How to Do Reclined Spinal Twist in Yoga
Twists are a great way to decompress and squeeze out the anxiety and frustrations of your day — just like wringing out a sponge. They also stimulate and detoxify the organs of your torso. If you’ve ever felt worn out at the end of a workday or after a weekend of over-indulgence, Reclined Spinal Twist is a great pose to help restore balance.
In Sanskrit, the pose is called “Supta Matsyendrasana” (SOOP-tah MAHT-see-en-DRAHS-uh-nuh). It’s named after an ancient yoga master, or “siddhi,” called Matseyendra. The name “Matseyendra” literally means “lord of the fishes;” so, this pose is sometimes referred to as Reclined Lord of the Fishes Pose. It is the supine (lying-down) version of the popular seated twist, Half Lord of the Fishes Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana).
Benefits of Reclined Spinal Twist
Reclined Spinal Twist offers many benefits, many of which are listed below:
- It stretches the back muscles and glutes.
- It massages the back and hips
- It helps to hydrate the spinal disks.
- It lengthens, relaxes, and realigns the spine.
- It massages the abdominal organs and strengthens the abdominal muscles. As a result, this pose tones the waistline and also helps to remove toxins.
- This twist also encourages the flow of fresh blood to your digestive organs, increasing the health and function of your entire digestive system.
This pose is particularly beneficial (and feels good!) after practicing backbends, such as Upward-Facing Bow/Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) and Camel Pose (Ustrasana).
Reclined Spinal Twist is generally considered gentle and can be therapeutic for stress. However, if you have back pain or degenerative disk disease, please take note of the Cautions (below) before attempting this pose, as twisting can make back pain much worse.
There is no waiting and no delayed gratification because yoga is both the means and the result, and the seed of all that is possible is present at the very beginning. This experience of stillness is possible in the first ten minutes of your first yoga class. It is possible in this very breath.
Those with back pain, back injuries, or degenerative disk disease should approach this pose with caution and should only attempt to practice it under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable instructor.
Also avoid practicing this pose if you have a recent or chronic injury to your knees or hips. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- To begin, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can rest your head on a pillow or blanket for extra neck support. Let your arms rest at your sides.
- On an exhalation, draw both knees to your chest and clasp your hands around them. This is Knee-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana).
- Extend your left leg along the floor, keeping your right knee drawn to your chest. Extend your right arm out along the floor at shoulder-height with your palm facing down.
- Shift your hips slightly to the right. Then, place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Exhaling, drop your right knee over the left side of your body. Keep your left hand resting gently on your right knee.
- Turn your head to the right. Soften your gaze toward your right fingertips. Keep your shoulder blades pressing toward the floor and away from your ears. Allow the force of gravity to drop your knee even closer to the floor. If your right toes can touch the floor, allow your foot to rest.
- Hold the pose for 10-25 breaths. On an inhalation, slowly come back to center, bringing both knees to your chest in Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana).
- Exhale, and extend your right leg along the floor. Repeat steps 3-6 on the opposite side.
- When you’re finished with the pose, hug your knees to your chest for a few breaths in Knee-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana). Then, slowly exhale as you extend both legs along the floor.
Modifications & Variations
Reclined Spinal Twist can provide a great number of benefits to your spine, hips, and digestive system. There should be no pain and very little discomfort when performed, so make whatever adjustments you need to feel fully supported. Try these simple changes to find a variation that works best for you:
- For those with back injuries, be sure to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced instructor before attempting this pose.
There are a few different ways to make this pose restorative (fully supported and deeply relaxing). Here are a few ideas:
- Rest your top knee and leg on a bolster or firm pillow.
- Place a folded blanket between your legs.
- Rest your top knee and top foot each on a yoga block.
For a greater stretch to your hips, try this variation:
- Cross your right knee over your left knee (crossing knee-to-knee). If you have the flexibility, also wrap your right foot around your left calf, coming into “Eagle legs” (the leg position of Eagle Pose (Garudasana).
- Then, shift your hips slightly to the right and drop your knees to the left.
- Come back to center, and then repeat on the opposite side.
For a greater leg stretch combined with deeper abdominal work, try this variation, called “Belly-Revolving Pose” (Jathara Parivartanasana):
- Begin in Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana).
- Then, extend both legs straight up in the air and reach your arms out to the sides at shoulder-height, palms down.
- As you exhale, keep both legs straight as you drop them to the left. Turn your head to the right.
- Inhale as you bring your legs back to center. Then, drop your legs to the right and turn your head to the left.
- Repeat 5-10 times on each side, and then come back to center.
Practicing Reclined Spinal Twist Pose can be calming and comforting. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this pose:
- Bring your top knee over only as much as comfort will allow. If needed, rest your top knee on a bolster or pillow to decrease the range of motion.
- Keep your breath smooth and deep — do not hold your breath.
- Rest the opposite hand on your top knee to gently add more weight.
- Relax your shoulders away from your ears. Try to keep both shoulder blades on the floor.
- Relax your abdominal muscles and let your belly feel hollow.
- Never force your knee to the floor. Be gentle with yourself!
- Be aware of how your back feels during the pose. If you feel any sharp, pinching, or jabbing pain, stop the pose and come out of it slowly, but immediately. Never force the twist if you are in pain.
Twist to Release
Practicing Reclined Spinal Twist is a great way to release tension and toxins, while also lengthening and strengthening your spine. Because it adds a soothing bit of comfort to the end of your practice, or at the end of your day, relax your body and mind with a twist!