Twist and resist – finding quality rather than ‘yank’ in the twisting postures
The twist is never a posture given much respect, nor too much consideration. Now, make it a twist and an arm balance, or, leg behind head, and it’s a different matter. Otherwise, it’s generally taken to be a rest between the more important and demanding contenders.
Not much focus has been given to the quality of our twisting, and this is a shame, because it’s a hugely useful movement. It breaks apart the muscle fascia of the upper back as well as stimulating all the nerve plexus running up the spine. Furthermore, twists are great for the abdomen and digestive-organs. So, they are seriously exciting if you suffer from constipation!
Perhaps twisting doesn’t seem as complicated as other movements we’re required to perform, but there are still a few things we can bear in mind in order that they fulfil their function.
- The twist ought to be initiated from the thoracic–middle spine. The lower back should be kept immobile, the hips squared forward as much as possible. This takes strong use of abdominal strength but it is fundamental in protecting the lower back.
- This translates as ‘resisting’ the twist with the hips. To achieve this we usually need to apply a kind of ‘scissoring’ action with the legs, initiated by a strong abdominal engagement. Imagine parivrrta trikonasana (revolved triangle) or marichyasana C. One leg needs to push forward, the other pulls back to keep the hips ‘pinned’.
- The action of the breath is fundamental. On the inhale we are lifting up through the spine as the diaphragm pulls down. This gives us the extension and space between the vertebrae to articulate better as we exhale. So, crucially, we use the exhale when the stomach lock (bandha) is at its strongest and there is no air in the lungs to actually work in the movement.
- Remember, we want to imagine that the spine is being wrung out like a dishcloth. To this end, the sacrum area will be opposing the cervical twist at the base of the neck. For example, if we are twisting in an anti-clockwise movement from the top of the body, we are resisting this and twisting back out from the waist in a clockwise motion.
- Looking down the bridge of the nose (nasagra drishti) is the normal gaze point here. It guarantees the chin stays tucked into the throat, which lends the whole process a much tighter and more effective aspect.
- There is a tendency to avoid the actual twisting of the back by simply pulling the shoulder back. Keep the shoulders down and in their joints, and, instead, try to feel the action pulling across the back of the body. The chest and shoulder area is composed of vulnerable soft-tissue and ligaments. It needs to be protected, whilst we stretch the spinal muscles pertaining to the back of the body.
- In terms of our grip; the obvious idea if we are pulling ourselves further into a twist (not resisting it) is to demonstrate to ourselves a deeper-progression by a similar grip – ie. taking wrist. To get the idea of pulling apart, however, I like – controversially – to take the fingertips and pull apart. In this way, the pressure must be more even in both directions due to the hold not being so firm.