I’m going to come right out and say it, I’m really really really really excited to share this with you. The past few weeks I’ve been playing around and experimenting with the Twist breakdown you’re about to learn and experience today. All the prior articles I have been posting have been leading up to this as well.
You may want to take some time and check them out:
- Get to Know Your Butt – specifically the relationship between your shoulder and it’s best friend the opposite-side glute max
- The Power of the Pinky Finger – This is the extra twist of backbody engagement lime were going to throw into our twisty backbody margarita
- Twists Part 1: Where Should We Twist? – This is where we established that twisting should occur from the heart/chest via the thoracic spine
Git yo body ready, because you’ve never twisted like this before
Well except for maybe during Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Posterior & Anterior Oblique Slings
Alright, so we have to do a tiny bit of anatomy so that we know what we are doing.
But Part 1 was all anatomy!
It’s only a little, and it’s all fascia based 😉
The way anatomy was traditionally taught teaches us that it is the internal and external obliques that twist the spine forward. Well this is like a very small fraction of what is actually working. Plus, that’s only addressing the front part of the body, what’s the back part doing?
The new way of understanding anatomy is through fascial slings or chains of muscles. Your brain doesn’t discriminate and contract just one muscle at a time. It contracts all of the surrounding musculature as well. Your body works in interconnected chains, not a bunch of individual parts.
Here’s the chains that actually twist your body:
A: Posterior Oblique Sling | B. Anterior Oblique Sling
Anterior Oblique Sling
As you can see the front of the body has a lot more going on than just the obliques in a twist. The adductors of the hip are involved, and even the pecs (not shown) are apart of this sling.
Given that muscles only pull what can you guess the anterior sling does?
They pull your shoulder to your opposite hip!
But we already kind of knew that didn’t we? Maybe that hip adductor part is a bonus, but if you’ve ever heard the cues:
- “scissor your thighs”
- “hug the meat around your thigh in”
- “squeeze your thighs together”
Chances are you engaged your adductors, or at least the teacher tried to get you to engage them.
Front body cueing to a twist is cool, it’s what we all know and we’re trained in, but I’m here to show you how to oppose twisting via the Counter-twist or what is also known as Anti-Rotation.
In order to do that we need to get to know the backside of our body.
The Posterior Oblique Sling
Welcome to the other side of twisting, the backside. Your shoulder and the butt on the opposite side of your body are best friends, and it’s the thoracolumbar fascia that is the BFF charm bracelet that binds them together. This is where a LOT of your power resides in your body as it’s one of the major areas where forces are transmitted through walking and running (or any kind of movement).
Now once again given the fact that muscles only pull what do you think this chain of muscles does?
Hey wait, that’s the same .gif! Could it possibly be because it also brings your shoulder to your opposite hip, just via the backside of your body? (The answer is yes)
If cueing the front part of the body in a twist is rotation, then cueing the backside is counter-rotation. It’s quite simple too, all you need is a butt, and a shoulder, and then maybe some pinky finger spice to feel it.
Example: Revolved Crescent Lunge
Traditional Anterior Oblique Sling Cueing:
- Start with one leg forward, for simplicity your right leg.
- Bring your left elbow to your front right knee
- “Squeeze your knee and your elbow together”
Now add the Counter-Twist with the Posterior Oblique Sling:
- Squeeze your left back leg butt
- Roll your right shoulder back and down towards your left butt
- Press into your pinky fingers to connect your lats to your triceps
Traditionally we stop at those first two cues and have been missing the ENTIRE BACK PART of the body, which is a HUGE piece to this motion.
How good did that feel by the way? Isn’t it amazing!? Now do it on your other side and come back because there’s still a tiny bit more to learn.
Coming out of your next Twist like
The Benefits of Counter-Twisting
First and foremost, (and perhaps the greatest benefit) is that we can finally get rid of the cues “inhale lengthen” and “exhale deepen your twist” after just cueing and leaving the body in a front body centric twist.
