Hot Yoga: Spine Twist

spine twist

The Spine Twist Pose, Ardha Matsyendrasana

Hot Yoga twists assist in releasing huge amounts of tension, deeply cleanse and nourish the body, especially the spine.

Spine twists should feel good, the body should enjoy them. When an average person’s spine is compressed, undernourished, and lacks flexibility - they feel their mobility is impaired; the body feels dried up and stiff. Twists bring in youthfulness, hydration, strength, lightness and vitality… Enjoy!

As for this particular Hot Yoga asana, we get an active, intense spinal twisting pose. Not only the Spine Twist benefits the restoration of a healthy spine, it can also be beneficial as a hip-opener, especially if the hips are set level to the floor. That way the traction is achieved between the hips and torso.

Modifications: If there’s a serious lower back injury, be VERY careful not to go far into the posture. When proper alignment is applied, this can be a VERY forceful, deep twist which may inflame and aggravate the injury further. Only the gentle twist would be advised, and only under the Teacher’s watchful eye.

If there’s a knee injury, keep a STRAIGHT leg in front of you. First, the left leg straight, and you’re twisting to the right. Then, the right leg straight, when you’re twisting over the left shoulder. The straight leg modification is also great for any Student with “tight hips”, as it allows both hips (“sits bones”) stay on the floor evenly, for a more efficient twist.

Hints for practice and teaching:

Always lengthen the spine before twisting. Sit up straight. Only twist further, if you’re able to breathe. The breath comes first, depth / intensity second.

For the Beginners
Take more time to set up the hips square to the floor (modify as above, if necessary). The ankle should be at the knee. Look at the mirror in front of you before you twist: the bottom knee, upper knee, and nose should be in one vertical line.

Once you twist, use the arm behind you to sit up straighter. Bring the other arm over the knee, use that arm to help you twist further.

Work the twist from the bottom up - start with the lower back, work your way up to the middle back/chest, then shoulder, neck, then look over the shoulder even further back. Think like this: INHALE - sit straighter, EXHALE - twist further.

For the Intermediate/Advanced
Once you’re in a deep twist, feel if one hip is off the floor and if it is, drop it down. Lift the chest as you twist, look further back, twist to the limit and hold.

Assuming you’re twisting to the right, with the left hand grab the left knee on the inside, between knee and ankle. The other arm will wrap around the back of your waist, the hand can grab the inside of the left thigh. Now that you look good, twist another 10% on the final exhale.

For Teachers
Offer the modification first. If you have a Student in class who has a back injury - you will probably need to stay with them through the posture, to make sure they don’t go too far.

If you’re free to move around the room, go to the back, so that when the students turn in the posture - they can see you. Teach the twist in a way similar to most of other postures, where strength is applied - LESS AT THE BEGINNING, MORE AT THE END.

Common mistakes:

  1. Students come in too fast
  2. Hips not level to the floor (not even in the seat, one hip lifting)
  3. Torso leaning back or to the side
  4. Front foot not placed correctly
  5. Head tilting to the side
  6. Students should modify, but don’t
  7. The wrong leg ‘under’

If your Students are bored, here’s a joke: in your twist, sit up straight, sit elegantly - like you’re on a first date with a handsome stranger.


Nyon, Switzerland