Even if you could sail through Surya Namaskar in your sleep, we invite you to join us in revisiting the keystones of asana. Unlearn what you know, break your bad habits, and see if you can’t makeover your entire flow by re-focusing on a few foundational poses. Try an advanced approach to basic asana with SmartFLOW teacher trainer Tiffany Russo. Get #backtobasics with us all month on Facebook and Instagram.
There is something to be said for revisiting basic postures year round but maybe even more so in January, when there seems to be such a mad rush to finish whatever we didn’t last year, completely overhaul our entire routine overnight, and accomplish everything—now. To that urgency, I say, SLOW DOWN!
Twists, like the new year, can often invoke that same sense of wanting more. But when we crank into a twist, we lose the even length on all four sides of the spine. And when our spine is not aligned, the flow of prana is disrupted. What I’ve learned through my own practice is that we get further if we slow down the process. Deepen the twist by using the breath: Inhale for length and let the exhalations happen naturally to turn the torso around the axis of the spine. When you slow down and become more mindful of your movements, you are able to become more interested in the process—how the body as a whole, including the mind, is affected by the changing shape—than the outcome of the final posture. This may not be a method for pushing our edge, but it is a way to cultivate the awareness to practice within the edges of strength and ease and strike that sattvic sense of balance.
Practicing Revolved Crescent Lunge (or a Twisting Low Lunge with the back knee down to modify) with this kind of mindfulness, perfectly prepares the body for all standing twists, Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana and even arm balances like Eka Pada Koundinyasana I.
Ready to try it? Step one: Take a moment to pause, connect back with your breath, and slow down.
1. Keep the Plank in the pose.
We begin in High Lunge with the hands down. Think Plank from the heel of the back foot along the top of the thigh, up the side of the waist and out through the front of the chest. As you move into the twist, work to maintain those actions of Plank. Keep lifting back thigh straight up toward the hamstring and the side of the waist up away from the ground.
2. Stabilize the shoulder girdle.
Stabilize the shoulder girdle to isolate the twist in the spine. Often once we start to twist, the bottom shoulder head rolls forward, pulling the bottom shoulder blade off the back. Instead think Side Plank (Vasisthasana) in the arms, stacking one shoulder directly on top of the other and working to maintain equal width in both shoulder blades and collarbones as you twist. Then leading with the upper outer arm, isometrically slide your bottom hand back toward your foot to pull the shoulder blade away from the ear.
3. Stabilize the pelvis.
In standing twists, stabilizing the pelvis from the roots of the legs and twisting from that foundation will help you get the most benefits out of the twist. To do that in Revolved Crescent Lunge: Press the top of the front thigh from the hip socket down to the floor, keeping it in line with the front knee and ankle by also hugging it into the midline of the body. Then lift the root of the back thigh (deep in the hip socket) up toward the hamstring. These two movements will most likely take you out of the biggest expression of the twist but will stabilize your sacrum and give you a deeper twist.
Contraindication: If you have a low back injury, avoid this work of the legs.
4. Take the backbend out of the twist.
Twists are great prep poses for backbends and also help to neutralize the spine after backbends, but a standing twist is not a backbend. As we move into the twist, we work to stabilize the ribs in the same line as the pelvis. Using the mental image of ascending a spiral staircase can help us move deeper into the twist, using the awareness of the breath: Inhale into the belly, exhale twist; inhale into the back ribs, exhale twist; inhale into the upper chest, exhale deepen the twist. To enhance the pose once in the twist, inhale into the ribs on whichever side of the waist you are twisting toward, and on the exhale, find even length on all four sides of the waist. Finding more length on the underneath side of the twist will take any backbend out of your pose.