November boasts abundance with days of harvest and celebration, remembrance and the call of civic duty. Such holidays as All Saint’s Day, All Souls Day and Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Remembrance or Veteran’s Day and the Hindu “festival of lights”, Diwali, are celebrated, not to mention Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and, for those practicing aparigraha (greedlessness), “Buy Nothing Day”. If that’s not enough, this year holds the Presidential Election and the opportunity to importantly cast our votes for the changes we want to see locally, nationally and globally.
What’s a yogi to do to metabolize so much activity, physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically?
This month’s pose features a relaxed and longer-held version of the mood-altering, belly-fortifying, perspective-changing and energetically balancing Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly-Revolving Pose). Twists are the quintessential refreshers; they keep the spine supple, healthy and strong, stretch the muscles around the hips and shoulders, and can stimulate or bring ease to digestion.
Twists help us integrate, dissolve and evolve beyond the pairs of opposites, enabling us to keep a clear calm perspective and a sense of wholeness through the core of our being. When the world seems to be spinning at dizzying speeds, in a simple twist, we can remember the connection to our source of energy and abundance and feel whole and complete, unwinding gratitude from the inside out.
Lie on your back. Draw your knees in toward your chest and hug your thighs against your torso for a few slow breaths. Rock a little to the left and right to warm up your back body.
Pause at the center. Bring both arms out to the sides. You can bend your elbows and create a 90-ish degree angle, and press the backs of the shoulders, forearms and hands against the floor.
Press into your feet, lift your hips and shift them lightly to the right. As you exhale, slowly swing your knees to the left. Lower your left outer thigh to the floor and stack your right hip on top. You’ll want to keep the natural curve in your low back so that both sides of your sacrum are aligned. For some bodies, the right shoulder will come off the floor. Place a neatly folded blanket beneath your shoulder for more support, or simply place your right hand on your ribs to help encourage the shoulder to release without straining at the joint.
Slowly turn your head to the right.
Let the weight of your thighs release with gravity toward the ground. Feel for length along the sides of the waist, and begin to turn your attention to the spaces between your ribs and the movement of your breath circulating prana (life-energy) through the subtle channels in your body.
Remember, the goal is not to crank deeper and deeper (which can be tempting), but to yield to gravity and allow your hips, shoulders and spine to unwind accumulated tension. Watch your breath rise and fall and circulate.
After 6-10 breaths or longer, slowly inhale and draw your thighs back to center. Rest for a moment on your back with knees bent, feet on the floor. As the heads of your thighbones drop into their sockets, soften your eyes and relax the base of your tongue. Can you feel the integration of the sensations in both sides of the body?
Then, shift your hips to the left, draw your legs up and roll your thighs to the right. Again, keep the back wall of the pelvis vertical to encourage the natural curve in your low back. This will allow your twist to come from your waist, not your lumbar spine. Turn your head to the left.
This twist can serve as a great transition between backbends and forward bends, after forward bends to ease the back, or at the end of practice before Savasana (Corpse Pose).
In the hatha yoga practice, we can understand the concept of “integrating or dissolving the pairs of opposites” through harmonizing ida and pingala. Ida, the energetic channel associated with the left nostril, runs along the left side of the spine and symbolizes the moon, the mind and the more nourishing, receptive, and yin aspect of the being. Pingala, the “tawny current” is associated with the right nostril and represents the sun, prana (our life’s energy) and the more cleansing, active and yang aspect of the being.
These channels are harmonized through the traditional practices of hatha yoga. We can work directly with ida and pingala through the nostrils using nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate-nostril breath), but twists and other poses will also do the work.
According to the ancients, when we harmonize the flow through both channels, prana can then be directed into the centermost channel of the spine, Sushumna Nadi, or, more specifically, Brahma Nadi.
The teachings say “the yogi is one whose spine is full of prana.” This yogini has found that through practice, when I can surrender to this flow and become absorbed in the light of the innermost aspect of my being, I don’t long for external solutions. I can rest in the abundant nature of my own being, be at peace with what is around me, and remember my place within the entire cosmos, if only for a moment.
And that is something for which I am truly grateful.
Chrisandra Fox Walker plays with light in twists and other poses in three weekly classes at Yoga Tree. Click here for her schedule. She will lead a daylong renewal in the beautiful hills of Glen Ellen Sunday, November 18th, “Thanksgiving Twists: Unfolding Abundance”. REGISTER HERE. Chrisandra leads The Heart of Renewal Retreats and is a core teacher in Yoga Tree’s 200-hour Advanced Studies and Teacher Training. Email Chrisandra@gmail.com
Photography by Ryan Scott. firstname.lastname@example.org