YOGA PRACTICE
The Spine Twist Pose, Ardha Matsyendrasana
The twisting postures of yoga cleanse and nourish the body, in particular the spine, as they help release huge amounts of bodily tension.
Spine twists should feel good, the body should enjoy them. When one's spine is compressed, undernourished, and lacking flexibility—one feels their mobility is impaired; the body feels dried up and stiff. Twists bring internal youthfulness, hydration, strength, lightness, and vitality.

As for this particular Hot Yoga asana, named Ardha Matsyendrasana (the Lord of the Fishes Pose), we get an active, intense spinal twisting. Not only this Spine Twist pose brings back a healthy spine, it can also be beneficial as a hip–opener (especially if the hips are set level to the floor, and the traction is achieved between the hips and torso.)
Modifications
If there's a mild lower back injury, be careful not to go far into the posture. When proper alignment is applied, this can be a forceful and deep twist which may inflame or aggravate any spinal injury. If there's a serious lower back injury, only gentle twists would be advised (this pose isn't one of them), and only under the teacher's watchful eye.

If there is a knee injury, keep a straight leg in front of you (see photo). 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 ("sit-bones") to stay on the floor horizontally which is essential for the hip–opener part f the pose to kick in.

Hints for practice and teaching
Always lengthen the spine before twisting: sit up straighter.
Only twist further if you're able to breathe. The breath comes first and the depth–intensity second.

For 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. If you're practicing Hot Yoga and have a mirror in front of you, see that the bottom knee, upper knee, and nose are in a vertical line before you take the twist.

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

Work the twist from the ground up: start with the lower back, work your way up to the middle back and chest, then shoulder and neck, then look over the shoulder even further back. And the whole time continue to think inhale—sit straighter, exhale—twist further.

For the intermediate/advanced players
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 there. Breathe consciously into your lower ribs and back. Practicing Ardha Matsyendrasana offers a good opportunity to practice an active exhale (push your breath out as you are twisting.)

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 wall, 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'

Yoga teachers, 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."
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