Yoga Twists & Turns: How to Stay Safe. ~ Michaelle Edwards

Via on Jun 4, 2013

triangle pose

Be Aware of How Your Spine Moves

Yogis need to take care, as many people are unknowingly damaging their body by doing yoga twists without honoring the spine’s natural structure, which is made of curves—not straight lines.

The spinal column is a dynamic, flexible rod acting as a support structure for our body and nerves. The basic design is four opposing curves: neck, upper back, lower back and tailbone, allowing our trunk to flex, extend and twist.

In positions without these curves, twisting movement becomes difficult, and flexibility comes at the cost of overstretched spinal ligaments, compressed or herniated discs and even compression fractured vertebrae.

While most people are aware that one should avoid yoga twists when there is disc herniation or nerve impingement, many yoga twists require complex body positions that can reverse the curves of the spine, causing damage to an otherwise healthy body.

The human spine consists of 24 vertebrae that vary in size, shape, and function, separated and cushioned by discs which help to create shock absorption to protect our joints as we move, as well as providing a framework to support our nerves.

When we are born, we have a C shape to the spine that consists of one primary curve forwards, which makes it necessary to support a baby’s neck until he gets the muscle actions that create the spinal curves. As he begins to lift his head from the belly down position, extensor muscles in the back body from sacrum to skull, engage and create the secondary backwards curves of the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck area).

A sign of aging in the human body is the C shape template returning to the spine. It just makes sense not to engage your spine purposefully in a C shape to accomplish a yoga ‘pose’.

In my work and research to do yoga poses that simulate natural function and avoid injury, I feel there are many yoga twists that simply make no anatomical sense to the spiraling, curving dynamics of our human spine.

Chair sitting with the trunk and legs in a right angle position is wreaking havoc on the general population causing hip problems. This right angle template also permeates yoga asana with poses like staff being considered the ‘mother’ of all seated poses. Anytime we engage the body in the shape of a chair, we lose our spinal curves and challenge our spinal integrity.

The abdominals, trunk muscles and hip flexors shorten which flexes the lumbar spine area automatically; to add a twist to the spine is simply anatomical Russian roulette.

Ask any back doctor or physical therapist, and they will emphasize the importance of keeping the lumbar curve neutral when twisting the body, and never purposefully stretching the ligaments.

Yet that is what is required to do poses like revolved triangle where the goal is to twist the trunk and grab the big toe. To do this pose, one must engage the body in positions that put the spine under stress.

When practicing any pose where one twists with the lumbar spine flat or reversed, there will be strain and over-stretching of the lumbar/sacral ligaments needed to provide hip stabilization, and also the main shock absorbing elements in our spine and hips.

Many delicate nerves exit the spine in the lower back and neck area, innervating our limbs and organs. Ligaments hold our bones together, and when they become loose, the hip joint loses integrity which can lead to hip and groin pain and in some cases; replacements.

We have less sensory nerves in our ligaments and it is difficult to feel the damage occurring when they are over-stretched. Long term sitting or engaging in yoga positions that flatten the lumbar/sacral region is leading to what I have termed the SSS or sagging sacral syndrome.

In other words, you get a flat butt that does not look attractive but even more importantly, lacks the important sacral platform angle needed for efficient and pain free bio-mechanics.

When doing yoga twists, many people complain of pain in the sacral area, because the ligaments holding their spine to the pelvis have become so loose that the nerves are being pulled. All yoga poses should keep the joints stable and not pull on the “stitches” that hold the fabric of our being connected.

Many yoga instructors direct people to keep the navel drawn towards the spine during twists and other poses as a means to protect the back, but this actually creates dangerous compression forces that can undermine spinal function. Hold your navel in and walk around and you will feel how this action does not contribute to our natural design and function.

The anterior, or front side of the spinal discs and vertebrae are compressed by performing twists while tightening the abdominals strongly by pulling our belly inwards.

This action causes the lumbar curve to compress and flatten, and pushing the twist deeper in this position can damage the vertebrae and disks of the spine.

So any twisting we do needs to consider keeping the abdominal area relaxed and lengthened—not short and pulled in.

Always consider the integrity of the spine when attempting to do a yoga pose and try to avoid the quest to do the ‘pose.’ Use discernment when doing yoga. Ask questions and listen to your body.

