This is one of the better-known stretches in the Bikram sequence, being a popular addendum to gym classes up and down the country. For my part, I’ve been doing this one since my Saturday league football playing days. Mind you, as a moody teenager obsessed with appearing hard and not-to-be-messed-with, I probably wouldn’t have been quite so happy to do it openly in front of my team-mates if we’d all known it was a ‘girly’ Yoga stretch.
Ardha-Matsyendrasana: Step by Step
The set up of this posture is a little tricky.
1. Sit down on the floor. Bend your left leg on the floor so that your left foot sits close to your right hip and buttock. The left knee should stay flat on the floor throughout the posture.
2. Now lift the right leg up and over and place your right foot flat on the floor on the left hand side of your left knee so that your right heel and left knee are touching.
3. Line the right hand up behind the back and place your right palm on the floor close to the base of your spine. Inhale, stretch the left arm up along side the left ear, exhale, draw it over the right knee to hold the left kneecap firmly.
4. Inhale lift the spine, exhale turn the head over the right shoulder and twist the shoulders and torso to the right.
5. Deepen the twist by pressing the left elbow into the right knee and reaching the right hand behind the back all the way around to hold the left thigh or hip. Maintain normal breathing and work into twisting deeper specifically during an exhalation. It’s important to keep the abdominal muscles engaged to support the spine throughout the posture. Hold the posture for 20 seconds and then release out of the posture and set up to twist to the left.
Ardha-Matsyendrasana: The Benefits
“There are tonnes”, says Olga Allon, director of Hot Bikram Yoga in London (hotbikramyoga.co.uk). “Your spine takes a battering both from sitting for long periods at your desk (it gets compressed from all the inactivity), and also from the pounding it takes when you run. The average marathon runner loses 1.5” in height over the course of a 26.2 mile race – temporarily of course – so this is a sign of how much straining your back can be placed under during and after intense exercise.”
The spinal twist increases circulation to spinal nerves, veins and tissues; improves the elasticity and flexibility of the spine; increases the flexibility of the hip joints; strengthens the abdominal muscles and buttocks; stretches the outer thigh muscles, back and chest; and opens the shoulder joint.
And one other benefit that Olga is too polite to tell you is that it flushes out the digestive system and thus improves flatulence (as in reduces it not makes it louder) so ladies, if you do only one thing today, get your fella doing this stretch as soon as possible…
Bikram specialist Olga Allon teaches at London's Hot Bikram Yoga.