You have two aspects to the physical body:
- The outer body consists of what you see, arms and legs and torso, along with what you don’t see, your bones.
- The inner body consists of your internal organs, the soft contents of the outer body.
When we twist, we often use the outer body to force or leverage ourselves into a twist, frequently going beyond what is truly comfortable for our body, both inner and outer. Outer discomfort is revealed by losing alignment of the spine. Inner body discomfort shows up if you feel like you are still twisting for a moment when you return from a twist. (I call it the “phantom twist.”) That sensation can signal that you are moving beyond what your inner body is ready for as well. When we move into a twist solely from the outer body, using our arms as leverage tools, there is a good chance you are forcing the inner body into a position that is challenging its alignment.
So, what to do? Allow your inner body to guide you. Here is an excellent exercise to help you feel your inner body guiding you:
- Sit in Sukhasana (Easy Cross-Legged Pose). Feel your sit bones and grow very tall, extending the spine.
- Without using your arms, begin to twist to the right. It will feel awkward initially, hang in there.
- Once you have gone as far as you can, take your left hand outside your right knee and your right hand behind you and support yourself as far as you have already turned.
- Take a breath in and get even longer through the spine. As you exhale, gently draw yourself more deeply into the pose. Now you will come more from the integrity of the inner body. The twist will be softer. See for yourself.
- Come out of the pose. Feel the body.
- Now, twist to the left using the hands to “force” the twist. (In other words, test the “what not to do” pose. And then come out.
The twist from the outer body is harder and the inner body is softer. Ironically, you don’t tend to go any further into a twist by using the leverage of the outer body, although it feels like you should be able to do so. In fact, students find they often can go further when they are gentle. Try it. Compare the two twists. Fascinating, isn’t it?
If you are a teacher, this idea is fun to teach. I find students of all levels can appreciate the gentle twist.