September is National Yoga Month. And while that might inspire many of us to run out to the nearest studio and sign up for an hour-long flow, one instructor-and Zeel Yoga Expert!-cautions us to beware.
"Often in yoga classes, we are directed to turn the head in the opposite direction of the knees to "increase the twist,"' writes Melissa Gutierrez,SMARTer Bodies co-founder and yogi extraordinaire. "But it may be more important to track the subtle sensations and know from where we are twisting than be concerned about how far we can go."
"Sometimes turning the head can make us lose track of those sensations," Melissa continues, reminding us that, in yoga, less can sometimes be more. "Yoga provides an opportunity for self-exploration that can be more valuable than shape making. So let us explore what's going on and what contributes to what we feel."
Complements of Melissa, here are a few tips to keep in mind as we work on mastering the proper yoga twist.
Turn tastefully. It is a common misconception that turning your head to its maximum potential is always necessary. That's why Melissa recommends closing your eyes as you twist gently. Doing so enhances sensations in the muscles, meaning that you'll get a much better feel for when to stop and when to twist deeper based on what's right for you.
Don't overcompensate. When in a twisting pose, Melissa describes that we have a natural tendency to twist the head further in order to overcompensate for inflexibilities of the spine. "Compensating in this way may not be great for your cervical spine," she adds. "In your rush to meet your end goal, you may be skipping over movement you didn't realize you had in other places that would assist you in performing your twist."
Close your eyes. With closed eyes, try twisting to one side using the strength of your head. As Melissa explains, "You might be very surprised to see where the rest of your body is in space if you lined up your nose with your sternum and then opened the eyes."
What does this mean for your practice? It's important to understand how flexible we are as individuals rather than overcompensating in order to "complete the full twist" as we imagine it. Twisting with closed eyes enables us to listen to our bodies, whereas when we twist with open eyes, we may simply be over-turning our gaze - and consequently our head - in order to feel as though we are twisting further.
Track your twist. Melissa suggests making an attempt to track the movement of the spin as you twist both visually and mentally. Start at the bottom of the spine. As the twist spirals its way up, be mindful of areas of the spine you may not have been aware of before. Keep the progression slow and steady as you proceed.
"This kind of bodily awareness is invaluable for ensuring you can make well-informed and beneficial movement decisions that allow you to maintain a healthy and injury-free practice," says Melissa of the aforementioned tips. Not only can this kind of conscious movement help to reprogram the body, but in doing so, you can also reprogram the nervous system and brain in an effort to live better, healthier lives.