Twists and Shoulders

by Vivien Skuodas

‘Painter and sculptor George Braque once said, “Art disturbs, science reassures”. The idea is that art takes one out of a comfort zone and into new experiences. Science provides grounding and stability. Yoga poses are like physical sculptures that take you out of your comfort zone. Scientific techniques are the sculpting tools that allow you to do this with intelligence and precision’. (Ray Long)

Nowhere is this more apparent than in twisting postures. It always seemed counter-intuitive to me that the more I twisted myself into a pretzel, the calmer I felt. Why was this? Surely just lying down would be more beneficial. Therefore I started to explore the science behind what was happening to me whilst seemingly wrapping myself into various knots and implausible shapes.

I decided to start from the inside out and dive into studying the spinal column, its rotations and movements, which feed every single area of our lives. Spinal flexibility involves being able to bend forward and sideways, to extend back and to rotate, or twist. But look at the modern Western lifestyle: we sit and we hunch.  We hunch at a computer.  We hunch over a steering wheel.  For fun, we hunch in front of a TV.  If we’re cyclists, then we hunch even during our athletic event. However, once I start twisting, how do I stop myself over-twisting, something that can lead to all sorts of other complications? The answer is by building strength and tone around the abdomen, which can act as a protective corset around the internal organs and the spinal column. I had initially concentrated solely on twists within the column of the spine and had underestimated their ability to open the front of the body.

Most of us, especially with age, accumulate tension in the obliques and other trunk muscles. This tension is largely attributable to, yet again, our sedentary lifestyles, or rather workstyles (i.e., we sit far too many hours every day), and it diminishes our ability to twist our spines. The muscle tension created by lack of activity reduces your trunk’s range of motion. Being sedentary may lead to weak muscles, which, in turn, may decrease support for any spinal movement, including rotation. Muscle weakness may also decrease overall trunk stability.

Abdominal muscles are key for back support. Each abdominal muscle plays its own role in spinal support, which in turn leads on to postural support which is why in many yoga classes we bang on endlessly about strengthening our core. However, what we don’t want is a locked 6 pack belly. Charming though it may be to look at, it does not necessarily aid a full range of motion. What we try to cultivate through our hours on the mat is a healthy range of motion, a soft but strong belly and healthy alignment, which will help us practice with ease and control.

The six abdominal muscles all affect body posture. The deeper the muscle is located (i.e. the closer to the spine), the more powerful effect it will have, and therefore, the greater capacity it will have for creating and maintaining a healthy spine. I won’t bang on about the inter-connectedness of the abdomen and the spine in this blog, as it would run into thousands of words. Suffice to say, they affect each other. When practising twists, I try to imagine the front of my body, talking to the back of my body, and in that way I don’t over-rotate or push one part of my body more than the other.

My journey into twisting postures has taken time and effort. They can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if I forget to breathe. However, as I hope you may discover if you come and practice them with me in the forthcoming workshop, they can unlock other areas of the body and, indeed, the mind that can sometimes get stuck. As with many things in life, sometimes all it takes is a little courage, a little willingness, a sense of adventure and a dollop of common sense and miraculous things start to unfold. Not just our spinal columns.

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