In an integrated asana practice program the back should be bent and stretched alternately backwards and forwards, and also given a twist in both directions. We have already introduced a number of asanas that adequately bend the spine backwards and forwards, but as yet we have only given one that twists the spine, namely meru vakrasana1. This is a reasonably good asana, especially for people who have very stiff backs. If you have been practising meru vakrasana regularly then you should now be sufficiently supple to attempt the far superior asana - ardha matsyendrasana.
ARDHA MATSYENDRASANA (HALF SPINAL TWIST)
This asana is named after the great yogi Matsyendranath, who is reputed to have performed meditational practices in the full form of this asana called matsyendrasana. This is one of the most difficult asanas in yoga, requiring a 'rubber body'. For this reason we will concern ourselves only with the easier half form of the asana at this stage. Later we will introduce the full form for those who have attained sufficient flexibility of body to attempt it without causing any injuries2.
As a matter of interest, there is a well-known and fascinating story attached to yogi Matsyen-dranath in Hindu mythology. It is said that long ago Lord Shiva was teaching his wife Parvati the fundamental practices of yoga beside a river. The aim was that yoga would be brought out of its secrecy and disseminated throughout the world. In the river was a large fish and it listened to the lessons with rapt attention. Parvati noticed the fish and told Lord Shiva. Immediately Shiva transformed the fish into the form of man - no other than yogi Matsyendranath. Because of the knowledge that he had acquired by his attentive hearing of Shiva's discourses Matsyendranath was from then onwards regarded as the human originator of yoga. It is said that all the yogic teachings that are now in existence have come from Matsyendranath, through his various disciples such as Gorakhnath. We leave the reader to accept or interpret this story in any way that he wishes.
Incidentally, the Sanskrit word matsya means 'fish', which explains how Matsyendranath and the asana which we will shortly discuss got their names.
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