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Postures: Alignments & Bandhas

Chair Pose Twist (Parivritta Utkatasana)

utkat asana twist

Utkatasana removes stiffness in the shoulders and corrects any minor deformities in the legs. The ankles become strong and the leg muscles develop evenly. The diaphragm is lifted up and this gives a gentle massage to the heart. The abdominal organs and the back are toned, and the chest is developed by being fully expanded. And by adding the twist to the pose, the lower spine is rejuvenated and the abdominal organs are squeezed and contracted, aiding digestion and elimination. Parivritta Utkatasana or Chair Pose Twist is a wonderful twist that not only prepares the spine for the upcoming backbends but also creates flexibility in the spine, cleanses the inner organs, and strengthens the legs. As with any twisting pose, the alignment of the hips is key to experiencing these benefits. The pose is also thought to have therapeutic applications for flat feet.
In order to get a lovely deep, and effective twist, you will also want to make sure the chest and shoulders are higher than your hips. When the chest is dropped down then the spine is rounded, which is not a good position for twisting! Drop the hips lower and lift the chest up so that you have a long spine, then turn your heart towards the ceiling. Make sure that the hips are squared (in line with the knees). Drop the lower hand down to the floor & lift the other arm towards the sky. Gaze at the tip of the thumb of the upper arm.

Backbending Poses


On a physical level, backbending postures have a lot to offer; the muscles of the back are made stronger and less rigid, the chest and lungs are stretched, legs and shoulders are strengthened, hips and internal organs are stretched and toned. All of these are benefits that can help us to live in our bodies with increasing comfort and with fewer aches and pains. This is a major goal of the asana (posture) practice. The more comfortable that we are in our bodies, the less time we spend worrying about physical distractions and disease. Instead, we are able to turn our minds toward more profound topics that are meaningful to us.

Backbends are exciting and often look very glamorous… so it is especially important to listen to your body and not your ego when practicing them! It is best to practice backbends when the body (& especially the spine) have been warmed up. It is often helpful to prepare for backbending by working with postures that open the shoulders, quadriceps, and hips. Starting with a few gentle backbends and working toward deeper poses is the safest approach. Afterwards, neutralize the spine with either downward dog or dandasana. Gentle twists and navasana (boat pose) are also good follow-ups.

As a yoga practitioner’s body becomes increasingly comfortable and confident with backbends, the benefits move beyond the realm of the physical. Backward bending requires both strength and flexibility. As these qualities are developing in one’s body, one’s overall sense of self also becomes more confident and more open. A yogini seeks to possess both the security of self-knowledge and the flexibility of receptivity.

The fronts of our bodies are used to present ourselves to the world. We greet people by facing them, looking into their eyes, shaking hands with them, and maybe offering a kiss on the cheek. We pick up produce at the market and examine it with our eyes and noses. We walk forward into new rooms and down new streets. So, the front body represents one’s external self and one’s future: the realm of the unknown and of undeveloped potential.

Backbends require a leap of faith into this realm – which is both terrifying and exhilarating. Initially, you may experience physical or mental reluctance to enter into backbends. However, the joy of overcoming this resistance reminds us of our ability to overcome all our fears and seek out the rewards of new opportunities. Backbends can open our hearts and unleash us into a way of being that is joyful and fearless. And that is certainly worth the effort!

This experience, even if very brief, can be quite exciting and energizing. Some people may even get so much energy from doing backbends that they experience insomnia after their practice. Other times people can experience a notable lifting of their spirits and overall outlook on their day. By giving ourselves a safe opportunity to face our fears of failure and impossibility, we prepare ourselves for other difficult situations in life. Gradually, a yogini learns to keep their breath steady, to give all that they have to offer, to work with persistence and patience, and to visualize a positive outcome. These are skills that we can use in all parts of our lives, well beyond the borders of our yoga mats.

Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)

uma natraj asana

Natarajasana is a balance between stillness and motion. The stillness speaks of peace and poise that lies within us all at the center. The intense motion is an intimation of the fury and ferocity, the vigor, which fills this universe. It's the idea that in the middle of this wild dance of the universe we discover stillness. In the midst of his wild dance, Shiva's head is balanced and still, his expression, calm and serene, he's in perfect equipoise.

This is a balancing pose that strengthens the legs. It also is a full body stretch which engages the shoulders, chest and abdomen, strengthens the thigh and calf muscles, knees and ankles, hips and spine, and develops concentration and grace. This aesthetic, stretching and balancing asana is used in Indian classical dances.

Revolved Half Moon Pose (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana)

Half Moon Pose and its twin, Revolved Half Moon Pose, represent, to me, the middle ground between the emptiness and fullness of the moon. As one-legged balancing poses, they require a steady stream of prana in the legs and feet to keep you grounded, and as deep twists, they require a steady stream of prana through the upper body to keep the torso soaring. The balance of energy is precisely calibrated. Learning them requires both considerable strength and patience, but if you use the support you need and if you keep your mind spacious, you'll find that they are rejuvenating and restorative. They build a sense of ease and equipoise while being energizing and dynamic. You notice the stimulating effects of the Half Moon poses as well as their cooling, rejuvenating benefits.

Revolved Half Moon Pose demands a lot from the hamstrings, pelvis, sacrum, and lower back. It also requires considerable core strength. Awaken and warm up your torso and legs before you practice the pose; start with Sun Salutations and a series of standing poses like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle), and Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch). Be sure that you are steady in Tree Pose, the first balancing pose to learn before venturing into this pose.

Camel Pose ( Ustrasana)

Camel Pose is a very deep backward bend performed in a kneeling position. This pose sometimes brings out the deepest emotions of the practitioner.

camel pose

Stretches the entire front of the body, the ankles, thighs and groins
Stretches the Abdomen and chest, and throat
Stretches the deep hip flexors (psoas)
Strengthens back muscles
Improves posture
Stimulates the organs of the abdomen and neck

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