As the last posture in the series, spine twist is sometimes not given as much attention by students (and teachers!). We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the last breathing exercise is seconds away.
Don’t underestimate the importance of this posture. Spine Twist is the last posture in the Bikram series because your whole body is optimally warmed up and relaxed to get the most benefits.
Jodie says “Take your time! Go into it slowly, think about each step of the set up. That is the ONLY way you will get the benefits.”
Spine twist acts to neutralize the spine and release any residual tension after all the work you’ve been doing. It gives your digestive system a lovely massage and increases the blood supply to the nerves in the spinal column. It is excellent for postural scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis. With proper alignment it stretches deeply into hips and legs and is a great release for neck and shoulder tension.
Let’s be more specific about the name Spine twist. It’s the upper and middle part of your back that are designed to twist – your cervical spine (neck) and thoracic (middlespine at the shoulder and chest area).
While your cervical and thoracic spine are designed to rotate, flex and extend, your lumbar spine is built to support your body weight and only to flex and extend (backbends and forward bends). Your lumbar spine is NOT really designed to rotate (twist) very much. This should come from your thoracic and cervical spine.
The Bad News
Modern living – prolonged periods of sitting, super soft sofas, poor posture, hunching over an electronic device (it’s not just teenagers who do it), carrying the world in your shoulder bag, holding babies, driving – means the thoracic area can lose its mobility and the lumbar spine is forced to do the work when you are twisting. Bad news for both the lumbar spine and the thoracic!
Your lumbar can handle a little twist but it’s not happy when it’s expected to do everything. Naturally, your lumbar spine has around 5 degrees rotation, your thoracic around 35 degrees and your cervical spine (your neck) about 50 degrees. So when you aren’t using your thoracic and cervical optimally, eventually your lower back will let you know it’s not happy, in the form of nagging aches, chronic pain, or worse. (Please note there are of course other reasons for lower back pain).
The Good News
When done correctly spine twist pose will increase the mobility into your thoracic and cervical spine. When we start Bikram yoga most of us find spine twist is a struggle because we don’t do spine rotations much in our daily lives.
Be patient! The great thing about this posture is that you have just spent almost 90 minutes stretching your body every which way and you are in the best position possible to get the best results. You might not feel you do spine twist “well”, (you’re human not a pretzel and that’s why you come to Bikram Yoga) but if you are doing it with the best form available to you today, you are most definitely doing it “well”. As Jodie says, take your time in the set up and you will get the benefits. Don’t rush.
So What’s the Trick?
If you haven’t worked it out by now, the key is the Setup.
SPINE TWIST SETUP (using the first side)
- You start with both hips on the floor and both feet on the floor in front of you.
- Now bend the left knee on to the floor and bring the left foot around outside the right hip.
At this point it’s very common for the hip of the bent up leg to raise slightly. That’s OK, it’s not “wrong”. One of the aims of spine twist is to do it with your hips nicely on the floor. That comes through practice. Remember, always it’s what you are TRYING to do in yoga that matters. So you’re not there yet, don’t worry, but don’t forget about it.
- Point the toes of the left foot.
- Place the heel of your right foot touching your left knee. Left knee on the floor.
Many people bring the right foot in away from the knee, closer to the thigh. This is likely to lift the right hip and lessen the twist by reducing traction in spine. Keep the heel exactly at the left knee.
- Bring your left arm around, push your right knee out the way with the elbow and hold your left knee.
If you struggle to get the hand over the knee, lean the body out. This will straighten the back and increase the stretch.
Bikram says that for big strong guys where it is almost impossible to get the hand on the knee, as long as you sit with hips down best you can and grab the towel instead of the knee to create pressure between the arms, you will get the effect of the posture.
The left elbow and the right knee must touch throughout the posture.
- Now look in the mirror and check the alignment of your spine.
If your spine doesn’t stay straight and upright i.e you’re slumping a bit (be honest with yourself), keep the other hand on the floor palm down, fingers away from spine and use this hand to leverage the spine straight. You might be leaning a little forward to try to keep the left knee and right hip down, that’s OK for a beginner and will straighten the spine.
Keep sucking stomach and lifting the chest up to the ceiling.
That’s the setup. Here’s the posture:
- Start to look over your left shoulder. Think of twisting from the waist upwards to the neck and bring your eyes around just as much as you can.
- Inhale chest up and stomach in and always twist on the exhale.
- Try with each exhale to twist round a little more
- Continuously stretch up as you exhale and twist. The spine should remain straight.
- Keep the left knee and hand and the right heel all touching at the same place as you twist.
- Try to keep your left knee and right hip down on the floor.
- Keep gently pushing the knee back with the elbow.
- If your bent knee on the floor has an injury and causes you discomfort, keep it straight, no problem.
Spine Twist may seem easy if you take the path of least resistance, but done with correct form it builds a strength in the torso, cleanses out your digestion and improves suppleness in the spine, hips and legs.
And when the last posture is done, this is how you feel….