The Revolved Triangle Pose
by Barbara Benagh
Testing Your Roots
We’ll begin with a revolved version of Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend). I’ve already mentioned that standing twists test your roots. Because the spine is attached to the pelvis, any spinal rotation that is restricted or forced can shake your foundation. In this first twist, the pelvis will be symmetrical. This position provides a somewhat simpler relationship between the pelvis and the lumbar spine than do poses that require an asymmetrical pelvic alignment. With a symmetrical pelvis, you can more easily feel the effect of the spinal twist on your roots, gaining insight that will help you guide the twist more directly into the spine and carry over into your practice of less stable standing twists like Parivrtta Trikonasana.
Take a moment to remind yourself of all our preparatory work: active feet, buoyant joints, floating pelvis, grounded tail. Now, standing with legs wide apart, feet parallel, and with your spine light and fluid, inhale as you begin to rotate your pelvis forward and exhale to continue bending forward until you lightly place your hands on the floor. Keep your arms straight with your wrists in line with your shoulders and your head at shoulder level. If your hips are too tight to place your palms on the floor, it’s fine to be on fingertips, bend your knees slightly, or use blocks under your hands.
Now check your roots. Are you still grounded through your legs, or has your weight fallen onto your hands? If so, take a moment to re-establish your foundation by sending movement from the pelvis into your legs and feet. Drop your tailbone to engage the muscles in the inner back pelvis that stabilize and support the lumbar spine. Remember, the movement is not a pelvic tuck; in fact, you should feel as though the whole pelvis is lifting away from your legs even as your coccyx (tailbone) is drawing gently down. Emphasize this downward movement with both your exhalation and the slight pause that follows it. During the pause, consciously release your abdomen; you may feel it spontaneously lift into the front of your sacrum and lumbar spine. Rely upon that strength and support, reinforced by your exhalation, to feed length into your spine so that you feel it grow toward your skull. When your spine grows toward the skull with support at its base, the upper body becomes light and spacious, ripe for the deeper movement of a spinal twist.
Move your left hand to the right, centering it under your torso. Place your right hand on your sacrum, palm down if possible (Figure 1). This hand can give you tangible feedback on the position of your pelvis, helping you keep your hips level. The more level your pelvis, the more the action of the twist will target the spine so it receives the greatest benefit. However, be careful not to make your pelvis rigid; gripping the muscles that tightly can irritate your lower back.
In this position, tune in to the steady rhythm of your breath and the calm environment of your belly. As you exhale, press your left arm and hand into the floor, feeling your torso rebound upward in response. Resist the urge to turn your chest further than it is carried by action of the left arm. While turning the chest is not necessarily wrong, leading with that action can hide and even diminish truly deep movement of the spine.
Observe in yourself any resistance you have to this last instruction. It may not have occurred to you to hang back. After all, when you look at a photo or demonstration of an asana, what you usually see is the maximum expression of the pose. What a photograph cannot reveal is the internal and often lengthy process that took place and guided the pose to full flower. It is understandable that you might simply try to mimic what you see. Instead, go inside, even close your eyes, and let this twist be a discovery. You have already spent some time making your spine consciously pliable and adaptable; now try to feel the emergence of the twist as your spine rotates slightly each time you exhale and press your right arm to the floor.
As you inhale begin to raise your right arm and turn your head to the right. Use your exhalation to fully extend your arm, feeling the rotation deepen (Figure 2). Continue to explore the way your breath’s rhythm resonates through your spine, helping to awaken core sensitivity and movement. With each inhalation, relax away from the edge of your movement, with each exhalation, extend your arms further, letting their action turn the spine. Coordinating breath and movement in this way compels you to slow down and wait for the asana to unfold naturally. As your muscles relax with this breath massage, the spine becomes more adaptable and your arms can extend more strongly, facilitating deeper spinal rotation.
Fine-tune the asana by examining the relationship between your spiraling spine and your pelvis. Ideally, your pelvis is still level. I say ideally because our bodies tend to move following the path of least resistance; in this spinal twist, it’s far easier to rotate to the left by dropping your right hip than to initiate movement from your abdomen and lower spine, where mobility is more limited. Remember, when I say to keep your pelvis level, the right hip at the same height as your left, I don’t intend you to grip your muscles and hold your pelvis rigid, since this can stress your sacrum and lumbar spine. The pelvis continues to float, as you practiced earlier, over a calm belly.
As an exploration, drop your left hip and feel how your spine turns so much more easily to the right. Now, try to keep that turn as you exhale and raise the left hip again. Though lifting the hip will most likely pull you slightly out of that enticing twist, you will feel in the second position that the muscles directly along the spine become more involved–especially in the area of your back that most needs the attention of the massaging breath.
Continue to refine your twist until further visible progress is not possible. Even then, notice the breath’s pulse reverberate through you, a subtle motion that connects you to your core and persuades you to stay in the pose. At a certain point your endurance–and this does require endurance–will begin to wane. Use that as your cue to come out of the pose. On an inhalation, begin to lift out of the pose, relaxing your arms and letting your head and spine melt out of the twist. Lift from the abdomen and use your exhalation to help bring you fully upright.
Repeat these first two positions twisting to your left, and then rest for a minute or two in a passive Uttansana (Standing Forward Bend) before proceeding on toward Parivrtta Trikonasana.
• Tones legs and hips
• Strengthens upper back
• Improves spinal flexibility
• Massages organs and regulates their function
• Nourishes spinal discs
• Back muscle spasms
• Herniated discs
• Positional vertigo