Parivrtta = ‘revolved’
Anjaneyasana = Often known as ‘crescent pose’ or ‘crescent moon’, or less poetically as – ‘low lunge’
Twists are very much the group of postures we make much more difficult for ourselves than they need to be. Physically pushing towards a deeper twist usually directs more force into one particular part of the spine, which – if done repeatedly as we tend to do with a physical Yoga practice – is very likely to either cause either immediate damage to the vertebral disks or eventual injury through wear-and-tear. If we focus on a natural, healthy twist which benefits how we feel rather than making us look impressive in class, our practice can last a life time, and can feel good for a lifetime.
That said, this asana is a pretty deep twist – and is great preparation when moving towards other twisting asanas such as parivrtta trikonasana and variations of ardha matsyendrasana. The beauty of working with your own body though, is that you get to decide how far to go…… although sometimes when it’s left up to us to decide, it doesn’t always go well.
In a mixed-level Yoga class there are often a lot of options given when approaching an asana; you’re offered modifications, variations and sometimes ways to make the posture even more challenging if you wish. It makes sense that that we would all choose the option that works best for us – that takes us to ‘our edge’ but still allows us to maintain that balance of sthira sukha, or ‘steadiness and ease’ as is quoted so often from the Yoga Sutras. However, our minds don’t always encourage us to do things that make sense……..
Maybe it’s the current trend of being super-humanly fit and strong that seems to be circling around the health world at the moment, the ‘no pain no gain’ mentality we may have taken with us throughout all other physical exercise and sports, the mentality that harder is ‘better’…. or maybe it’s the fact that we do seem to like making life harder for ourselves…. Rather than looking for the ease in a situation, we generally take the more difficult, ‘harder’ option a lot of the time. Instead of believing we’re already whole or just fine as we are – there’s always, always something else to ‘do’ in order to be ‘good enough’.
There’s nothing wrong with taking on a challenge and going beyond what we thought possible – physically or mentally – and there’s definitely nothing wrong with simply ‘seeing what happens’ if we try something we previously thought would be ‘too difficult’…. As long as it’s all done with conscious awareness.
There are two basic places our actions come from: Love or Fear
Love includes all things such as trust, worthiness, compassion, loyalty, dedication, freedom, joy etc… whereas fear encompasses feelings such as anger, hate, aggressiveness, worry, fear itself, over-competativeness, mistrust, arrogance etc…. It’s when we’re listening to the mind (or ego, really) a little more than our instinct or body that we tend to act from a place of fear – and it’s often fear of not being ‘good enough’.
Bringing this right back to the physical Yoga postures we’re talking about – twists – notice if your tendency in a twist is to make the breath very shallow, to grit the jaw, strain the eyes, and hold the body with a sense of tension rather than strength. Although these might be unconscious reactions to being in a challenging Yoga posture, we often also hold onto this way of practicing because it makes it seem as though we’re working ‘really hard’, and ‘really hard’ is ‘really good’…. apparently. Instead of pushing harder out of fear – which is almost 100% likely to switch on our sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight system, and also the system we’re often looking to move away from in class) – there’s another way to practice.
In a posture, practice finding the ease / comfort / or sukha (which actually literally translates as ‘good space’) when you notice tension building up. This can be done with the breath and by being more aware of our actions and habits. Primarily, become aware of the fact that you are infact already whole, complete, and ‘good enough’ before you practice; moving from a place of inner confidence in our abilities, self-trust and self-love will make a noticeable difference as soon as you step on the mat.
In the posture: Relaxing the face will help to relax the nervous system and therefore begin to calm the body, and deepening and ‘relaxing’ the breath brings us another huge step closer to finding ‘ease’ in an otherwise difficult situation. Finally, it’s very useful to press firmly into the foundations of the asana – for whatever is grounding us (the feet, hands, sitting bones etc) is doing the job of keep us stable or sthira. Putting these elements into practice on the mat can transform our practice from a wobbly, jaw-clenchy, breath-holdingy one, into a practice that really does feel like a moving meditation. Practicing in this way is still strong, yet we’re more able to readily turn a ‘struggle’ into a ‘challenge’ when we face it.
