Whether ’tis nobler to grasp the hands behind one’s back and suffer the outrageous fortune of lower back pain, or to take the arms out to the sides and gently lengthen before moving into a twist.
When Shakespeare’s Hamlet first uttered a similarly phrased sentiment, he did so in contemplation of the pain and unfairness of life, while acknowledging that the alternative (death) might still be worse.
Facing limitations in twisting postures as a result of accumulated tension can sometimes feel unfair, too. But the very real consequences of prematurely pushing a bind promise a far worse fate indeed.
A twist is any yoga pose that involves spinal rotation. Performed correctly these positions will facilitate deeper breathing, improve your posture, and assist in detoxifying and eliminating. But when approached in an aggressive or competitive manner, the more challenging twists in the Adamantine® Yoga sequence can become an opportunity for building rather than releasing tension.
Twists should originate from the base of the spine with an increased awareness of core stability. As the potential for rotation in the spinal column is greater in the upper regions, the inherent limitations of the lower aspects require additional abdominal support.
The spine must then elongate before rotating, and this elongation is achieved by consciously anchoring the sacrum and actively reaching in opposition through the crown of the head. This action is typically accompanied by an inhale, as the natural curves of the spine move to a slight axial extension with each in-drawn breath.
True rotation occurs first in the thoracic spine (the segment attached to the ribs) and only after maximizing movement here, should you begin to work higher. The greatest range of motion in the spine lies in the smaller cervical vertebrae (the neck), and the top two vertebrae, the atlas and the axis, are particularly mobile. This extreme mobility is largely responsible for most misalignments in twisting postures, as leading with the neck will often convince the practitioner that the depth of the lower segments is following along, even if this is not the case. Rather than leading with the neck, finish twisting here.
Then, and only then, consider adding the bind. The key word here is ADD. By adding a bind to a rotation you want to make certain that you don’t subtract from the actual benefits achieved by doing twisting poses in the first place. As your hands reach around your leg stay aware of maintaining the same sense of length in your spine. Don’t make the mistake of sacrificing length for a deeper, firmer grasp of your hands.
Most people are aware that back injuries often occur outside of the yoga practice when the spine is asked to both rotate and flex (forward bend) at the same time, but this conjunction of movements is exactly what happens when you attempt to bind prematurely. And even if you successfully avoid creating an actual injury, new patterns of tension can arise in response to overworking the wrong areas. It’s even theoretically possible to actually reverse the benefits of these transformative poses, to tighten the ancillary breathing muscles and to work against maintaining good posture in a normal standing position.
Twists are a normal and constant part of daily life, and while it’s unrealistic to suggest that you stay aware of proper alignment when backing out of a parking spot, it’s quite reasonable to ask that you stay conscious and move mindfully during your yoga practice.
As with every yoga posture, twisting poses may irritate some back problems, such as herniated discs. If you have a condition, please consider talking to your doctor or physical therapist about how you can safely rotate your spine.