What is the function and purpose of the pose? Will this pose contribute to real life function and does it allow my body to move naturally?

Keep It Simple

We do not need to be ‘consumers,’ doing endless variations of yoga twists. Keep the twists simple by bending the knees to prevent any lumbar compression created when both legs are straightened.

Make sure the pelvis is level; the rib cage and center of ear are aligned over the hips, and avoid going too far.

It is not necessary to go to extreme levels of twisting, and in fact you may actually be doing more harm than good by trying to get to the next level of twists.

Flexibility can be a liability when we lose the integrity of our hip joints by twisting with the lumbar spine flat. The numbers of hip replacements in long-time yogis are increasing, and one of the main culprits is twisting without the lumbar/sacral curve intact. Certainly these surgeries raise a red flag in the biomechanics of yoga asana that need to be seriously evaluated and discussed.

A good way to ‘test’ the value of a pose is to see if you can take a deep breath that allows the rib cage to expand and the diaphragm to descend down.

If you cannot inhale with ease, you are enlisting the flexors in your body to become dominant which will bring you forward and speed up the aging process.

You should never see your vertebrae protruding out the back body in any pose. One of the signs of aging is a protruding backbone, so for real-life function and joint longevity, the deeper you can keep your spine in your body, the healthier you will be.

Practice: YogAlign Spine Aligner

The YogAlign spine aligner twist is done by sitting on the floor or on the edge of a chair allowing for more comfortable natural spine alignment.

It is very important that the pelvis is level, and one maintains the lumbar/sacral tilt allowing the thoracic part of the spine to do the twisting and rotating.

When people have tight abdominals and hip flexors, it is vitally important that the pelvis be elevated above the knees by sitting on the edge of a bench or chair.

Consider always that the most important ‘pose’ we do all day should be an innate and naturally aligned posture. If a yoga pose can help you to enlist your natural posture forces, there is value and certainly a good outcome.

It is wise for all practitioners to always consider the physiology of the spine before attempting to perform yoga poses that may actually cause more harm than good.

Yoga twists to avoid if you want to protect the integrity of your spine:

Ardha Matsyendrasana  (Half lord of the fishes)
Marichyasana III (Sages pose)
Pasasana (Noose pose)
Janu Sirsasana (Head to knee forward bend with twist)
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved triangle pose)
Parivrtta ardha Chandrasana  (Revolved half moon pose)

 

Michaelle EdwardsMichaelle Edwards is a licensed massage therapist, yoga teacher, musician, and postural therapist living on Kauai. She invented a new painless way to do Yoga, fitness, self-massage and stretching called YogAlign that incorporates natural spine alignment and breath work to create good posture from the inside out. She is devoted to giving people the tools to heal themselves. Michaelle has a new book/DVD combo called YogAlign—Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core available at her website: YogAlign.com

 

 

Like elephant Yoga on Facebook.

 

Asst. Editor: Edith Lazenby/Ed: Bryonie Wise

 

{Photo: via Yogaaa on Pinterest}

About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of elephantjournal.com. Questions? info elephantjournal com

7,772 views

Appreciate this article? Support indie media!

(We use super-secure PayPal - but don't worry - you don't need an account with PayPal.)

15 Responses to “Yoga Twists & Turns: How to Stay Safe. ~ Michaelle Edwards”

  1. Joe Sparks says:

    Thanks Michealle for writing this article. You obviously have lots of knowledge and understanding about the spine and how the the spine moves. Most of do not realize how damaging sitting is for our spines, and how some yoga poses actually are doing the same thing, compressing and putting pressure of the lumbar spine, rounding our backs. You are right, we need to keep the twists simple by avoiding many of the extreme ones that are being taught. I tried the spine Aligner at the edge of my chair and it felt great! It was even a lot easier to breath than some of yoga twists I have done. And thanks for giving a list of the twists to avoid. we really need to much more thoughtful and protective of our spines, especially as we grow older. You have she'd some light on why some of the yoga poses feel hard and difficult to do, and potentially dangerous.

