Physical & Mental Health Benefits Yoga Yoga Benefits

The Asana Clinic: Week Two

My Top 5 Benefits

  1.  Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate! If you have ever been constipated, you will know how blooming miserable it can make you! We have a whole second brain in our gut (microbiome is the little environment that contains this) and if that is out of whack, well, you and your emotions will know about it. Constipation affects us all and it can rear its ugly head when we over indulge on rich (often non-fibrous) foods or suddenly change our diets (yes, even if you change to a high-fibre diet, temporary constipation can happen!). All of this waste product hanging around in the gut does not make for a happy biome and thus, makes an unhappy person. It is important to keep digestion strong and eat a variety of nutritious foods to help the microbiome flourish – minimising chances of constipation. It leaves us lethargic and with general malaise – and possibly ill tempered – but seated twists, like Ardha Matsyendrasana can help shorten the duration of a bout of constipation and help to keep things working correctly in the future. When we twist the body from the belly, we provide a lovely squeeze and massage in the abdominal cavity. The stomach, bowel, liver, spleen and kidneys all get a lovely squeeze which, when released, will get the blood pumping to them – increasing their efficiency and ability to work correctly. This squeezing action (or, “wringing out” as I like to think of it) can also encourage peristalsis (that’s the bowel pushing things through) as we are creating a compression that may lead to a more immediate movement. Don’t get me wrong, you aren’t going to be running to the loo within a few seconds of being in this pose…but you get my drift…things might be eliminated a little faster than if you hadn’t done the pose!
  2. Works the kinks out of a tight spine. I’ve been practicing yoga since the age of 13 (I’m now 32). At the age of 25 I had a pretty bad car accident that left me with some damage to a vertebra in my lower lumbar spine. I now often get that electric sciatic pain down my right glute and feel like I have a perpetual “knot” in my spine. It is really quite annoying and uncomfortable and I have had to redesign my yoga practice, over the last 7 years, around this injury – it un-did all of my development as a yoga practitioner. One posture that has remained constant throughout the 19 years of practice, the car accident, as well as the 7 years of basically having to start over is the seated spinal twist that we are talking about today. It just works. I feel so much better when I do this pose on a daily basis. I certainly know when I’ve not been doing my Ardha Matsyendrasana! Of course, I have 19 years of practice and a teaching qualification under my belt so I know that this is safe for me to practice with my spinal complaint – if you have an injury to the spine, please see your doctor before attempting this posture. However, if you are just all stiff and rigid from sitting at a desk/in a car all day; or perhaps just have bad posture, this will cure what ails you. Even if you can’t twist around very far at first, please persevere with this posture – your spine will thank you in the long run.
  3.  Calm down, calm down…As with Anahatasana, which we looked at last week, the seated spinal twist is highly beneficial in soothing the nervous system. Our spinal column contains 31 pairs of nerves, which serve the limbs of our body, so it pays to keep the spine healthy. The nerve cells in the spine are mixed, which means that they provide both sensory and “motor” (action/movement) responses. Keeping the spine active will keep these nerve cells well nourished – by increasing…you guessed it…blood flow and oxygenation to the vertebrae!
  4. Pump it up! Well, I might as well mention it as one of my favourite benefits since you may have guessed, by now, that I am obsessed with circulation! This twist gets the blood pumping virtually everywhere. All of that lovely blood is carrying oxygen, nutrients and glucose to each and every cell in your body, to keep it alive, well and active; as well as carrying away toxins and waste gases (particularly carbon dioxide) – which is equally important in keeping the cells healthy. In this pose we are using the abdominal cavity, the spine, the arms, the buttocks that are supporting us…the only part that we could consider passive is the legs – everything else is getting that rich supply of blood pumping to it! Circulation is important for so many reasons – it reduces inflammation, provides nourishment to our cells, promotes immunity by boosting efficacy of the lymphatic system and is conducive in reducing waste and toxins. There is good reason behind my obsession with circulation.
  5. Girl Power Ancient yogic lore accredits this twist with awakening Kundalini Shakti – this is the dormant feminine energy located at the base of the spine and it is often depicted in the form of a serpent. Kundalini shakti which is considered the invincible power lies at the base of the spine. It is a Sanskrit term that means ‘Coiled Power’ and it is referring to that coiled up serpent that is asleep at the base of the spine. When our serpent is awoken, we have far more self-awareness and are open to spiritual development. Shakti is the energy out of which all other energies emerge – it is a feminine, creative force. Kundalini Shakti is instrumental in boosting the performance of other charkas and facilitates balance, connects us with a wider Universal consciousness, increases sense of perception and opens up the third eye chakra, promotes calm and boosts cardiovascular and respiratory function. Not too shabby, hey?

Top Tip

When performing Ardha Matsyendrasana, adapting a mudra can help to keep the prana flowing nicely around the body. Since we are awakening our Kundalini Shakti, it is a good idea to temporarily seal all of that energy in the body – further enhancing the experience in the posture as well as prolonging the benefits after the practice has ended. I would recommend doing this with the arm that is wrapped around your leg as the other arm is making contact with the ground, to support you, and may result in you toppling over if you don a mudra! A simple mudra to start with is Gyan Mudra. Simply touch the index finger and thumb together, whilst holding the other three fingers straight. This is probably the most familiar mudra. The intention of this mudra is to improve concentration and sharpen your memory. This is perfect for marrying with the Kundalini Shakti, which promotes intelligence and creativity.

About the author

Katie-Marie Fuller

Katie-Marie Fuller

Katie-Marie Fuller is a registered yoga teacher specialising in Hatha and Vinyasa yoga. Her approach to yoga is fuelled with intelligence and creativity, underpinned by ancient philosophy and spirituality. A master of the arts, Katie’s career history and education shine through in her creative, philosophically orientated classes. Currently studying for her diploma in anatomy and physiology, Katie is changing her career path with a view to practice yoga therapy full time. Residing in Staffordshire, you will hear Katie’s soft, eloquent tones reciting philosophical quotes in yoga studios around the county. Katie prides herself on her extensive education in art and Philosophy but emphasises Aristotle’s aphorism: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”. Katie’s classes incorporate elements of Kundalini, Hatha and Yin yoga, often bound together in a vinyasa type flow.

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