My reaction whenever I’m in class and I hear the teacher say “inhale lengthen your spine, exhale twist more”
That’s not the kind of “deepening” we want as that promotes over torquing since one side of the body is unbalanced with all the strength and attention focused on it. We want the opposite side of our body to counter the twist and increase the stability and level of engagement of our pose.
There’s muscular duality in every pose we take, one side is supposed to pull us into a pose, the other side is supposed to be engaged through opposing that motion and pulling your body the opposing way.
It also has great off-the-mat benefits as well:
The Purpose of Anti-Rotation from Redefining Strength:
Anti-Rotational Exercises are exercises that build stability and strength to prevent rotation. “Preventing rotation” means that your body is able to resist forces acting upon it that may try to rotate or move it in a way and direction that it can’t move safely.
If you are shoved, trip, slide on ice or are simply carrying something that is an uneven weight and awkward, Anti-Rotational Exercise can make your body strong so that your core can handle the torque without leading to pain and injury.
One of the other benefits is that the backside of your body is prone to not being used at all given how internally rotated and forward flexed our society is.
The skeleton of troll posture
Now use your brain here,
If we are posturally rounded forward and internally rotated how has our butt-shoulder best friend relationship been altered?
In the front of the body: the shoulders are much closer to the hips, meaning that the anterior oblique slings are shortened
In the backside of the body: the shoulders are further away from the butt, meaning the posterior oblique slings are over-stretched, or lengthened.
From this one can deduce that solely cueing the front body in twisting can further troll posture and promote imbalance between the front and back bodies …
Unless you cue the backside of the body, the posterior oblique sling.
So at first you were like oh shit what have I been doing, but now you’re good because you know how to twist the backside of the body!
This style of twisting is much safer too, as the body is much more stabilized. You can’t torque and twist yourself super deep here, because the opposite side of your body is working to pull you out of the pose. So rather than lengthy I-need-to-twist-like-crazy depth, you’ve now found a safer level of depth via awareness and engagement.
I’m now going to say something rather blasphemous,
Stop cueing or focusing on the front body in a twist.
Just trust me, in what I’ve found with the Counter-Twist Cueing, it will activate on it’s own just from the simple act of getting into the pose. Plus, as you’ve now learned, it’s the backside of the body that is vastly more important and needs our attention in a twist.
Example: Revolved Crescent Lunge
- Exhale revolved crescent lunge, bring your left elbow to your front right knee
- Squeeze your left butt
- Roll your right shoulder back
Just like that, you’re done. You can have them squeeze their pinkies together, or simply stay aware of that shoulder to butt relationship as you hold, and most importantly breathe.
And for the love of Patanjali please stop saying inhale lengthen (lengthen what? and why?) – exhale twist (I’m quite deeply engaged how can I twist more?). If you need refinement cues look at the ankles and ask what should they be doing? or look at the neck and ask what should it be doing? You’re much smarter than extra vague cueing.
Part II: Conclusion
Now you have it, how to amplify your twist. This info unlocks a whole new realm of twisting for you to teach and experience. Please play around with it and share your experiences!
The take home:
In a Twist, first engage the butt opposite to the top shoulder, then roll the top shoulder back towards your engaged butt. You can also press just your pinkies together if your hands are in prayer.
Simple, yet oh so powerful.
Clinical Side Note: I’ve had yogis with back pain and prior surgeries do this Counter Twisted Twist, and they had no problem, no pain, and if anything felt much better afterwards. I’ve also had yogis who can’t twist very much because of sciatic and foot numbness (that occurs when they twist) do this and be perfectly fine. Obviously listen to your body and never do anything that brings pain or discomfort, but if you too are scared to twist, or know of someone that is, have them try this and see how it works for them. You may be very shocked at the results. (I was)
In the near future I’ll be posting some modified yoga poses centric around Thoracic Spine mobility to throw into your classes and practices. These will help and be a great addition to all this new twisting information you now have.
In the meantime, have some fun with your new twisting knowledge, and please share this post and your experiences with it!