Yoga Bites: Twisting can wring out the toxins, tension

By By Sarah Hundley, Special to the Triplicate April 16, 2012 07:00 pm

Yoga Bites appears every four weeks.

For many people, the word yoga conjures up the image of a human pretzel.

It’s true, yogis do often enjoy a stretch with a twist. When practiced with care and mindfulness, twisting feels invigorating and calming at the same time. Rotating the spine helps to maintain its length, resiliency, health and suppleness. By squeezing and stretching the entire torso and its contents, including organs, muscles, glands and nerves, we wring toxins and tension out of the body.

Imagine squeezing dirty water from a sponge. The poetic irony here is that as we twist and wind up our outer bodies, the inner body and mind unwind more easily.

Bharadvajasana (“bah-ROD-va-JAHS-anna”) is a Simple Seated Twist that can be practiced on the ground, in a chair, or even a parked car. Sitting in a comfortable position, inhale as you float your arms overhead. Exhale as you twist to the right, opening arms out to the sides, gazing over the back hand. Pause and soften.  Relax your mind. As you inhale wave the spine ever taller. As you exhale press into your foundation and spiral around a little deeper.

Allow these waves of breath to wash over and through you, bringing an easy quality to your effort. Imagine that you are suspended by a golden thread from the crown of your head up to the sky.

Wrap your shoulder blades more onto your back ribs. Now place left hand on right knee, and right hand on the floor behind your right hip. Gently use the arms to help you lengthen up and spin more. Intelligently work to your edge, and not past it. The head and neck may want to lead here. Don’t let them. They are simply passengers.

When you feel challenged allow yourself to be curious. Feel free to experiment and explore what works for you at any given moment. If it feels good, go for it. If it feels yucky, change it or skip it. Breathe here for 15 seconds to one minute, and gently unwind on an exhale. Rest at center before switching sides.

Seated in a chair you can hold onto the backrest as you twist for support and gentle leverage.  Broaden into both your upper back and chest. Turn your head over the right shoulder. Include your eyes in the twist by taking them to the upper and lower right corners of your eyes. Hold for at least five full breaths in and out.

Slowly unwind and repeat on the opposite side. Rest, re-center, and breathe into the sensations that arise as all of the tissues in your torso are flushed and flooded with fresh, oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood.

Twisting the torso squeezes and compresses the breathing diaphragm muscle, which can lead to a feeling of suffocation in beginners.  Remain mindful and tall as you soften, relax, and slowly drink in deep, healing breaths.  Elongate your exhalations.

By breathing as fully as possible while twisting (even untwisting slightly on inhalations to create space) we are resistance-training our lungs for increased strength and capacity, which enhances all things on and off the mat. Let your energy be easy. There is no need to push or rush. Here we practice staying present with the breath, and simply observe the mind’s reactions to uncomfortable or unfamiliar sensations without attachment or aversion. The trick is to simply be your breath and watch as the knots untie themselves.

(Note: If you have a spinal disc injury, consult your health-care provider before practicing twists of any kind.)

Sarah Hundley, a certified yoga instructor and massage therapist, owns Shambala Studio in Crescent City. Email her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it