The holidays are a season of joy, love and family. They’re also the season of stress and overindulgence. This year, let yoga help you calm your frazzled nerves and rejuvenate your tired body and mind.
Twists are the detox poses of yoga. They tone the abdominal muscles, promote circulation and improve digestion. Even the simplest of twist poses can have profound effects. Let’s take a brief look at why twists provide the body with so much relief.
Many muscle groups are active during twisting, but the obliques, or side-waist muscles, are arguably the most important. Without getting too bogged down in anatomy, it’s important to understand that twisting requires your side-waist muscles to both lengthen and contract, promoting both strength and flexibility. Twists can also significantly improve common complaints such as lower back pain.
Additionally, yogis believe that we hold much of our emotional baggage in our lower abdomen and hips. To help understand this, notice where in your body you clench or tighten your muscles during a stressful situation. You will most likely find yourself contracting your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles along with your shoulders and neck. Learning to relax these areas — and learning to understand the difference between healthy strengthening and unhealthy gripping — can help us let go of mental and emotional baggage as well as bring physical relief.
Twist poses offer us the chance to both listen to and communicate with many areas of our bodies that harbor such stress and tension. I like to think of twists as wringing out a dirty washcloth, ridding our bodies of unnecessary grime. We’ll begin with a simple, seated twist.
To begin, sit in a chair without leaning on the back. Your knees are hip-width apart, your ankles directly under your knees and your feet parallel. Proper posture is imperative for healthy twisting. Imagine the crown of your head growing towards the ceiling, your chin staying parallel to the floor. Your shoulders slide down away from your ears, but your heart is lifted and light. Breath flows evenly in and out of your nose.
On an inhale sit even taller and on an exhale begin the twist starting from your stable base, with your sitting bones rooted firmly into the seat of your chair. Imagine your spine as a string of pearls.
Take your left hand to your right knee and your right hand behind you on the seat of your chair.
Initiate the twist to your right starting from the bottom and moving slowly up, one
pearl at a time.
Once your belly button begins to turn, focus on turning your heart center, firming your right shoulder blade in to aid the twist. Your left shoulder stays down away from your ear and both shoulders stay at the same height.
Remember that your neck twists most easily, so be gentle yet adventurous as you look over your right shoulder. Keep your gaze and the area around your eyes, forehead and jaw soft.
With each inhale, grow taller through the crown of your head and let each exhale take you deeper into your twist.
Let your breath guide you, but feel free to stay in your twist for one minute. On an inhalation. return to center, take one full breath and exhale as you switch sides.
A simple, seated twist can offer you relief from the downside of this joyous time of year —stress. Twists can also provide you with a much needed opportunity to tune into the deeper, calmer you during the chaos.
Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season.
Jennifer White is a certified yoga instructor at Essence. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.