This is one of the most transformational tools to take off the mat with you:
How many times have you ‘pushed’ yourself – not necessarily in a Yoga class, but maybe while running, or lifting weights, or in a stressful situation at work. Maybe you push yourself to fit a lot into your weekly schedule so there’s never any time for your nervous system to relax, maybe you push yourself through a stressful job every day, or maybe you’re just generally pushing yourself to be ‘good enough’ in each moment. When you face difficulty, intead of opting for the ‘harder’ option, or struggling through, notice if you’re just making things unnecessarily harder for yourself. Does the situation really serve you?
Ask yourself: How can I approach this from a place of love rather than fear? What does my mind say, and what does my body or my intuition say about this? It seems easy – too easy, but again remember that we are in the habit of making things difficult for ourselves…. Ask all of the above questions though, and you’ll find a way to bring more sukha, ease or ‘good space’ into each situation.
To prepare the body:
- Awareness: Begin by noticing how you actually are before you practice. Is the breath shallow and restricted? Or is it relaxed? Are you holding parts of your body stiff or is there tension in any particular place? Are you making just ‘being in your body’ harder than it needs to be? Then start to consciously deepen the breath so it becomes full and deep, so your inhale fills up the lungs and already starts to expand the ribcage.
- Just taking a few deeper, mindful breaths like this throughout the day can make a huge difference to how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally.
- From there, move through a few rounds of cat / cow to bring some movement into the spine; focus on releasing any held tension in the mid and upper back.
- After a few rounds, practice any of the variations of ‘thread the needle’ you’ll see further down in THIS post to open a little deeper into the upper back. This is an especially useful posture to practice in preparation for the asana we’re looking at.
- After practicing to both sides of the body, come into adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), which can be a great way to open the sides of the body and upper back. Practicing this after a long day is often all we need to ease a lot of aches and pains the accompany office jobs or long periods of time travelling.
- From there, come into Utanasana, and then stand up into Tadasana (mountain pose) before practicing a few rounds of surya namaskar A (sun salutations) to warm the body and boost the circulation of blood and oxygen to the muscles we’re about to open.
- Practice one round of surya namaskar B, swapping your virabhadrasana 1 (warrior 1) for THIS variation of ashta chandrasana.
- We began this twist from a wrapped-arm variation of Anjaneyasana, in which the arms are wrapped around the body, but the action of twisting is initiated by using the strength of your core to move you, rather than pulling the body into a twist using the arms.
- Firstly, slide the front arm down the outside of the front leg.
- Depending upon your body’s flexibility and the ‘way you’re built’ anatomically, you may either be able to place the hand flat on the floor, on the finger tips, or you may choose to use a block to place the hand on so it feels grounded. Whichever one you choose, make sure it’s a choice that comes from listening to the body and not just the mind….
- Extend the other arm up and back, so that the two arms end up extended out in a line either side of the chest, similarly to how the arms might look when you’re practicing parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle).
- **If you feel any pulling, pinching or discomfort at the back of the shoulder blades or corners of the shoulders, then back out of the twist slightly, as this is an indication that the rotator-cuff is being over worked, and these are ligaments around the shoulders which we don’t really want to be ‘stretching’ too far.**
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths, or however long feels right. Focus on reaching the arms apart from each other, and twisting from the centre of the spine.
- Notice that even though the body is in a deep twist, there’s still space to breathe and expand as you actively reach out through the arms. Use each inhale to widen through the collar bones, creating space and each exhale to release any tension which may be accompanying the posture – particularly in the forehead, jaw, neck and shoulders (not to mention the breath…. are you still breathing?).
- When you’re ready to transition out, release the top hand down to the floor, and bring both hands either side of the front foot. Take a moment to become aware of the effects of the posture before moving on to the other side.
- As always, remember the effects of many asanas (particularly twists and backbends) happens after we practice them, so the practice of being mindful and aware continues long after the physical position finishes.
- To counterpose this posture: sit in a comfortable position and interlace the hands behind the back while gently squeezing the shoulderblades together – this can counteract the strong opening we’ve just created in the upper back.
- From there, lie in a supine position and practice setu bandhasana (bridge pose) to open the front of the body and again bring some engagement back to the back and shoulders.
- Lie in savasana after this for 5-10 minutes and focus purely on the breath. Notice once again any habits which may pop up, such as any tension habitually held in the face or body.
“The philosophy of life is this: Life is not a struggle, not a tension… Life is bliss. It is eternal wisdom, eternal existence”. – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi