I’m getting a little twisted lately…in yoga class, that is. Until recently, I’ve not been a huge fan of twists and binds, probably because I’m naturally flexible. Twisting myself into positions felt like, “what’s the big whoop?” compared to say, empowerment of going into Warrior poses, the challenges–and liberation–of going into inversions, or even the soulfulness of melting onto the floor in a half pigeon. But twists and binds, I’ve discovered, have their own spiritual and physical epiphanies that are just as sweet as any of the other asanas mentioned above. Going into a twist challenges your sense of control as much as inversions do. We are so used to having our heads directly over our shoulders, which are above our hips, always facing forward from the moment we wake up until we close our eyes to fall asleep. And this fixed perspective doesn’t help us see in new ways. Going into twists and suddenly seeing the world over your shoulders, you realize there is more than one direction to everything: A simple, but powerful revelation. It’s exhilarating and will open yourself to new possibilities.
Twists and binds also challenge your notion of your self-righteousness–that is, your ego. If you need confidence boost, get yourself into a Warrior II. But then, coming into Side Angle Bind from Warrior II, and realizing how much more you need to bend in order to thread your arms for the bind, can be humbling. When I get into a twisting headstand, I need to keep my ego in check and resist the urge to kick so high and so quickly–it’s not about getting your legs higher or more overextended at all. But when you quiet your ego and allow the body to make the adjustments, that’s when the magic happens. Suddenly you’re discovering all new planes and angles for your body, which is very joyful..
Finally, twists and binds are detoxifying and will encourage your healthy digestion. I also find that they are mentally and spiritually soothing. They help calm anxieties by bringing focus inward, rather than out. So do give these twists a try–from beginner to advanced. Note that marichyasana is all levels, but I put it just ahead of side crow since it’s a great prep for that pose.
1. Triangle Twist
Stand with your feet about 3.5-4 feet apart, right toes pointing forward, left foot slightly out of your midline and toes turned out, hips facing forward. Reach far forward with your right hand and raise your left arm up overhead for Triangle pose. Then, exhale and bring your left hand to the outside of your right foot while twisting from your navel and raising your right hand overhead for a twist.
2. Side Angle Bind
Start from Warrior II. (Feet about 4 feet apart, front toes pointing forward and the back foot turned out and rooted to the floor. Lunge so that front knee is 90 degrees). Windmill your arms so that your front hand touches the inside of your front foot, either ankles or calves. Thread your front arm underneath your front thigh while meeting it with your other hand behind your back. Hold your hands together and breathe into your lunge.
3. Utthita hasta padangusthasana variation
Start from tadasana (mountain pose), standing feet together. Lift up your right knee; reach with your left hand and grab onto the outside of your right foot. Push the right foot into your left hand to extend leg all the way to the front. Slowly twist from your navel to open up your torso, reaching for the back with your right hand and looking to the back wall. Come back slowly in the same way you came into the pose, and repeat on the other side.
Start from seated position (alternatively, you can come into it from three legged dog or Warrior III, just by tucking in the back leg underneath you). Bring your right foot to the outside of your left knee, making sure to keep both hips on the floor. At the same time reach for the back of the room with your right hand, and anchor your left elbow to the outside of your right knee or thigh and twist. With inhale get a few inches taller (pressing the shoulders down), and with exhale twist further to the back.
5. Side crow
From marichyasana, press both hands down onto the floor. Tilt forward into chaturanga dandasa arms (elbows pressing into your sides at 90 degrees) while simultaneously using your right foot to push off the floor. Your elbows should be making a shelf for your right knee and right hip. (see picture).
6. Twisting headstand
Start by sitting against the wall, legs straight out in front of you. Put a block to mark where your heels are; that’s where you will set up your hands for the headstand. Measure the distance between your elbows by grabbing onto each elbow. Clasp hands together into a cup shape just where the block is. Come into a downward dog with your heels at the wall. Walk your feet up the wall until both legs are perpendicular to your body. Engage your core and lift up your right left straight toward the ceiling. Then, by engaging your core and tucking your hips even more, bring your left foot off the wall. Use the core strength to bring your left foot to the right of the midline of your body. To come down, bring both feet back to the wall and walk yourself down.
Also in Yoga Tutorials: Benefits of Inversions + 4 Poses
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling