Featured Asana—Ardha Matsyendrasana Note: Photo illustrates 2nd side (rotation of trunk to the left).

Welcome to Awaken with Yoga's "Featured Asana" page. This page will always feature a posture to be studied and practiced following the principles of Vanda Scaravelli's teaching-- which she herself did not name, but which through general usage has come to be known as Scaravelli Yoga.  Also included will be the benefits; contraindications; general guidelines for all poses in its classification (standing poses, inversions, seated poses, forward bends, twists, backbends, balance poses, and vinyasa/flow movements linked through breath); and specific focus for the asana of the month (see photo).

About the Pose

If you are pregnant or dealing with back pain or injury, please see Contraindications and Cautions below before proceeding. It is always a good idea to preview contraindications to a pose, especially if you are new to Yoga or are unfamiliar with how your body responds to yoga postures.

This  asana, Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), is a seated twist and as such arises from the foundational pose, Dandasana, or Stick Pose. Be sure you can sit easily in Dandasana on the center of your sitting bones as your base of support before you begin. You may need to either bend your knees a bit or elevate your sitting bones on a folded blanket (or both) to position the pelvis in its optimal alignment.

In general it is wise to reserve twisting poses, especially the seated twists, for a time when the spine has been well lengthened by standing poses, forward bending, backbends, and/or inversions. Examples include Cat Pose, Standing Forward Bend, Bridge Pose, Downward Dog, Sun Salutations, and Shoulder Stand. Breathing into the open side of the body in side bending poses helps prepare the ribs for this and other seated twists.

It is also helpful to have warmed up your hips with some hip openers, such as Baddha Konasana Cobbler’s Pose), Parivrtta Vajrasana (Revolved Thunderbolt Pose), or Gomukasana (Cow Face Pose). Seated Twists are often practiced near the end of an asana sequence. Follow your seated twists with a gentle seated forward bend, such as Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) or Balasana (Child’s Pose), and then finalize the benefits as you relax deeply in Savasana (Corpse Pose).


Sit on your mat with both legs extended in front of you; legs and feet are hip width apart. As you sit in Dandasana (Stick Pose), initially with bent knees, center your weight on the very bottom of your sitting bones. Be sure you are not sitting on the rounded back or front of these bones. Spread the base of your pose (use your hands to draw the flesh beneath the sitting bones back and outwards away from the bones). Use support as needed to level the pelvis. (See “Specific Focus”)

Now begin to allow the weight of the upper body to descend into gravity through the sitting bones. This requires only your intention plus your attention. Breathe and wait for the sense of weighted heaviness to ground you. When your pelvis feels heavy, allow the energetic roots of the pose to slip beneath your mat and the floor, like the roots of a large tree plunge into and beneath the earth.

As you surrender your weight into gravity, the Earth’s rebound energy will move in a wave through your pelvis and upward through your spine, bringing your upper body into effortless vertical alignment and a sense of almost weightlessness. Allow yourself time to experience this.

Begin to Move into the Pose

With your awareness dropping into the roots of the pose, sense the weightedness of your sitting bones and the backs of your legs and heels. Now bend your left knee and bring your heel in toward you; then turn your leg outward at the hip joint (external rotation), as if moving into Sukhasana (Easy Pose or simple cross legged sitting). The shape at the base has changed; notice the new ground connection beneath your sitz bones, back of the right heel, and the outside of your left foot.

The arch of your left foot now approaches or touches the front of the right sitting bone, or you can sit on the inside of your left foot. (Note: For an easier version of the pose, keep your left leg straight.) Spread the base of the pose on the left side again, and wait again for a breath or two. Then bend your right knee and move the right leg over the left, positioning the right foot close to the left knee. The right heel spreads, grows new roots, and connects solidly to the ground.

Play with the movement created by pressing through the heel of the right leg and notice how it initiates a natural rotation of the trunk toward the right thigh.

Now, inhale, gently elongate the spine, and press down through the heel of the right foot; turn your torso gently to the right, and take hold of the outside of your right knee with your left hand. Place your right hand on the floor next to your hip (or behind your spine if you are more flexible) for support. Exhaling, drop your hips down and at the end of your exhalation, sense the willingness of the spine to rotate more to the right. Allow the slight “give” requested by your sitting bones to accommodate the rotation without jamming the SI joints.

Continue to gently lengthen the spine as you inhale, and then rotate more to your right during and especially at the end of each exhalation. Observe how the twist spirals upward beginning from the pelvis, sequencing through your waist into the lower ribs and middle back. When you are ready, place your left elbow outside your right knee, bending the elbow and raising your hand or straightening the elbow and resting your left hand on the left knee or ankle.