  2. Barb Utech says:

    I have just recently completed a 6 week Yoga Teacher Training course with Michaelle Edwards, creator of the above YogAlign Method. This is a new and unique form of Yoga Practice which has been borne from the depths of inner wisdom, a questioning mind, and a quest to introduce a measure of bio-mechanical soundness into the way we perform our Yoga poses.

    Many of these new insights and theories which Michaelle brings to the table, with regards practicing our Yoga poses in a more biomechanically functional way, have already been validated in many mainstream physical therapy professions. Nothing is greater testament to the effectiveness of a method than first-hand experience.. and as a long-time endurance and adventure sport athlete, I was heartened to finally find a practice which brought about such effective re-alignment of my mind and my body. I have been nursing long-standing injuries for more years than I care to divulge, and for the first time in my life I have found a method that has truly helped me help myself to regain a youthful pain-free body. This is a practice that really does connect you with your higher-self… it transforms from a place of wisdom… from the inside-out.

    The YogAlign method deeply honors underlying Yogic traditions, however the physical component of the Yoga Asana Practice has been moderated effectively to enable functional biomechanics to prevail…. ie being in favor of the longterm sustainability of our bodies, as opposed to being driven to perform poses that are in conflict with the physical realities of our body's innate design.

    'Poses which are aligned with human biomechanics create no discomfort. When we do yoga asanas that oppose the body's natural design, we create an internal and external struggle that spawns tension in our mind, body and emotions. This state of tension is the antithesis of the ideal Yogic state of alert attention. Poses that allow the body to engage naturally in breath and movement do not inflict pain, rather they allow us to move into a deep, yogic state of full-body awareness with a clear mind and an open heart' – written by Michaelle Edwards, an extract from her YogAlign Book – Pain free yoga from your inner core.

    Congratulations Michaelle… I highly recommend your book, and your teaching. Thank you for asking the questions and then having the courage to pursue the answers.

    I would highly recommend Michaelle's book and her teachings, her would like to applaud Michaelle for firstly having the insight to ask the questions, and then the courage to pursue the answers

  3. Yogi alvin says:

    Whilst it appears to be sensible to maintain the integrity of the natural spinal curves, and logical that twisting "against" these curves would be harmful, does this also mean that the "straightening" of these curves in forward and backward bending poses could also be harmful?
    B.K.S. Iyengar and all the Indian Yoga teachers have been practising all of the poses you consider harmful, apparently without having had to resort to hip replacement or spinal surgery.

    • yogalign says:

      Alvin, thank you for commenting on my article. Your question, does this also mean that the "straightening" of these curves in forward and backward bending poses could also be harmful?, is a very important one that brings up what I feel is a huge blindspot in yoga poses and fitness exercises. The human body is not designed to do forward bends with the knees straight. Watch any young toddler walk and you will see always that they bend the knees deeply, take the hips back and keep the spine aligned. Also yoga poses should simulate real life functions. We must bend our knees in order to move so forward bending from standing or sitting goes against the natural design of the human body. There are no straight lines or right angles in natural organic design and when we bend over without bending our knees, it is akin to 'driving with a parking brake on' . Try to walk without bending your knees and you will feel tension and strain in the lower back and a lack of movement fluidity. This is exactly what happens in straight leg forward bends; we wind up shortening the flexors of the front body and over-stretching the extensors which need to be even stronger than the flexors. So the positions of these forward bends put us in the same body position that causes back pain which is the posture pattern of a short front and strained back ( forward posture that leads to sore backs) Also doing stretches with both knees straight into forward bends over-stretches the sacral platform and we lose the tightness of very important ligament stabilizers needed to keep the natural shock absorbing angle in the sacral/lumbar region. The blindspot is that these yoga poses put the human body in the right angle shape of a chair and over-ride the natural curves. Back bending as long as it is not excessive or straining to the wrists or shoulder joints is what is needed to balance the shortness created from sitting in chairs. However the human body should not have to be stretched to extreme flexion and extension to find 'balance' in the middle. We are not made of 'parts' and it is vitally important that all yoga poses and exercises are 'global' in nature; contributing to real life function with immediate results and no pain in the process. There is more information at http://www.yogalign.com

  4. deb schmenk says:

    I’m so impressed with the knowledge of how our spine moves and what it takes to keep it healthy. When you really think about it, old yoga philosophy is nearly contortionism and not something an average person should be doing. After practicing yogalign for 2 plus months, the difference in my core strength is obvious. Thanks Michaelle!

