Body Awareness in Chair Twist
by Stacy Dockins
Let’s take a look at the two most common cues used in this pose:
“Keep your knees together”
“Lengthen on the inhale and TWIST on the exhale”
In my opinion, yoga posture alignment cues should always have the ultimate purpose of awakening awareness. It is helpful to understand the mechanics of the twist to understand how these particular cues might and might not be helpful.
If you take a really close look at the facet joints along the length of the spine, it will become obvious where the spine is designed to twist and where it isn’t. Facet joints are where a given vertebrae interact with the vertebrae above and below it with twisting force. The facet joints around the thoracic spine (that part attached to ribs) allow for the most twist. Within the spine, twist happens predominantly around the ribs. The lumbar spine facet joints are NOT designed for twisting action.When range of twisting motion is maxed out in the thoracic spine, movement has to be gathered from somewhere else if the student attempts to make the twist bigger.
The easiest place to gather more ROM is at the hips by allowing a knee to jut forward, creating unevenness in the hips and legs. Not that big of a deal yet this is one of the alignment pieces we are often adamant about—keep your knees together!
Keeping knees together works out well if the student doesn’t attempt to push farther or make the twist BIGGER with force.
Before we move farther, let me repeat this part:
When range of twisting motion is maxed out in the thoracic spine, movement has to be gathered from somewhere else if the student attempts to make the twist bigger.
Here’s the scene:
You are in chair twist, you are being a “good yogi” and keeping your knees together, you are in the twist with ROM maxed out in the thoracic spine and the teacher is calling, “breathe in, TWIST, breathe in, TWIST” and you are trying to TWIST more. Since the knees and hips are adamantly being held together and even, the space to twist more has to come from somewhere else. The next points of give in the spine are the facet joints in the lumbar spine and or the sacroiliac joints (where the sacrum interacts with the ilium). With enough force (using the arm on the leg to push more into the twist) these points will give way, possibly resulting in a facet joint injury or SI joint injury. It’s possible that the soft tissues are tight and limiting range of twist also.
Yoga shouldn’t hurt.
I’m not one for teaching fear-based yoga and yeah yoga can cause injury but so can everything else. I do feel I have a responsibility to really understand what I am asking my students to do. I also know that my most potent teaching happens when I can create new moments of body awareness in my students. I’d much rather teach them what is happening in their own bodies so that they can be aware of how to move versus demanding certain actions and alignments for them to follow blindly.
To practice and teach yoga is to AWAKEN INNATE INTELLIGENCE, not to create better followers of instruction.
As we awaken our awareness through postures on our mats, we awaken to our lives and ultimately ourselves. This is the portable gift yoga posture offers.
Cues I might use to awaken body awareness when teaching chair twist:
Take your feet as wide as needed to feel stable
Keep your spine up-hill
Keep your breath strong yet soft
Begin with your knees / hips even (your knee might eventually jut forward a bit, just be aware)
If you move so far that your knees can’t stay even, know that you’ve maxed out range in your spine/torso. Stay there and breathe
Try not using the force of your arm to twist farther
Let the twist happen naturally with the exhale, don’t force
Check out the Free Life People blog for more of Stacy’s anatomy, yoga, and health knowledge!