We’ve been dealing with a lot here in Boston over the past several weeks. The weather has been horrible, with regular snow storms wreaking havoc on body and property. The physical stress on the body as people work to dig out their homes and cars, as well as traipse through snow drifts (did I mention the subway system is barely functioning and is occasionally shut down?) is intense. I’m a pretty hardy person and I even found myself in a fit of tears yesterday after a particularly long and cold shoveling session.
I’ve taught a few classes in the midst of all this and have been inspired to teach twisting postures as a way to release the stress in the body. From an anatomical standpoint, twists are a great way to use muscles of the core (obliques) to create the rotation through the torso. When we move the body through a twist, we are rinsing out the organs in our body. If you could see inside yourself during a twist, you can only imagine you’d see the organs drained of blood during the rinse and then absorbing blood during the release. Twists take the accompanying muscles through a cycle of “work” and “rest,” which is great because it gives them the benefit of both aspects of movement. If we are always having our muscles do the work without the corresponding resting phase, it’s stressful for them too. So, the theme of twists can be a very balancing theme.
I also like teaching this theme as it relates to the anatomy of the spine because it helps people access parts of their spine that might normally get overlooked. When you consider the rotational range of motion of the spine, you can really feel in your own body how much easier you can turn your head when compared to turning from your mid-spine or thoracic, spine. When you teach twisting postures, it gives you a chance to cue people to turn from their torso versus their neck. This of course becomes a more natural movement if you hurt your neck but otherwise, it’s more natural, in a twisting pose like Twisting Triangle, to see students turn from their head. This really decreases the depth of their twist because the cervical spine only extends downward towards the tailbone a small degree; the thoracic spine is more in the middle of the body. I like to call twisting from the thoracic spine moving from the “heart of the matter” because it’s often where more of the power for the twist arises.
Poses for this theme include anything that’s a twist. Think about twisting from different positions: the ground, on the back, the belly and then from seated and standing. As you take students through twists, watch for them to overuse their neck and cue them more around the midsection of the body. Also, it’s important for students to be grounded when twisting. I like to say, “There’s no rotation without foundation,” which means that if you’re not rooted, you’re not going to have a twist that’s as powerful as if you are rooted. That can mean rooted into your feet, your back, or whatever part of the body is on the floor. A really simple pose to see this in is a lying down twist. As students twist, they tend to twist so much, they lose their foundation through the upper shoulder. Once you cue them to move “backwards” until their upper shoulder is on the ground, then they’ll have foundation through their upper shoulder and lower hip. From here, they can mindfully work their twist.
If we return to the more spiritual or mindful themes associated with twisting, we can think of the idea of releasing and letting go. Certainly in the current state of things here in Boston, that’s a pertinent topic as we move through our day trying to release stress that we don’t need and manage the stress that comes up, inevitably, as we deal with the factors in our winter environment. But even for those in a sunny climate, stress comes in all forms and of course, isn’t always weather related. Twists allows us as teachers to encourage people to let go of stress, thoughts that hold them back, fear, anxiety…. anything that is a barrier. We certainly can all relate to that.
So, twist away and see how the power of wringing out your body and mind feels!