Press the right knee into the left elbow (or lower arm if arm is wrapped around the knee) to assist the rotation to the right. Continue to press down with the right foot at the end of each exhalation to deepen and continue the lengthening and turning. Doing this deepens the hip joint and elongates the spine. The turn continues of its own volition as your spine thus lengthens.

Completing and Being the Pose

Once the twist is fully developed, having rotated through middle and upper back, and shoulders, allow the neck muscles to lengthen on the side you are turning toward, and relax your shoulders. Remember to stay soft enough to allow the wave of each breath to move through your body, taking you very slightly “out” of the twist on each inhalation and back into deepening on each exhalation.

Release from the top down, de-rotating stage by stage. Slowly move your arms and legs out of the pose and sit comfortably. Pause for a brief time to observe the intriguing differences between the two sides of the body.

Then repeat on the other side.

Note: Photo illustrates 2nd side (rotation of trunk to the left).


General Guidelines for Twisting Poses

  • Begin by grounding yourself through the part of the body that connects with the Earth. Wait long enough to sense your weightedness and levity (lightness).

  • Maintain breath awareness and allow each exhalation to move waves of expansiveness through the spine. Pause and gently elongate the spine on each inhalation.

  • Feel the body’s willingness to move into an ascending spiral—from the bottom of the spine up, like ascending a spiral staircase. This willingness occurs naturally near the end of each exhalation.

  • Allow a little counter rotation during each inhalation, like a little rebound. It is part of the body’s wisdom and will take the torso into greater spiral expansion on the next exhalation.

  • Stay centered in your spine, maintaining the integrity of this central axis.

  • Initiate twists from the inside of the body—the organs and the soft front of the spine—rather than forcing or pulling the body into a spiral by using muscular force. Engage your organs to suggest pace and patience in the degree of movement during each exhalation.

  • Remember—the spine must elongate before it rotates. Anchor the body downward with legs or sitting bones and wait for the resulting upward release of the spine. Maintaining meticulous attention to your groundedness—through the parts or the body that are in contact with the surface—is required for the easy and fluid release of the spine upwards.

  • Allow the spine to receive directional suggestions from the limbs and hips.

  • Sacroiliac joints (SI joints) DO NOT rotate. Movement must come from the hips.

  • Degrees of rotation: lumbar = 60 degrees; thoracic = 120 degrees; cervical = 180 degrees.

Specific Focus for Seated Twists

  • Breathing into open side of side bending poses prepares ribs for seated twists

  • Allow sitting bone to glide or move along the floor to prevent jamming of SI joint(s). Wood floors are best for providing the combination of both non-slip and smooth surface for seated twists.

  • Elongate the spine before each rotation that carries you into a more complete twist.

  • Turn on the exhalation, releasing into the twist rather than forcing the body.

  • Keep limbs, head and neck free from rigidity.

  • Breathe freely.

  • Rotation is around the axis, so stay aware of your spine—your vertical axis.

  • The movement or flow of Energy sequences from the ground through the pelvis, then through the chest and then into the neck.

  • Lengthen neck muscles on the side you are turning towards. Stay soft.

  • Keep pelvis level in seated twists. Use blankets, cushions, small pillows, or small, soft under-inflated balls.

Benefits of Twisting Poses

  • Freeing, balancing, energizing

  • Increase range of motion and flexibility, esp. hips & upper back

  • Tone and strengthen abdominal organs and oblique muscles

  • Energize and purify internal organs by bringing fresh, oxygenated blood supply

  • Stimulates liver, spleen, heart and lungs

  • Release excess heat and toxins from organs and tissues

  • Offer benefits to spine, pelvis, hips, digestive system and elimination

  • More challenging to those with shorter limbs, so remember not to force the body

Contraindications and Cautions

  • Take care if you have any back or neck problems. During pregnancy, practice only gentle twisting in poses that are open and allow space for the fetus.

  • Back (or neck) problems: especially those with clinically diagnosed disc herniation should avoid twists until you can do back stretches (forward bends), gentle back bends, and standing poses without pain. Then begin with standing twists, followed by reclining twists. When comfortable with these, try seated twists.

  • Other intervertebral disc problems

  • Sacroiliac displacement

  • History of hip dislocation or prostheses—be cautious

  • Bruised, broken or dislocated ribs

  • Menstruation

  • Irritation or inflammation of internal organs, ex. Cystitis, irritable bowel, colitis, diarrhea


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