Parivrtta = “To Turn” / “To Revolve” Trikona = Three Angle or Triangle Asana = Posture
The New year has probably seen a lot of Yoga classes practicing a series of twists, and there’s good reason for it…. Physically, twists promote detoxification and stimulation of the kidneys and liver (so if you’re hungover during class, the teacher will probably notice….) They also help to simultaneously strengthen and release tension in the muscles of the spine, so if this Winter has seen you sitting and hunching over a lot, they’ll give some much needed relief.
Perhaps the most important benefit of twists though, is that they also aid in helping us detox the mind…. Twisting results in a lot of emotional tension being freed from the body, and because of the very close connection between the physical body and the emotional body, the mind seems a lot clearer after practicing them. If we want the body to change, there must be a shift in our mindset, too. (Click THIS link for an article on how holding on to emotions actually results in holding on to unnecessary body weight, if that’s your concern at the moment….)
Parivrtta Trikonasana lengthens the IT band and hamstrings (good if you’ve taken up running as a new year’s resolution), strengthens the legs and feet, and of course nourishes the muscles surrounding the spine as the twist occurs. As a bi-product, twists also help strengthen the abdominal muscles, especially the internal and external obliques. But as with everything in our practice, the emphasis is on awareness and consciousness as we move, never how deep we can actually get in a shape….
To prepare the body for parivrtta trikonasana:
Begin standing in tadasana (mountain pose) and begin to gently swing the arms around the body, creating a spiralling motion in the upper body. This is especially good for easing backpain, as a huge reason we suffer with this nagging type of pain is because of holding the spine stiff in one particular place. Notice how the muscles and tissue of the body supports this natural, spiralling motion.
From there, make your way through a few rounds of surya namaskar A and B. Twists are always more accessible after the body has moved and warmed up, and also gentle backbends and forward folds…
After your last round of surya namaskar B, practice dancing warrior (in which the body moves through virabhadrasana 1 & 2, reverse warrior and Parsva Konasana, to lengthen and open the sides of the body further). Use the breath to open through the sides of the body, and stay an extra moment or two in each posture.
From there, make your way back to Tadasana, and step the feet wide apart.
Practice prasaritapadottanasana, adding in a twist to each side to further prepare the spine for the twisting action of the spine.
After this, raise the body back upright and keep the legs in a wide stance.
- Standing with the legs wide apart and the feet parallel – about a leg’s distance apart. Begin by turning the front [right] foot so that the toes point towards the front of the mat (or if you’re not on a mat, turn the foot 90 degrees out).
- Turn the back [left] foot so that the toes face slightly inwards. Whereas in Trikonasana in which the back foot is parallel to the outer edge of the mat, parivrtta trikonasana requires the back foot to be turned in slightly. This keeps the hips healthy and prevents the S.I joints from twisting (ideally they don’t want to be moved about too much!)
- Take the [right] hand to the lower back and start to reach the [left] arm directly up. Opening the side of the body is especially important when we’re twisting, to allow for space and room to move around the ribcage.
- Turn the body and hips to face the front (this is why the back foot needs to be turned in slightly, so that the hips are able to turn without twisting awkwardly…)
- Focus on grounding through the feet first, as a stable base and strong connection to the ground will allow for more space in the upper body to twist and Traditional Iyengar alignment says to press through the ball of the front foot and the heel of the back foot – I would add a sense of pressing the feet down and away from each other too, as this helps engage the core muscles of the inner thighs and deep abdominals.
- Begin to reach the [left] arm forwards, maintaining length in the sides of the body, and keeping the hips level.
- Use the inhale to create space along the sides of the body as you continue to lengthen forward, keeping the back of the neck long.
- As you exhale, bring the [left] hand down to either the inside or the outside of the front foot. Placing the hand outside of the foot requires a little more balance and will take the twist deeper, so rather than feeling as though you need to push and force in order to get to that desired ‘shape’, find what your body actually enjoys, it’ll be a lot more beneficial….
- Using a block can be a great way of feeling the posture in your body before moving deeper. A lot of the time it is simply the shape, size and length of our limbs that prevents us from reaching a certain point in an asana. Since Yoga won’t help make your arms and legs longer or shorter, it’s a good idea to work with what we’ve got and use props when needed….
- Keeping the hand wherever it needs to be, inhale to again lengthen the spine, and as you exhale draw the [right] shoulder open to the right to come into the twist.
- If the shoulders are happy with it, reach the [right] arm up towards the ceiling to come into the full expression of the posture.
*Now you’re here, continue to ground the feet down and away from each other, and observe how the breath can create a sense of expansion even though you’re twisting. Make sure the front knee isn’t locked by keeping a micro-bend in the front leg, so the muscles are still engaged, awake and supporting you.
- Instead of twisting the spine forcefully, maintain the natural length and think about spiralling up and round. Spirals are a very natural way to work with the body, as much of our muscle, tissue and fascia wraps and spirals around the body. The spiral line as described my Tomas Myers shows the natural pathway of movement that the body likes, and many of our daily movements already exhibit a slight spiral, turn or twist….
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or however long feels good to you.
- To transition out of the posture, exhale as you bring both hands down to the floor, bending the front knee slightly to take the pressure off the knee and thigh.
- Keep a slight bend through the front knee as you inhale and bring the body back upright, returning to the place you started from.
- Become aware of how the posture effects every part of you before moving onto the other side. The effects of twists happen after we’ve physically practiced them….
To counterpose this asana, make your way to the floor and practice a couple of prone backbends like cobra, salabhasana, or even our swimming salabhasana from last week’s post. Twists are great for the spine, but it’s important to bring stability back to the lower back and S.I joint after practicing them. From there, rest in balasana (child’s pose) and if you still feel like the legs or hips could use some attention, then practice janu sirsasana and baddha Konasana to counteract the lengthening of the IT band and outer hips.
Twists may seem like a way of tying ourselves in knots, but they can actually be a very helpful way to create a sense of spaciousness and clarity in the body once a series of twists has been practiced. As Krishnamacharya and many other great teachers have said before in one way or another; “Yoga is not about tying ourselves in knots, it’s about un-tying the knots within us….”