2010-06-02

Twist n'Shout


Okay, maybe don't shout (unless you feel the urge), but definitely learn a spinal twist!

When we think about moving our bodies we may only envision this as either forward or backward. Movements to the side are often skipped, neglected or underestimated. Spinal twists, however, open a whole new arena in both our understanding of ourselves and development. They are also excellent counter postures in moving forward and backward in developing a more holistic approach to ourselves.

While I generally consider all of the postures of yoga as a learning tool (and should not be isolated from the 'whole'), there are certain aspects that spinal twists bring out in the body and mind that a forward bend does not. This makes them dynamic and unique in their own right while still working in harmony with the other postures. Twists can reveal mental habits, patterns, unintentional body patterns and habits, and unconscious preferences toward certain movements as well as aversions.

There are 2 important points to consider in learning twists. One is that the rotation of the spine starts from the bottom up. Usually we feel the pressure from the top down or mid-spine. Yet, to create a firmer and more stable twist, a strong base or foundation from which to support the movement needs to be created. Grounding the sit bones and pelvis develops a firmer seat (re: asana) from which the spine can twist against and away from. Without lifting the hips, the abdomen and waist move upward and sideways as they are contracted and squeezed. Using the hips as the base, creates the movement coming bottom up; the spine in turn moves deeper.

The second point is the use of the breath. The ‘in’ breath is the signal for new energy, oxygen and life. It opens the body and prepares for the movement. Inhalations allow the mind to become centered on the present moment. The ‘out’ breath is either the reinforcement of the movement or an extension; a supporting counter part to the 'in' breath. It may also be used to exert more pressure on the body as well as to release, let go and extend the spine.

Moving from side to side creates growth, support and balance. Because both sides of our body support each other, twists aid in the process of finding balance and harmony. Both the front and the back sides of the body work together with the sides. The inside and the outside also work together for growth and support. Twists create the space for a deeper conversation between the mind, the breath and the body.

All postures should create a conversation between the breath and your body. Twists are a good receiver. Moving with the breath develops a rapport between the right and left sides of the body addressing misalignments and correcting imbalances. Allowing the posture to speak to you is one of the most useful aspects of practice. This stops the ‘normal’ mind from its chatter, insistent noise, judgements and comments. A sense of observing ‘what is’ (not what you want it to be), but a simple acceptance of how it is can emerge.

Prashat Iyengar, the famous Yoga Master's son said: "Sthira Sukham Asanam"

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The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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