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Twisting poses are the postures in which we rotate the torso along the vertical of the spine. Moving in this way has many benefits, both physical and non-physical. Twisting postures can be gentle & restorative, deep & invigorating, or anywhere in between. Regardless, all twists have a great deal to teach us about our bodies, our breath, and our unconscious preferences and should be included as a part of every practice.
There are two important things to remember when embarking on a twist. The first is our sense of foundation. Our bodies cannot twist in one direction without also having some counterweight and foundation to hold us in place in the opposite direction. In each twist, identify which parts of your body can supply you with this sense of grounding. The support we get from below helps to propel us up and out – like a launching pad.
The second important thing to remember is to maintain a long, tall spine. It is much easier to start off with a tall spine and move gradually into the twist than the other way around. Spinal twists strengthen the back while also improving range of motion. Keeping your spine upright helps access and energize the spinal muscles, so be sure to avoid the all-too-familiar slouch! In fact, the minor backaches that can come from too much sitting and slouching are nicely remedied with a few gentle twists.
Moving into a twist, the abdominal organs are gradually compressed and contracted. As you come back to center, the organs are allowed to release again. This process, especially when evenly balanced with twists to both the right and left sides, is stimulating and cleansing for the organs. The abdominal area is home to the primary organs of digestion and elimination, both of which can be addressed through the use of twists. Sluggish digestion and constipation are especially responsive to twisting postures.
The twists also give our breath and our bodies valuable experience with working together. Traditionally, the inhale is used as an opportunity to lengthen and straighten the spine, while the exhale is an opportunity to soften and rotate more deeply. Ideally, a twisting posture balances the strength needed to support a straight spine with the flexibility needed to rotate. This flexibility is not just physical. As we rotate around, we must also be willing to change our vantage point on the world… seeing and recognizing the world around us, beside us, behind us. A twisting pose should be energized without force. As with any relationship, your spine will respond better to loving support and encouragement than it will to brute force.
You will most likely observe differences when you twist to the right versus when you twist to the left. This can be the result of strength imbalances (especially due to right-side or left-side preferences), injuries, or just plain old genetics. Observing your body’s unintentional preferences, abilities, and weaknesses is an important step toward bringing your physical body closer into balance. It is also an important step toward observing the unintentional preferences, abilities, and weaknesses that we carry with us into our emotional and mental activities.
Twisting from side to side, turning our gaze from in-front-of-us to behind-us, rotating our body around the axis of our spine… the twisting postures bring us into balance. The left and right sides of the body must work together to provide support and growth. The front and back of the body must work together to provide support and growth. The inside and the outside of the body must work together to provide support and growth. In this way, the twists are incredibly cohesive and balancing postures. They bring all our various aspects together for a quiet conversation, out of which friendly and familiar relations can emerge.
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