Do you get frequent requests for poses and flows to ease digestion after the holidays? What do you offer students in response? Yoga practice overall can ease and facilitate digestion - through increasing oxygenated blood flow, stretching muscles throughout the body, and releasing tension within them. Twists, however, can specifically target these effects in the abdominal cavity.
The holidays, for most people in the Western world, are filled with abnormally large quantities of rich food. Big belly laughs alternate with socially stressful situations. Pepper some travel into the mix (“hurry up and wait" - rushing to meet certain departure times and then remaining static body positions for a long period of time). It’s a perfect recipe for abdominal issues.
It’s great to offer students twists to help ease these effects - yet we don’t want to offer the same kinds of twists throughout class or over subsequent weeks. Many students nowadays, particularly fitness-minded Vinyasa enthusiasts, want variety. There’s also immense competition amongst the many certified instructors out there looking for work. We most often need to offer that separates us from the pack to obtain and maintain teaching work. Finding new ways to twist during the holidays is a great way to go about all of this. Keep reading for ideas! Namaste!
1) Vary mudras.
One might not automatically associate mudras and twists, but you do already use mudras with twists - because mudras include the relationship of the hands and the body. In a lunged twist, a front arm can either have its hand on the back of the front thigh or lengthening forward to create a “T" shape. Perhaps use one in sequences one week, and then the other in a following week.
Another option is to have fingers interlaced and palms facing the sky, and twisting while keeping the shape. Yet another is while holding Garudasana (Eagle) arms - if students are warm and open enough for that in any particular class. These two options also work in seated poses such as Dandasana (Staff Pose) and Baddha Konasana (Tailor’s Pose). In Half-Lord-of-the-Fishes Pose, you can guide students to start with the tricep of the front arm outside of the higher (opposite) thigh.
After a few breaths, after adding more twist and length through the spine, cue students to bend the elbows and take fingers to the sky. This helps get deeper twisting into the upper back. Throughout, if students cannot reach the floor behind them, and are leaning back to reach it, it’s best for them to put a block underneath the hand in back in the twist. As in all twists, cue to find a bit more spinal length with breaths in and a bit more twist with breaths out. Added together, these tiny adjustments result in a deep twist around a long spine - created safely, on the body’s own time.
2) Vary levels, twists in different types of poses.
Students will most likely appreciate twists this time of year, but even more so if you can offer them at all different levels in space and in different types of poses. These include standing poses, seated poses, kneeling poses, and supine poses. You could start class on the back, and cue a Supine Twist. A bit later, in Tabletop, include a Thread-the-Needle pose (which also helps loosen the shoulders, which can get rather tight this time of year). In Anjaneyasana, in a following grounded sequence (with the back knee down), cue any of the twists offered above for standing poses.
Do the same in higher-level sequences with High Crescent Lunge and Warrior Poses. You can vary up these twists in different sequences and in different poses, or carry one or two through as a consistent thread in the class. Help students increase the twisting effect present in poses like Trikonasana (Triangle) through cueing refinements of alignment. In Triangle, for instance, the top hip drops while the underside lung tries to spin up to the sky. These actions together help create the twist, while there’s a lean back behind the heart to make space for it all.
In the typical progression of a class, seated poses follow grounded poses. Use the variations listed above for twists here, again continuing with one or two or mixing them up. There are also many different options for supine twists, from one-legged to stacked knees to with Eagle (wrapped) legs to with legs in a “Figure Four” shape. As always in teaching, let your students’ needs, capabilities, and desires - filtered through your own voice as a teacher - guide your choices. Post-holiday season, twists can be a great outlet for all of that!
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