May's posture of the month is Ardha Matsyendrasana (ARE-dah MOT-see-en-DRAHS-anna), otherwise known as Half Lord of the Fishes Pose.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose is a seated spinal twist with many variations. The pose is named after the great yogi Matsyendranath, who is traditionally considered the founder of haṭha yoga as well as the author of some of its earliest texts. Born in Bengal around the 10th century c.e., he is venerated by Buddhists in Nepal as an incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara.
To do this pose, place one foot flat on the floor outside the opposite leg and twist the torso toward the top leg. The bottom leg may be bent with the foot outside the opposite hip, or extended with toes vertical. The arms help leverage the torso into the twist and may be bound in a number of configurations by clutching either feet or opposite hands.
It is helpful to warm up your hips for this freeing, balancing, and energizing seated twist.
If you have a spine or back injury, practice this pose with caution or not at all.
seated spinal twist
• Stretches the shoulders, hips, and neck
• Energizes the spine
• Stimulates the digestive fire in the belly
• Relieves menstrual discomfort, fatigue, sciatica, and backache
• Therapeutic for asthma and infertility
• Traditional texts say that Ardha Matsyendrasana increases appetite,
destroys most deadly diseases, and awakens kundalini.
Prepartory poses: butterfly/bound angle pose; head to knee forward fold; reclining hand to big toe pose; hero pose
Follow-up poses: seated forward fold; head to knee forward fold
Cautions: Back or spine injury: go easy and/or skip this pose altogether
Modification: It's often difficult at first to get the torso snug against the inner thigh. Position yourself a foot or so away from a wall, with your back to the wall; the exact distance will depend on the length of your arms. Exhale into the twist and reach back for the wall. Your arm should be almost but not quite extended (make sure you aren't sitting too close to the wall, which will jam the shoulder). Push the wall away and move the front torso against the thigh.
Deepen the pose: If you have the flexibility in the hips and spine you can bring the upper left arm to the outside of the upper right thigh. With the legs in place, exhale and turn to the right. Lean slightly back, away from the upper thigh, and bend the left elbow, pressing it against the outside of the upper right thigh. Then snuggle the torso in against the thigh and work the left upper arm further on to the outer leg until the back of the shoulder presses against the knee. Keep the elbow bent and the hand raised towards the ceiling. Lean into a slight upper-back backbend, firming the shoulder blades against the back, and lift the front torso through the top sternum.
As with all postures, I encourage you to listen to your body and honor where you are mentally, physically and emotionally each day. The pose will be there again tomorrow... practice in such a way that you can be too!
Hollye and the SGY Teaching Team