Know the Asana

Tiryaka Tadasana

Dr Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

Tiryaka tadasana (swaying palm tree pose) is a standing, lateral or side bending asana with a mild stretching effect. It is the only asana with an unaided lateral bend at the spinal joints. A movement of two to ten degrees at each individual spinal joint produces a lateral bend of up to ninety degrees for all the joints together.

Physiological effects

The asana stretches the muscles and joints of the whole spine and arms like tadasana, but to a lesser degree. The effect on the legs is minimal. However, it improves linear growth in growing children.

Tiryaka tadasana stretches and contracts the paravertebral or trunk muscles supporting the spine contra-laterally. When the muscles of the right side contract, the muscles of the left side stretch and vice versa, thus bending the vertebral column sideways. The alternate stretch and contraction relieves excess muscle tone and fatigue which is due to remaining in the same posture for a long time, as in the case of students, computer personnel and office workers.

The sequence of tadasana, tiryaka tadasana and kati chakrasana, popularly known as TTK amongst practitioners of Satyananda Yoga, is very useful for children in a classroom set-up. Practiced between two study periods, it relieves monotony and postural stagnation and restores concentration and attentiveness. This sequence is an important component of 'office yoga' (refer to the article 'Tadasana' in the January issue of Yoga). The stretching effect of this sequence is also useful when muscle tone has increased, as in the case of sedentary people, in the aged and in diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

With the gentle lateral bending, each vertebral joint is lubricated internally and its nourishment facilitated. Spondylitis or inflammation of the vertebral joints greatly benefits from this effect.

Especially in adolescents and young adults, the asana can correct the misalignment of the vertebral column called scoliosis where the spine adopts a curved 'S' shape. The movement of the asana may reduce the pressure of a pinched spinal nerve at its outlet from the vertebral column or sometimes adversely pinch it more intensely. Therefore, people with sciatica or problems with the intervertebral discs may practice this asana gently, with awareness and due caution.

When the arms are raised and the weight is mainly borne by one leg as in the final position of this asana, there is a strong, static pull of the postural muscles on the relevant bones due to their isometric contraction. This encourages internalisation of the bones, strengthening them in growing children and preventing osteoporosis in the elderly.

Tiryaka tadasana improves the functioning of the digestive process and relieves constipation by stimulating peristalsis. The effect is enhanced if the asana is practiced in combination with tadasana and kati chakrasana, and after drinking plain, warm water beforehand. This asana helps to release trapped gas from the colon by alternately creating pressure and expansion of the abdomen, and is an integral part of the cleansing practices of hatha yoga such as laghoo or poorna shankhaprakshalana.

The asana also contracts and stretches the muscles that support and cover the ribcage and are not commonly used. Air is more fully expelled from the lateral area of the lung that is compressed, which then fills up with fresh air in the next inhalation, thus improving efficient ventilation. At the same time, mucus from the lateral areas of the upper lung is drained in the final position. Therefore, tiryaka tadasana is recommended in the treatment of asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchiectasis.

Similarly, this asana contracts and stretches the side muscles of the abdominal wall, squeezing stagnant blood from the adjacent abdominal organs, such as the kidneys, liver and spleen, which fill up with fresh blood once the contraction is released. The functional efficiency and overall health of these organs is improved.

This asana can be practiced throughout pregnancy with beneficial effects on digestion, breathing, backache and general muscular pain.

The repetitive movements of the spine and head may trigger giddiness in vulnerable individuals suffering from cervical spondylitis, high blood pressure and vertigo. Slow movements and caution are advised.

Tiryaka tadasana is one of the few basic core asanas that finds application in most yoga practitioners' daily routine due to its simplicity and efficiency.

(For further details refer to Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, published by Yoga Publications Trust.)