This powerful seated twist cultivates equanimity and inner illumination—two qualities that help us unlock our vast potential and reach yoga’s ultimate aim.
What should you expect from yoga? Even if you’ve never done it, you are probably familiar with its benefits: a healthier, more flexible body, reduced muscular and mental tension, improved vitality, clearer thinking, deep relaxation, and perhaps even a better, more fulfilling sex life.
But before we conclude that’s all there is to yoga, let’s consider it in a larger context. Throughout the ages there have been accounts of masters who cultivated abilities most of us would describe as fantastic: the capacity to be in more than one place at the same time; to consume poison with no ill effects; to foresee the future; to materialize objects out of thin air; and even the capacity to affect fate. So…which is it? Does yoga simply offer a better quality of life or does it have the potential to expand our capacities in ways that few of us can even imagine? The answer is: both. It all depends upon what you practice and how.
The ancient teachings consistently remind us that siddhis (miraculous powers) are at best distractions from the deeper purpose of life, and are not goals worth pursuing in and of themselves. Yet they can serve as beacons, reminders that hidden within each of us are great mysteries to solve and unfathomable possibilities to unlock.
We all come into this world with similar faculties. Both a sage and a salesman have a mortal body, five senses, access to prana (the vital force), consciousness, and a soul. So what determines how much of our vast potential we will unlock or, more to the point, how far yoga can take us? The scriptures are very clear: The key to unlocking our infinite capacities and fulfilling yoga’s ultimate promise is the mind. More specifically, we must cultivate two of the mind’s inherent qualities: equanimity and inner illumination.
The hatha yoga tradition describes specific practices that awaken dormant capacities. Yet before we tackle these advanced techniques we must be firmly rooted in qualities first cultivated through asana. Some of the most effective for increasing equanimity and inner illumination are twists, particularly when they are held for longer periods of time.
Bharadvajasana II is a powerful seated twist that builds both these qualities. Like all twists, it releases contraction in musculature as well as connective tissue, while improving visceral processes: the liver, spleen, kidneys, and particularly the digestive and eliminative functions are strengthened. At a more subtle level, twists build samana, the “equalizing force.” Stored in your abdomen, samana is one of ten types of prana in the body. Its specific role is to engender mental and physical stillness, as well as assimilative capacity. Your capacity to slow down, rest deeply, and process what you take in, is determined by your supply of samana.
According to ayurveda, assimilation is the cornerstone of physical well-being. In simple terms, assimilation is the process of transforming what we ingest into nourishment. On the mental level assimilation is the process of transforming our experiences into life lessons that nourish us and help us grow. Strong mental assimilation allows us to efficiently extract what all experience—both good and bad—is meant to teach us.
As the force behind assimilation, samana is a form of subtle fire which, at the mental level, ignites our capacity to “digest” or burn our psychological patterning. As samana increases, it fuels the inner light that removes the darkness of spiritual ignorance. Twists are the most effective postures for building samana.
The key to twisting is the relationship between the hips, shoulders, and head. The mechanics of a twist require us to stabilize at least one of these three areas. For example, in a lying twist the shoulders remain relatively stable, while the hips and (sometimes) the head rotate. In sitting twists we stabilize the hips while rotating the shoulders. In the case of bharadvajasana II, the head and shoulders rotate in opposite directions, while the hips remain stable.
There is a natural progression to twisting that we should follow to maximize safety and effectiveness. In general, proceed from standing, to lying, to seated twists. The last of these are “fixed”—in other words, the hips are immobilized. Seated, fixed twists are the most powerful and require the greatest amount of preparation and caution.
The focal points that facilitate twisting are flexibility and/or stability in the hips, shoulders, and neck. The postures pictured here address most of these focal points. They should be part of a complete practice that includes sun salutations, standing postures that emphasize hamstring and hip flexibility, at least one or two lying twists, and counterposes. Since twists are asymmetrical (one side is doing something different than the other), symmetrical forward bends are ideal counter poses. Twists are contra-indicated for serious disc issues. Those with excessive thoracic curvature or very tight hips should either avoid seated twists or practice them cautiously. Finally, it is important to ground the sacrum and engage the inner thighs in all twists in order to maintain and even increase lower back stability.
As with all poses the deeper effects of twisting unfold during longer holds. A minimum of one to two minutes in the pose is required before subtle forces are significantly affected. At the same time, longer holds challenge us to steady our mind, providing an opportunity to mentally cultivate pranic force. This yogic approach to twisting—with mind, body, and breath synergistically engaged—enlivens us with balance, ease, and the subtle force of inner fire. Once established in these qualities we can dissolve our impediments to a fully illumined life and thus set the stage to realize ourselves, which is yoga’s boundless promise.
Yoga + Joyful Living
Art of Asana
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