published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 2001
- The general practice principles for twists were inspired by the Online article from Yoga Journal: Do The Twist by Claudia Cummins