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Posts Tagged ‘Healthy Spine’

Yoga 101: Twist Into Spring

The cold winter months so often leave us feeling stagnant indoors, longing for the warm weather that is just around the corner. As the seasons change, twisting yoga postures can support a graceful transition from winter into spring by opening stuck energy channels. As we twist, we wring out the old and allow space for the new, cleansing and detoxing our bodies and minds. Plus twisting postures aid digestion and help to relieve lower back pain, while improving the health of the spine.

Twist yoga postures have incredible cleansing effects on the body and mind:

  • ~ Strengthen core, stimulate abdominal organs, and help to aid digestion
  • ~ Relieve stress and anxiety while improving mental clarity
  • ~ Stretch and strengthen muscles, ligaments, and joins in the back, chest, core, hips, and thighs
  • ~Hydrate the intervertebral discs, preventing compression that can occur as we age

#GoDeeper with Yoga Journal’s instructional video that will help you cleanse, detox and purify the body with twists. This sequence begins with a simple seated twisting posture and then quickly moves onto the feet, culminating with some standing postures that will challenge you to balance and then twist. If you do only one section of the video, make sure to practice your twists on both sides of your body.

Common challenges:

  • ~ Many people twist before finding extension in the spine, which causes the top shoulder to climb up toward the ear, closing off the heart and limiting the range of motion in the twisting position. Practice rooting into the ground, finding extension in the spine, lifting the chest, and then twisting from your center.
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  • ~ People also experience some neck strain when looking over the opposite shoulder during twisting postures. A delicious modification is to tuck the chin toward the chest, elongating the back of the neck. With the chin slightly tucked, allow the movement of the neck and head to follow the twist coming from your center. This subtle shift takes pressure off the neck and refocuses attention inward, allowing ease and grace to exist during the challenge of twisting postures.
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  • ~ Does your opposite sitz bone lift when you are twisting in seated positions? No problem! Use a blanket or cushion under your one or both of your sitz bones to bring the floor to you. This will help you to feel grounded so you can find extension through your spine as your twist.


As you explore twisting yoga posturestake your time to feel grounded and deepen your breath. Then find extension in the spine before twisting from your center. Firmly rooted feet or sitz bones support the extension and then the rotation of the spine. With your heart lifted and shoulders relaxed, follow the guidance of your own breath, finding extension in the spine on the inhalation and twisting deeper on the exhalation. Imagine letting go of any stuck feelings, thoughts, or energy each time you twist, connecting your body with your mind, moving into spring with clarity and balance.


 

 

Contraindications Worth Noting:
~ If you have a recent or chronic back injury or inflammation in any part of your body affected by twisting, these postures may do more harm than good.

~ These postures are not recommended if you have herniated disc.

 

Yoga 101: The 6 Directions of the Spine

 

“A healthy spine is a healthy body!” So has said a teacher of mine, and I doubt we’d find any medical expert or average Joe who would argue this simple logic.

In your very first yoga class you were likely introduced to the Cat/Cow spinal warm-up. And since then, it’s probably made an appearance in 99% of classes — so much so that you might have even found yourself getting bored (“not Cat/Cow again!”). It’s critical to warm up the spine as we go into a practice. In fact, it’s critical to the health of the spine (and thus the body) to warm it up every day, even a couple times a day, and especially at the start of the day. Cat Cow moves the spine in two primary directions, and there are four more directions that make up the complete spinal spectrum. These six movements elongate the spine, encourage elasticity of the spinal column, wake up the cranio-sacral “highway,” and provide a host of other benefits.

Beginning your day by easing your body into each of these six directions will ensure you’re loosened, lengthened and lubricated – ready to take on the world with a supple, strong spine.


“Warm up When you Wake Up” and Move the Spine All Six Ways Every Day

Direction 1 – Spinal Extension

aka arching the spine as in Cow Pose

This shape lengthens the spine, expands the chest, strengthens the lungs and facilitates deeper breathing.
From an emotional standpoint, this shape helps us “open our heart.” Best of all, this shape is the exact opposite of how most of us spend our days – hunched over a computer or slouched looking down at a phone.

The simplest version of Spinal Extension is just a seated arching stretch, and cow pose is also a gentle option for the morning. Poses such as cobra, upward-facing dog, bow pose, and wheel are more dynamic versions of this shape, typically called “backbends” but perhaps wisely reframed as “front extensions” going for length over bend.

 

Direction Two – Spinal Flexion

aka rounding the spine as in Cat Pose

This shape expands the backbody, stretching the back of the lungs increasing breath capacity, and tones the abdomen with an engaged core. On an emotional level, these shapes help us turn inward for reflection and calm. This shape can be done via the usual cat shape, or seated by rounding the spine forward. Deeper versions of this shape are seated forward bending like in pachimotanasana, standing forward bending in utanasana, or even balancing shapes like devotional warrior.

 

Directions 3 & 4 – Lateral Side bending

as seen in crescent arches

By bending up and over to the left and right, we lengthen our side bodies, improving rib cage mobility and again, create even more space for the lungs. These shapes lengthen the muscles between the ribs and pelvis, plus parts of the lower back. They also support the health of the lymph system. It’s easy for things to get “stuck” in life, and side body stretches clear out often-neglected nooks and crannies. These gentle C-shaped curves can be created from a seated position, or from table top by reaching “cheek to cheek” – reacing the cheek on your face towards the hips and the hips towards your face. Standing crescents poses are also a gentle lateral side bend, and more active variations include peaceful warrior and extended side angle pose.

 

Directions 5 & 6 – Twists

as experienced in seated or reclining twists to both sides

Twisting to the right and left completes the set of six directions, mitigating against fusing and limited-mobility of vertebrae. Twisting also hydrates the intervertebral disks and massages the organs within the abdomen supporting digestion. It also asks us to “look forward and look backward” which can help us find the middle ground of the present moment. You can be seated in a cross-legged position, or atop bend knees to twist side to side, thinking about lengthening on the inhale and gently twisting deeper on the exhale. Or opt for a reclining twist and let gravity do most of the work! From table top, threading the needle is a good option, and revolved triangle pose is a powerful standing variation.