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Monthly Inspiration: April 2015

Twists (and Ardha Matsyendrasana)

By Jody Sutter

After the winter we've been through, warmer temperatures and longer days can't arrive too soon. But, while the arrival of spring is inevitable, it can take its time. Days of rainy, grey weather will alternate between bright, sunny ones in a dance that could last until early June.

This is the reason that, despite its promises, spring is my least favorite time of the year. But, to everything there is a season, and it would be a mistake not to accept this one's gifts.

In my yoga practice, this equates to poses that expand and cleanse, ones that start slowly and get progressively deeper. In other words, it's twist season! And, for me, the first asana I think of when I think of twists is ardha matsyendrasana, or seated spinal twist.

Twists in all their forms have lots of benefits, but ardha matsyendrasana is perfect for recommissioning a body coming out of winter hibernation.

When you are in the pose, you compress your internal organs, which constricts blood flow. When you release, new blood filled with oxygen rushes back in, cleansing and nourishing the tissues.

It will also keep your spinal column healthy and mobile. After a winter of drawing in to protect ourselves from the cold, most of us want to expand in the opposite direction. But it would be unfair to ask your spine to jump right back into all the activities that come with warmer weather. Instead, spend this month incorporating ardha matsyendrasana into your practice and see if it helps to alleviate stiffness and increase range of motion.

Ardha matsyendrasana is also a hip opener, and hip openers are perfect for counteracting the effects of all that sitting or reclining we did indoors while outside the snow fell and the winds howled.

Finally, it's a pose in which you control the volume. Start slowly, be deliberate, listen to your body and use your breath. Elongate the spine on an inhale and twist from the belly on an exhale. Keep "checking in" -- survey the body and make sure that both sit bones are rooted, both sides of the torso are long and all four corners of the rib cage are expanding with each inhale.

As this month progresses, play with the idea of deepening your seated spinal twist each day. Here again, your breath will be your guide. The inhale will lengthen, the exhale will invite you deeper into the twist. And, just as April is capricious with her weather, ruled by the inscrutable laws of nature, don't limit yourself to a logical progression. There will be some days where it will feel right to push the season, indulging in deep, nourishing twists. On other days, your body may ask to be treated gingerly, with twists that are gentle and restorative.

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