When a towel is overloaded, you twist it to wring it out. Twists in a yoga practice are similar to this for our nervous system. They reset the firing signals and impulses that initiate our patterns of thoughts, movement and behaviour. Because of this, twists are like engaging a wellness refresh button for our body/being.
The following lying twist exercise is safe for anyone who has a healthy spine. If you are suffering from any form of disc inflammation or herniation, do this with much caution, or not at all. If you suffer from scoliosis, twists are an excellent way to permanently retrain the way your muscles carry your spine. In my one-on-one work, and through my years of teaching and traveling, I have seen some extraordinary shape-change happen due to the power of yoga poses, when done with care and humble commitment under skilled supervision.
As you do the following exercise, remember that YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine and yoga as a whole is not about how flexible you are. I mention this in particular, because it is very easy to over-twist the spine. You want to avoid that discomfort and potential injury. Keep in mind that yoga is about awakened presence. Welcome where you are at in this moment without competitiveness, judgment, or wanting. When you are in non-resistance to the fullness of life right here and now, then you are practicing yoga, not just doing a physical exercise.
The series in these magazine issues is designed to build one exercise upon the next to best help you reap the full benefits of this unique and powerful YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine practice. Ideally, you do all exercises that lead up to this. Please at least do Savasana, The Breathing WaveandFeet to Sky or Leg Stretchto cultivate awareness of how life-force energy moves through your body/being and to lengthen your spine prior to twisting. You need to create space between your vertebrae to do a safe twist and reach optimal benefits.
1. Find a quiet and relaxed environment where you can lie on the floor, ideally on a yoga mat.
2. After completing Feet to Sky or Leg Stretch, hug both of your knees into your chest as you exhale, allowing the knees to settle into your belly.
3. Inhale, draw life force down the spine, your central channel of energy, and feel your belly rise. As you do so, wrap your right arm around your knees. Exhale, and outstretch your left arm, palm up, so that it is perpendicular to your body and at the level of your shoulder. Feel life-force move through your limbs, out your arm, legs and crown.
4. Inhale again, drawing energy in with downward flow. While keeping your knees as close to your chest as comfortable, on your next exhale, feel life force to expand through your body being as you gently allow your knees to roll towards your right. As you lower your legs to the ground, witness vertebra by vertebra what your spine feels like. Can you feel each vertebra move, one by one, like rungs of a ladder, or notes of a piano? Move slowly and be aware of your movement and sensations.
5. If you find that your legs suddenly clunk to the floor, breathe in and bring them back up again and slowly twist again on the exhale. This time, slow it down even more and go deeper within. A sudden clunk means there is deeper tension through that area of your spine that you bypass by moving quickly.
6. Once your legs are on the ground, make sure you are not stressing. If you need to place a pillow or a towel under your knees to relieve any intensity, do so. Remember, YEM is about doing 80% of your maximum, so there is lots of room to breathe. Once you are comfortable, roll your head to the left.
7. Then take a few long breaths with the image of the whale spout at your crown and your spine being a tube of breath, your body being a vehicle for prana, life-force energy. Breathe your whole body, feeling your cells receive the prana. Draw in life-force, exhale rooted, vital expansion. Allow your breath to be like an internal massage, bringing greater space and wholeness into areas that feel tight and resistant.
8. When you have had enough, inhale and start to slowly bring your knees back up to your chest.
9. Now repeat on the other side and enjoy!
Parvati is an award-winning musician (“I Am Light”, “Electro Yog”, “Yoga In The Nightclub”), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (“The Grace Mindset”, “Aonani of Avalon”, “The Three Supreme Secrets for Lasting Happiness”) and founder and CEO of the nonprofit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS). More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.