Everyone needs a good wringing

“Yoga looks boring. All this stretching…I think I will fall asleep doing it.” These were the very words uttered by a friend of mine who clearly didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He also never expected to get so completely annihilated when I challenged him to attend a yoga class with me a year ago. Poor guy. He prided himself as physically fit, muscles bulging from countless sessions at the gym. He must have been really confused when his breathing got hectic and shallow just 10 minutes into class, and his legs trembled at unexpected places when holding a downward dog. Most memorably, he was close to tears when we went into a series of twists.

Yoga’s benefits to our body and mind are too numerous to fit on a page. Yet it is still constantly underestimated and a victim of misconceptions by well-meaning people who are simply ill-informed. Assumptions such as: ”Yoga is only a series of stretching exercises” or “Slow deliberate movements and holding poses is boring”. That friend of mine who shed manly tears the day he popped his Yoga cherry? It might have been many things to him, but I can assure you that boring was most definitely not one of them.

Unfortunately, these assumptions continue to discourage people, especially men, from giving Yoga a shot. The Ashtanga Primary Series, which will take roughly 1.5 hours to complete, is a vigorous workout that will harness not just one’s flexibility but also requires considerable strength at the same time. Strength not just from your superficial and large muscles, but more importantly, awakening dormant muscles that we’ve simply forgotten how to isolate and use!

Poses that requires us to twist will fire up our muscles that have insidiously grown tight through endless hours of sitting in front of our desks at work. Think about it: how much twisting do you go about doing in your daily life? Probably not very much! Even for physically active people, it’s just not something that’s frequently and methodically incorporated into most training routines. And when most people twist their torsos to warm up, they usually do so dynamically without holding a sustained position.

Now, think about those oft-neglected obliques, abdominals and back muscles…for my friend, they have been overworked and shortened during gym workouts… yet they are literally starved for a good wringing! Leaving these muscles short can lead to lower back pain and poor posture. Also, spinal mobility and flexibility will decrease as you age, which will manifest into back pains as well.

But don’t despair! There is no need to cough up cash for overpriced ergonomic chairs to fix this. By incorporating twisting in your Asana practice, you will be on track to better prevention and protection.

How do twists improve spinal flexibility? Through mobilizing the joints of your spine and rotating each vertebrae gently. Do perform twists in a slow but rhythmical fashion. Hold each pose for 5 even breaths, and try to twist a little more each time you exhale to ease deeper into the pose. The longer you hold the pose, the more you will improve flexibility in the muscles and spine rotation. More importantly, the spine should be kept straight and long as much as possible, in order to create space between each vertebrae. Don’t ever hunch or slump over to achieve a deeper twist. If tightness in your muscles currently prohibits you from a deep twist, place priority over keeping a straight spine, and then the twist.

Other known benefits from twisting include:
-Improvement in digestive function –> when in a twist, you restrict blood flow temporarily. Upon unwinding, fresh blood rushes to oxygenate the digestive organs, enhancing their capabilities.
-Detox and Cleansing –> as part of the above process, once blood flow is restored circulation is temporarily increased. This process helps to cleanse build-up of waste in cells, leading to cellular detoxification. With an improved digestive tract, more gas and waste will also be expelled from your body naturally.

So far in my personal practice, twisting has helped me release much tension from my trunk, which leads to more relaxation after each session. Simple seated twisting poses can already do so much, such as Marichyasana C (without the bind for beginners) and the gentle Bharadvajasana.

If you’re up for more action and challenge in a twist, a myriad of arm balances incorporates this wunderkind of Asanas, such as Parsva Bakasana and the poster-worthy Eka Pada Koundinyanasana.

I don’t know about you, but I think I want to get me some twisting, pronto!

:: Written by Peishan Cheng (200hr TTC March 2014) ::