The spine with its beautiful natural curves helps to support the weight of the body so that we can walk and run, twist and turn in many different configurations. Each section of the spine has a different ability to twist. The lumbar spine vertebral bodies are shaped such that they do not have much capacity to twist, The thoracic spine and rib cage has slightly more capacity to twist than the lumbar but the other bone structures, such as the ribs, scapula, sternum and clavicles make twisting deeply in the thoracic spine somewhat impeded. The cervical spine has the most capacity to twist, and because of this, we need to be careful not to over twist the neck in our twisting asanas.
During our practice this week we will work in each twist by beginning deep in the belly, rooting down into the pelvic floor and sit bones, then twisting the deep abdomen first, using the deep abdominal muscles to support the lumbar spine in the twist. Then rotate the thoracic spine, rib cage, chest and shoulders and finally the head rotates at the very end of the twist ensuring an even rotation from the base of the body to the crown of the head. Remember to keep the throat, jaw and mouth soft so that breath can continue to flow between the body and the head with ease.
Head Movements - No
From a comfortable seated position, slowly turn the head right on inhale and exhale to center. Repeat to each side 5 times with the breath avoiding all discomfort.
Head Movements - Yes
From a comfortable seated position, slowly rock the head up and down. Be careful not to loose control of the head and lift the chin as you inhale, raise the back of the skull and draw the chin in and down as you exhale. Be sure to keep both sides of the neck long as you move the head. Repeat 5 times to each side with the breath.
Head Movements - Tilt
From a comfortable seated position, inhale and lift the right ear up towards the ceiling as you keep the right shoulder relaxed. Exhale back to center and repeat to the other side. Repeat 5 times to each side with the breath.
Begin sitting cross legged and inhale to draw the arms overhead. Exhale and first twist to the right bringing the left hand to the right knee, the right hand on the floor behind you. Inhale return to the center with the arms overhead. Exhale and twist to the left (shown) bringing the right hand to the left knee, the left hand on the floor behind you. Repeat with the breath 5-10 times.
Therapeutics: Gently opens the ribs, massages the organs and muscles along the spine.
Begin on all fours.
Variation I: Inhale lift right arm out to side. Exhale press right arm under left armpit lowering right shoulder to floor. Continue to press left hand into floor for balance.
Variation II: You can also choose to turn the left toes under and lift the left knee up pressing the ball of foot back into the floor. Be careful not to put too much pressure on your head.
Therapeutics: Opens upper back, shoulders and rib cage.
Low Lunge Twist
From all fours bring the left leg forward into a lunge. Inhale and raise the arms over the head. Exhale the left hand onto the left hip and the right hand to the outside of the left knee, twisting the torso to the left.
Hold for 3-5 breaths, then return to center.
Twist to the other side with legs in the same position. Inhale and raise the arms over the head. Exhale the right hand onto the right hip and the left hand to the inside of the left knee, twisting the torso to the right.
Hold for 3-5 breaths, then return to center.
Therapeutics: Builds core awareness, prepares the body for deeper twists.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Begin on all fours with hands slightly forward of shoulders. Turn toes under and lift knees off floor. Keep shoulders wide and palms flat, press thighs and sit bones back, scooping belly in.
Hold 1-3 minutes, release into Child's Pose.
Therapeutics: Strengthens arms and shoulders, stretches back of torso and legs
Ganeshasana (Elephant Pose)
Begin standing with feet slightly wider than hips distance apart. Keeping the knees soft, begin to swing arms around the body like two elephant trunks, lightly tap the body with the hands wherever they land as you twist right and left. Go faster or slower depending on how it feels to you for about 1 minute. Then slow down the swinging until you are again standing still.
Therapeutics: Increases circulation of blood and lymph throughout the body, awakens the energy and detoxifies the abdominal organs.
Begin with feet wide apart.
Variation I: Inhale and raise arms out to sides of body. Exhale and bring hands down to the floor, block or chair. Then inhale and lengthen the spine and as you exhale twist the torso to the right, bringing the left hand to the hip, inhale both hands to the floor and exhale repeat to the other side. Repeat 5 times with the breath, alternating sides.
Variation II: Begin standing and inhale bring the arms out to the sides of body. Exhale and bring left hand down to the floor and twist tot the right with the left hand extend straight out from the shoulder. Inhale return to standing with the arms out and repeat to the other side. Repeat 5 times with the breath, alternating sides.
Therapeutics: Builds strength around core, wrings out the digestive organs.
Supported Heart Opener
Set up two bolsters perpendicular to mat with folded blanket on the one toward the back of the mat. Sit on folded blanket or on floor facing away from bolsters. Lie back so that shoulder blades and upper back are supported by shorted bolster and the head and neck are supported by the taller bolster. The upper line of the shoulders and arms should fall in between the bolsters. If the elbows to not readily reach the floor, support with more folded blankets. Either straighten legs out to floor or rest knees over bolster.
Therapeutics: Opens heart and releases tension across chest, shoulders and neck
I attend Cheryl's class regularly and feel that my practice has improved immensely over the past few years due to her expert coaching. Her teaching style is clear and compassionate and her previous experience in teaching adults is evident in her organized approach and easy to understand instructions. I also appreciate that Cheryl not only teaches us about how to correctly position ourselves, but also touches on many aspects of yoga philosophy, which in turn has deepened my personal practice and heightened my awareness of the connection between mind and body, breath and relaxation.