Bharadvaja’s Twist Pose (Bharadvajasana)
Bharadvaja’s twist pose, known as bharadvajasana in Sanskrit, is named for the Hindu sage Bharadvaja. One of the seven great sages, Bharadvaja composed the songs that are codified in the most important book of yogic wisdom, the Vedas. Faithful to a sage who made his achievements in meditation and scholarship, Bharadvaja’s twist is a gentle, meditative posture.
Like other twisting pose, Bharadvaja’s twist alternately stretches and engages the muscles on either side of the back as the practitioner turns to each side in turn. The pose lengthens and strengthens the back muscles to reduce back pain and muscle spasming. It also massages the abdominal organs for improved digestion. The advanced variation of Bharadvaja’s twist includes an intense double bind that opens the chest and shoulders, improving posture.
1. Begin sitting on the mat with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
2. Lift your left buttock slightly off the mat, transitioning your weight onto your right buttock temporarily. Bend your left leg and sweep it to the left side, so that your knee points forward and your calf is planted next to your left side.
3. Keeping your knee on the mat, bend your right leg and lift your right foot off the mat. Place the top of your right foot on top of your left thigh, tucking your foot close to your hip crease, as in half lotus pose (ardha padmasana). Flex your right foot to protect your ankle.
4. Bring your left buttock to the mat. Shift your weight so that both your seat bones are planted firmly on the mat.
5. Plant your right palm behind your back, as close to your body as possible. Inhale and press through your right arm to elongate your spine. Press the bottom corners of your shoulder blades together and forward to open your shoulders and chest.
6. Rest your left arm on your right knee.
7. Exhale and twist your torso to the right. Lead your body into the twist with your gaze by looking over your right shoulder as you turn. Keep your gaze soft. Press through both your arms to deepen the twist.
8. Breath and hold the pose. As you hold it, keep the pose active. With every inhale, elongate the spine upwards. With every exhale, deepen the twist.
9. Exhale. Slowly turn your torso back to the center and release your arms. Inhale and gently counter twist your torso to the left. Exhale and come back to the center. Release your right leg. Repeat the pose on the opposite side.
Tips, Photos and Videos for Beginners
Modifications and Props
To focus on the spine, shoulders, and chest, push off the wall. Sit a foot away from the wall in step one (above). Instead of planting your palm against the mat in step five, plant your palm against the wall behind you. Press off the wall as you twist. This modification will keep your spine long in the pose and allow you to focus on opening your shoulders and chest.
To protect your knee, keep your feet together. If placing the foot on top of the thigh of the opposite leg puts strain on the knee of your lifted leg, skip step three (above). Instead, keep your feet and knees close together as you practice the pose (sitting like a mermaid).
To deepen, bind. You can bind in the full pose or in the modification described above. Instead of step five (above), bend your right arm and bring it behind you. Turn your wrist 180°, so that your palm faces towards your back. Place your palm against your back or, if your shoulders are open, on your waist above your left hip.
Bharadvaja’s Twist Pose II (Bharadvajasana II). This advanced variation includes a difficult double bind that opens the chest dramatically. In step three (above), place your right foot high on your left thigh, so that your toes extend into the air. Then, in place of step five, bend your right arm and bring it behind you. Take hold of your right foot with your right hand. In step six, first place your left palm on your right knee. Then slide your palm down your knee, eventually tucking your hand, palm facing upwards, under your left knee.
Bharadvaja’s twist strengthens the upper and middle back muscles on the side of the body that the practitioner turns towards while, at the same time, lengthening the equivalent muscles on the side of the body the practitioner turns away from. Practicing the twist on both sides, then, builds strong and flexible back muscles that are less likely to spasm, tear, or cause pain.
Particularly when it includes a bind, Bharadvaja’s twist is an effective and, sometimes, intense heart opener. The twist strengthens the erector spinae and rhomboid muscles to improve posture and breathing. Modifying the pose by pressing off the wall instead of the mat will maximize the benefits of the heart opener in this twist.
According to Swami Satyananda Saraswati, twisting poses reduce the tendency of adjoining vertebrae to develop inflammatory problems and calcium deposits. The twist also massages the abdominal organs as the abdomen contracts and lengthens, leading to better digestion and better regulation of the secretions of the adrenal gland, liver, and pancreas.
As a meditative pose, Bharadvaja’s twist has the mental benefits of relaxation and stress release. The posture includes a gentle external rotation of the hips (one at a time), which also helps release any tension you may hold in your hips.
Do not attempt Bharadvaja’s twist if you:
- are pregnant
- have a back injury or have serious, persistent back problems
- have a peptic ulcer
- have a hernia
- have hyperthyroidism
Ideally, Bharadvaja’s twist and other twisting postures should be performed after a series of back and forward bends, since the back is more flexible after warming up with these poses. A more flexible back makes Bharadvaja’s twist safer and more effective, since you will be able to twist further after building flexibility in the back with other poses first.
Warm up the back with a flow of back bends – like bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), wheel pose (chakrasana), or camel pose (ustrasana) – and forward bends – like seated forward bend (paschimottanasana), child’s pose (balasana), or standing forward bend (uttanasana)– before moving into Bharadvaja’s twist.
As part of a longer routine, like a class, performing Bharadvaja’s twist towards the end of the sequence will make the pose more beneficial since warm, supple muscles are key to its success.
Erector spinae muscles. The erector spinae is a bundle of muscles and tendons in the lower and mid back that control extension and rotation. Because they are responsible for straightening the back, the strength of the erector spinae is closely linked with posture. Bharadvaja’s twist engages the erector spinae muscles on the side of the body you are twisting towards and lengthens the erector spinae muscles on the side of the body you are twisting away from.
Rhomboid muscles. The rhomboids in the upper back are responsible for retraction of the shoulder blades. The are engaged, particularly, in chest opening poses. Elongating the spine and pressing the bottom corners of the shoulder blades toward your chest in Bharadvaja’s twist pose engages the right and left rhomboids.
Splenius capitis muscle. The splenius capitis is the broad muscle in the back of the neck that is the prime mover in head extensions. Turning the head from side to side engages the splenius capitis. Leading with your gaze in Bharadvaja’s twist lengthens this muscle.
Serratus anterior muscles. The serratus anterior muscles are located on the sides of the chest, just below the armpits. They rotate the scapulas, particularly when they are tilted forward. In Bharadvaja’s twist, planting your arm behind you engages the serratus anterior on the side of the body you are twisting towards.
Abdominal muscles. The abdominals are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. Like other twisting postures, Bharadvaja’s twist stretches the obliques in the sides of the abdomen.
Hip rotators. The hip rotator, or lateral rotator, muscle group includes six small muscles in the hip that control external rotation of the legs. Short hip rotator muscles contribute to poor pelvic alignment. When the right or left foot is lifted in Bharadvaja’s twist, the pose lengthens the external hip rotators in that leg for good pelvic alignment and improved external rotation.