Many of the poses we practice are named after great Hindu sages and deities. One of my favourites to talk about is the story behind Ardha Matsyendrasana or more commonly known as “Seated Spinal Twist.” The story behind Matsyendra is one of darkness and resilience. Below I will share just a part of the story and what it can teach us about being continually immersed in the teachings of yoga.
Many years ago in a small village by the ocean, a baby boy named Machanda was born. For some reason, and no one can say for sure why, Machanda was not wanted by anyone. His parents decided to take him to the edge of the sea and throw him into the water. Fortunately, just before landing in the water, a large whale breached the ocean’s surface and swallowed baby Machanda.
Machanda was able to then make a hom inside of the whale’s bely. The whale then dove deep down to the ocean floor where Shiva and Shakti were secretly teaching each other the practices of Hatha Yoga. As the whale swam around them, Machanda pressed his ear up to the whale’s stomach and heard these magical teachings being taught. He begged the whale to stay nearby so he could drink in the knowledge and wisdom that Shiva was conveying to Shakti.
Many years later, after spending countless hours listening through the whale’s stomach to the teachings of yoga, the whale then swam back to the ocean shore. There, the whale breached again like he did so long ago and freed the boy from his belly. Out the boy came but he was transformed into half boy, half fish. From then on, he became known as Lord Matsyendra and was among the first ever to teach the practices of Hatha Yoga to people. Matsyendra is credited as being of the grandfathers of Hatha yoga along with Gorakshana and a few others.
There’s much we can pull from this story but what I love most is the powerful imagery of the boy being swallowed by the whale. I’ve always felt and taught that that moment is the equivalent of when life or an experience consumes us whole and drags us to the depths of existence. Whether if when we get injured and we feel like our physical capacity is completely drowned or when our hearts get broken and it feels as though our ability to be compassionate and loved is submerged and non-existent, this story teaches us that it is always possible to hear the teachings of yoga and our teachers no matter how deeply we’re pulled under. The key to this is the ability to listen and stay connected to everything we’ve learned despite being dragged into the underbelly of experience. We do this not in hopes of ignoring whatever has submerged us but allowing us to stay inside the wisdom of life we’ve accumulated that’s so easily lost in moments like these.
The pose itself is commonly known as a basic seated twist. The full pose is quite complicated and challenging.
This is the description for the classic expression of Ardha Matsyendrasana as pictured above. Before you attempt this pose, be sure the outer rotators of the hips, spine, back, and front of the shoulder girdle are sufficiently open.
Begin seated in Dandasana. Cross your right leg over your left so that your right foot is placed flat on the outside of the left thigh. Then bend your left knee and place the left foot to outside of the right hip. Place your right hand to the outside of the right thigh and stretch your left arm overhead. As you cross the left arm to the outside of the right thigh press your right hand into the right thigh using that as leverage to work your left armpit down to the outside of the right knee. Once right knee is snug into your left armpit, pick your right toes up so your just on the heel of the right foot. Wrap your left arm around and grab your right pick toe. Holding on to the toe, slowly put your right foot flat to the floor again while continuing yout grip. Then, as you twisted deeply through your rib and belly to the right, reach your right arm around to the top of the left thigh and holder the inner thigh. Stay here for 5 breathes and repeat on the second side.
Sean Haleen’s classes are noted for their humor and depth. Focusing on alignment, students wishing to learn about their bodies and the different concepts of yoga philosophy in detail will enjoy his public classes. Click here to see his weekly class schedule. Join Sean Haleen this month at Advanced Handstand Bonanza on October 19th and Yoga For Shoulder and Neck Care on October 26th!
Photography by Ryan Scott. email@example.com