Have you heard the term superfood? It is usually used to describe a nutrient-rich food that is especially beneficial for our health and well-being. I adopted this term to describe certain yoga poses as “superposes” because they also carry an incredible “nutritional value” for our bodies.
What makes a pose a “superpose”? Surprisingly, it is not the difficulty or intricacy of body part arrangement, and not even the strength or uber-stretchiness that one needs to exhibit to do them. In fact, most superposes are quite simple. What makes them powerful is their incredible diversity. The purpose of any yoga pose is to carry maximum benefit for YOUR body with minimum risk.
A superpose is a pose that:
- Can deliver the benefits for many different body parts at the same time (“benefit-dense”)
- Is accessible to most students
- Can be modified easily to emphasize the effect for a particular area
- Can be adapted easily to accommodate different body shapes, physical abilities, student preferences, and so on.
There are may be 10-15 superposes out there, and if we choose to build our yoga practice on those instead of chasing after the fancy exotic ones, we will end up having a rich, satisfying and “nutrient-dense” yoga practice.
Today we will take a look at one of those superposes, Jathara Parivrtti, and the qualities that make this pose so special.
Let’s get something out of the way first. In the traditional form of Jathara Parivrtti you would have your legs straight, feet together and one hand holding on to your top foot.
To be able to do this pose effectively, you would need to have very strong core and be very precise with movement. Because of the significant leg leverage it poses risks to the lower back, sacrum, hips and neck and introduces a very strong hamstring pull. Because of all that, we rarely do this pose in its traditional form.
In the two most common versions of Jathara Parivrtti we either keep the knees bent and together, or we keep one knee bent and another leg straight. Today we will be talking about Jathara Parivrtti with knees bent.
In this version of the pose, Jathara Parivrtti works great for rotating the spine and stretching the muscles of the lower back. If you change arm movement, you can target the upper back, shoulders and neck; if you change leg position and movement, you can work with abductors, rotators, hip flexors and hamstrings. Let’s take a closer look.
We usually do this pose to
- Rotate the spine (to lubricate the discs and build strength and flexibility in spinal musculature)
- Stretch the lower back muscles one side at a time
- Stretch and strengthen the core musculature (abdomen, obliques and quadratus lumborum)
- Realign the relationship between the shoulder girdle and the spine
- Realign the relationship between the pelvic girdle and the spine
- Provide visceral compression of the abdomen (we will talk about physiological effects of twists next week).
Here is how we do it.
Begin on your back with arms extended out, legs raised and knees bent.
Exhale: Gradually contract the abdomen as you slowly lower your legs down to your right simultaneously turning your head to the left (the knees do not have to touch the ground).
Inhale: Raise your legs back up, keeping the upper body on the floor.
Exhale: Gradually contract the abdomen as you slowly lower your legs down to your left simultaneously turning your head to the right.
Continue to move like that with your breath. After several repetitions stay in the pose.
Inhale: Lengthen the spine
Exhale: Progressively contract your abdomen and turn you lower body a little further to your right (trying to stack the knees on top of each other) and your upper body to the left (trying to keep the upper body on the floor).
Some students will need support in this pose. If the knees cannot reach the floor, you can place a blanket, bolster or block under the knees (A). If the shoulder keeps lifting off the ground, you can elevate the knees and/or rest the top hand on the top hip to avoid shoulder strain (B). If turning the head to the left arches or tightens the neck, you can look to your right (C).
Here is what we can do with Jathara Parivrtti to emphasize the work in different areas.
2. If you want to protect your sacrum and bring more emphasis to the upper body, keep your lower body stationery and move the upper body instead.
3. If you want to loosen up the shoulder and stretch the neck, try the arm sweep as you breathe in the pose. Here it’s important to keep the upper body on the floor, even if it means propping up your knees with something.
4. If you want to strengthen your abductors (many of us lack strength in those muscles, which can show up as hip pain, difficulty walking and issues with balance), slowly move the top leg up and down.
5. If you want to loosen up your piriformis, do the “clamshell” version of the pose, moving the top knee up and down.
6. If you want a deeper stretch after doing some hip work, wrap the top leg over the bottom one and work on deepening the twist with your breath.
Isn’t it remarkable how many things you can do with this one pose? Check out this compilation of 12 short videos illustrating the adaptations above AND the things you can do if you keep one leg straight. Don’t miss it!
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