Why should we adjust marichyasana C?
Marichyasana C is a seated twisting posture that could be seen as related to many other more complex twisting postures. As twists can be challenging, it can be helpful for students to receive appropriate assists in this more fundamental twist so they have a better understanding of how to access a twist in their body. Then, when they move on to more complex twists, they can apply the same principles that they have explored when adjusted in marichyasana C.
As with any good adjustment, start by making observations. There are multiple intentions to any twisting posture. Spend a few moments observing the student before adjusting, so you can assess which parts of twisting come easily to them and where they experience more challenge.
In addition, keep in mind where the student is coming from. Are they more of a beginner? Or, have they been practicing a long time? Likewise, keep in mind where it is that they are heading in the way they work with twists and what it is you want to convey to them through any adjustment you may choose.
Some questions we might ask ourselves, as we observe students, before adjusting marichyasana C include:
- How tight or open are their hips?
- How tight or open are their hamstrings?
- How is their breathing generally? Is breathing something that they struggle with or is it something that they have developed some control over?
- Do they have tight shoulders?
- Are there any injuries you should be aware of?
Intention and technique
Of course, the main intention of a twist is to deepen movement in the spine. In marichyasana C, that intention is complicated by a long-term goal of binding the hands behind the back. There are a number of parts that have to come together in order to realize this full version of the posture.
As a beginner, we are often focused on the twist by itself. Perhaps an elbow is hooked on the bent knee to give some leverage to just the twisting action, without trying to add the full bind. As a beginner, we may have to put our hand behind us and on the floor in order to keep ourselves from falling backwards. This is usually a result of tight hamstrings tucking the pelvis under. The hand on the floor however can help us to sit up taller and generally lengthen in our spine, which is another important intention to maintain in this posture.
A beginner working on these basic intentions and techniques doesn’t need any physical adjustments in marichyasana C, or if they do, they are very light and simple. They are more likely to need verbal cues that direct them to move, or direct movement into their body, in a particular way.
Another important intention is a sense of grounding. What I mean by that is that there is a foundation or a sense of grounding that you can use as leverage to work on your twist from. This appears in more than one way in this posture.
This grounding intention can certainly come from being able to sit upright and have your sit bones firmly on the floor. But perhaps the more important and less obvious sense of grounding comes from binding to something. Typically this is from the hands grabbing one another. However, there are intermediate steps to that type of binding that can also create a sense of grounding.
Let’s get on to the adjustments of marichyasana C.
In the beginning stages of learning this posture, I already mentioned that it’s not necessary to do too much in the way of physical adjustments to marichyasana C. What you want to focus on are the intentions and creating a pattern that leads students to the next steps which might lead to the full binding of the hands around the bent knee.
Having said that, there is one key place to focus on that affects a number of elements in the future and that is what is happening with that back hand. If students can’t sit upright it’s ok if they put their hand on the floor behind them. If they do, you want to make sure that they are using it to push themselves forward. In other words, not just leaning onto it. You’ll want them pushing into the floor so that they are more upright and creating length in their spine.
The reason this is so important is because in the long-term, the arm that is going to bind around the knee requires the armpit to be as close to that knee as possible. When the student is leaning back on the other hand behind them, they are moving away from the knee and therefore, away from the future binding.
The next step requires more of a hands-on approach to help the student move forward with the development of this posture. At this stage we want to lead students away from the hand on the floor behind them and see if they can bind the front arm around the knee in some way. Initially, we’re just looking to see if they can bind to something. It’s possible that they’ll bind to their other hand behind their back, and it’s also possible they may need to bind to something else, like their shin, in the short-term.
At this stage it’s also important to see if the student is capable of sitting upright on their own without their hands. If it’s not possible, I may use a block or blanket and have them sit up on it to help get the pelvis forward.
I typically sit or kneel in front of the student and hold onto their upper arm, just above the elbow. It’s common that I put my other hand on their bent knee, for two reasons. One is for leverage, and the second is because we need to emphasize or deepen the armpit to knee relationship that is required to rotate the arm around the knee.
As I pull them forward and get the knee to armpit as tight as possible, the student then needs to internally rotate their arm at the shoulder joint. Depending on the flexibility in this movement, they may be able to bind onto their foot, ankle, or shin. If they can’t reach any of those, I will sometimes take a strap and simply loop it under their foot and then lift it up to their hand.
I will often have them take their second hand, that is, the one that would be on the floor behind them, and wrap it around their back. I either offer them my free hand or I sit down completely and put my leg over their straight leg and offer them my foot. I only do this if their other hand is way back there.
Over time, I would continue to help the student deepen all of these parts. Along the way, I check in with their ability to breathe freely and that they are doing their best to sit upright. Keep in mind that for some students, they may have to give up on the twisting aspect of this posture while working on the binding. I’m ok with this as I can see how the binding becomes an important part of the grounding aspect that students will use in order to mix both the binding and the twisting back together again in the future.
Having said that, there are some students with body proportions that would have a very hard time binding and twisting together. For instance, students with a long torso to short femur relationship will almost always have to round their spine forward (flexion) in order to get their shoulder lower to bind around the knee. If you want to check this, when the student is sitting upright with one knee bent, look at how much higher their shoulder is compared to their knee. If it’s the same height, no worries. If it’s a couple inches or more above their knee, the student will have to round their spine in order to bind around the knee.
Advanced – Deepening the pose
For students who are more advanced, the adjustments to marichyasana C will also change. Sometimes it’s just deepening the posture to the point where you think it needs to go, for instance, binding the wrist with the hand that has wrapped around the knee. If the student already has the pose, I might add an additional sense of ground by putting some pressure into their binding arm from just above their elbow. I can also add to that sense of stability and ground for them by giving some resistance to their extended foot with my ankle which can help stabilize their pelvis. All of this allows them to then twist themselves deeper as it feels available to them.
Sometimes deepening the pose means fine tuning where the student is twisting from or where they are not twisting from. Often that’s the spine. By helping them maintain the forward energy as they work the pose, they have the opportunity to explore increasing the mobility of their spine rather than just allowing the hips to create the shape. However, if the student is having low back or SI joint pain or issues, then you might need to adjust marichyasana C with a different strategy and allow more movement in the hips to keep pressure out of the SI joints.
Why I don’t generally twist people through the shoulders/ribs
First, I don’t find that it actually increases the depth of most people’s twists if I adjust marichyasana C by trying to turn them deeper into the twist by twisting their shoulders. Instead, if I focus on giving them a sense of grounding, students will usually reach deeper into their own twist as much as it is possible for them. If I push them into a twist from the shoulders, it also tends to put too much pressure into the ribs and they have a hard time breathing.
Additionally, for those students who are already pretty mobile through the shoulders and ribcage, if I adjusted them into marichyasana C in that way, I could put too much pressure into the ribs and intercostals and potentially injure them. If the student is looking for the depth of the twist themselves, they’ll feel and sense to find their own edge and are less likely to take it too far.
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David explains why over-stretching connective tissue along the spine might contribute to feeling a burning sensation in the lower back after forward bending.