In times of change it can be hard to know which way to turn, and with Autumn having recently arrived, the best place to turn is inward. As we transition into this new season, we'll use twists and binds as a reminder to turn towards the space within; a space that is ever present and always available to us.
During the month of March, we'll twist and bind as a way to maintain focus when times are tight or perhaps a little uncertain.
Adding twists and or a bind into a yoga sequence adds a whole new dimension to our practice. It's an opportunity to explore, to play and to make subtle adjustments to move more easily into stillness.
By revolving around our body's central axis point, the spine, an asana becomes a twist, the original Sanksrit asana name is then prefixed with 'parivritta' meaning 'to turn around' or 'revolve'. When we revolve or twist, there's a compression and a squeezing out of our internal organs which is said to detoxify and cleanse any impurities. The action of twisting can both balance and refresh our physical body, however in order to gain the most significant benefit, it's important to incorporate mindful breathing - pranayama.
Starting from an elongated spine, use an inhale to create expansion and space around the chest and ribs helps to protect the vertebrae and discs in the spinal column as we twist. Keep in mind that the breath is a great indicator for letting us know when we've gone too far, and although there there's less room to breathe in a twist, maintaining a full deep breath will help the energy to flow more freely to guide you into your twist. A shallow, strained breath creates anxiety, strain, and sometimes even injury. As well as stretching the muscles either side of the spine, twists help to maintain mobility and suppleness in the spine as we age.
It's possible in some twists to acheive a deeper rotation when the hands (or the wrist and hand) become bound to one another 'in a bind'. In Sanskrit language 'baddha' is used to prefix 'bound' asana names. In addition to a revolved asana, binds can be done without twisting, just by interlinking hands and fingers, and in some options a hand and a foot - either over head, in front of or behind the body. Just like twists, binds are fun, challenging and constrict the body which adds yet another deeper layer to our practice. Binds do require a greater amount of effort than a twist demands, however with that effort comes the opportunity to become more sensitive to some of the more subtle aspects of both our asana and pranayama practice.
From the outset, Yoga teaches us to listen to the body's needs rather than the minds desires, so it takes some time to go deeper into twists and bound asanas; not only is there a much greater physical demand on the shoulders being open enough to wrap around the body, but there's also a willingness to want to move forward in our physical asana practice. The use of props such as a strap (I LOVE props) is a great way to find ease and comfort while receiving all the benefits of the bind. Being open and willing to use props means that we are willing to be truthful about our own bodies and at the same time practice ahimsa (or non-harming) while cultivativating some much needed patience.
When we are able to pause and find this connection, so too will we also find an inner space in which we can sit in stillness - turning towards our own true self.
As always, there are parallels between our own lives and life on the mat; both twists and binds represent the delicate balance of being contained, yet open and focused enough to maintain a deep connection. These are the same qualities that are required of many of of our own personal responsibilities or relationships; is a deep level of commitment and understanding, the ability to stay focused and a willingness to be somewhat restricted or contained, in order to fully appreciate the savoury sensation of freedom that comes as we slowly surrender ourselves to the process. When we begin to let go, to surrender, this is often the turning point, both in our practice AND in our lives.