Unwind or Unravel?

Getting the most from your twists

I teach a class every Friday called “Unwind the Spine.” It’s designed to allow people to let go of their week, de-stress and help their spine feel more supple. I often include twisting postures in this class. Twists have a lot of benefits. When approached correctly, they allow us to release tension, increase range of motion, and relieve pain. However, twisting without proper support of the spine, can lead to unwanted effects. So how do you get the most out of your twist and avoid discomfort or injury? You can do this by considering the following factors: Range of Motion, Spinal Alignment, Base of Support.

  • First, consider your range of motion. Range of motion is increased with movement and stretching before your twists. Try doing a little stretching of spine and hip muscles every day. Hold the stretches for 5-6 breaths to allow the muscles to lengthen and release. Also, keep in mind that “motion is lotion” so go for a daily walk, swim or bike ride to get those joints moving.
  • Next, align the spine. In seated or standing postures you should feel as if each vertebrae is stacked on top of the other. Extend the spine on an inhale. Exhale and allow the hips to relax. Ears should be over shoulders and shoulder blades rest down the back. This can help to avoid over-arching the low back or creating neck tension as the shoulders hunch up towards the ears.
  • Now, check to see if you feel grounded and stable. Feel the parts of your body that are in contact with the earth. This is your base of support. If you’re standing, try to bring equal weight into each foot. You may need to adjust your stance once in the yoga pose to achieve this. If you’re seated, allow both sitting bones to be in contact with the earth. If one lifting up as you twist away from that side, try twisting a little less and see if you can re-establish that base.

In addition to these three factors try to avoid over-twisting or cranking your torso around to twist more. Often less is more, and more is just too much. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter or contact me for a class or therapeutic exercise coaching session.

Lessons Learned from Monkey Pose

What’s life without a little challenge? Of course I realize that life is throwing challenges at us left and right lately, but instead of just playing defense and fighting life’s challenges as they come up, I decided to challenge myself by working towards the goal of achieving the posture Hanumanasana, aka “the splits.” This posture is steeped in symbolism since it’s named after Hanuman who epitomizes strength, courage, perseverance, and release of ego. Hanuman is a fascinating character and I encourage you to read more about him.

As I start my journey to this goal, the PTA/yoga teacher in me considers the anatomical breakdown of this posture. Instagram and the web are full of beautiful people looking serene in this pose. But there is much complexity to this pose in an anatomical sense. I could easily teach a total yoga class just on Hanumanasana alone. It is not just about stretching the hamstrings and “being flexible”. The muscles are a balance between stretching and contracting/activating.

Much of this pose is about balance. The torso is balanced over the pelvis, and there’s also a balance between stretching and activating the muscles. Many of the muscles of the legs come into a stretch, but then they continue actively contracting (eccentrically) for stabilization.

The front leg is flexed at the hip while the back of the thigh (Hamstring Muscles) stretch. After those muscles elongate, they contract at that elongated position. This is called an eccentric contraction. To help stabilize the posture, the calf muscles are also contracting.

The back leg is extended from the hip. Here, the front of the thigh (Psoas Major and Rectus Femoris muscles) experience a deep stretch. Before sending the leg all the way backwards, I recommend regular stretching of these muscles. They are usually pretty tight from all the sitting we do in day to day life. If theses muscles are too tight it’s difficult to balance the torso over the pelvis. Additionally, if you have tight hamstring muscles it is often due to the hamstrings compensating for tight hip flexors. So stretching the front hip and thigh muscles would serve you well. See my latest newsletter for some tips on how to do this.

In addition to the legs, the spine is a large part of this posture as well. The spinal extensors are at work here to lift and hold the spine over the pelvis, especially with the arms extended. All the muscles on the front of the torso elongate, then eccentrically contract as we lift the arms skyward.

Yes indeed, there’s a lot going on in Hanumanasana. I have my work cut out for for me as I attempt to embrace this posture in a safe, supportive way. I invite you to follow my progress (and help inspire me to persevere) as I post I post on Instagram and Facebook. @yogalorie.com #yogalorie