  5. amphibi1yogini says:

    I must have extreme intuition. My home practice has not included these for the longest time:

    Yoga twists to avoid if you want to protect the integrity of your spine:

    "Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half lord of the fishes)
    Marichyasana III (Sages pose)
    Pasasana (Noose pose)
    Janu Sirsasana (Head to knee forward bend with twist)
    Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved triangle pose)
    Parivrtta ardha Chandrasana (Revolved half moon pose)"

    These, excepting that I don't do Janu Sirsasana with a twist — it is more or less a forward bend.

    • yogalign says:

      Keep listening to your body as you are your own teacher. You are being wise to practice being present and to use discernment and consider if a pose is leading to a favorable outcome. Any pose which distorts the natural sacral platform can contribute to hip and spine destabilization the same as sitting poorly in a chair or car with the pelvis in a posterior tilt. Our sacral lumbar curve is a very important shock absorbing stabilizing area of the body and we need to keep our sacral /hip joint safe. In my work as a licensed body worker, yogalign teacher and postural educator, I have seen hundreds of yogis with what I call the SSS or sagging sacral syndrome where the butt is flatt and overstretched and there is a lot of pain in the hips from over-stretching. By reversing the lumbar sacral curve and using strong muscle force to lean forward and grab the toes, a lot of force is generated that creates a torque on the sacral region. Women are at more risk for hip replacements because we have more elastin in our ligaments and flexibility is encouraged and glamorized in yoga in ways that may not make anatomical sense. check each yoga pose. Can you take a deep breath? Is your rib cage moving? Does your spine have its natural curves? If you answer no to any of these questions, I suggest you delete the pose from your practice.. I have seen so many sad stories and even very young people injured from putting the body in positions that are simply not necessary. The yoga sutras does not say, lean over and touch your toes without bending your knees. These positions go against our design and in my book are do not follow the basic ahimsa principles put forth in the yoga sutras.

  6. Yogilation says:

    Great article! My spine isn't exactly c-shaped since I was born, and I have pelvic obliquity, so I simply cannot do every yoga pose or twist. I would like to know more about the YogAlign method. Thank you for sharing your insights here :) Stay yogilated :)

  7. vikram says:

    the layers of yoga are forgotten when one gets stuck in the physical dynamics of the pose … and gets stuck in the physical dimension. if one is to move into the next sheath, being breath, then quite obviously the body must relax and breathe … which then allows for space to develop in the physical and mental sheaths … sometimes the discussions in the west seem to stick only to the physical realm whereas the answers to the problems of why these pose exist and the reasons to do these poses exist are in another realm …

    and then also, there are simple poses which achieve the same result as the complex ones, for all the twists have one purpose, to release pent up tension through the mind-body-breath connect … which is mainly creations of the mental domain.

    so then what does one do in a pose … why aim for perfection in a pose in the physical domain when that perfection is not possible without the breath-mental domains … the aim is clearly to relax mentally, and then what is it that allows one to relax – breath – which is the link to all the domains.

    even if one looks at the therapeutic benefits, the idea is to remain where you are, at whatever place in the pose you can reach where you are comfortable and can breathe … the rest will happen when you relax … let the one above guide you to the next stage …

    all the alignment issues of yoga and the craziness to do all the poses … it is a desire that needs to resolve itself … through the journey that hopefully one day leads to the space where one can sit in any condition and just breathe.

    from a yoga teacher in india … hari om

    • yogalign says:

      Vikram, I totally agree with your words. YogAlign is about doing less and feeling the simple beauty of being alive and whole. Yoga poses for many have become distractions, goals, and exercises that take us away from our deep connection to source and inner peace. I do feel that all matter is spiritual too and the human body is a temple that houses our eternal spirit. The design of the human body is also millions of years old and intelligently and perfectly designed. I value posture over poses and seek to connect with the natural forces of breathing and moving as nature intended. The practice of yoga of course is a path we seek to follow all day long not just on our mats doing a pose. We have all sat in chairs too much and we have lost our innate natural alignment which makes it difficult to feel peaceful. A poorly aligned body creates a depressed or angry mind. We are both body and spirit and there is no separation. Trying to stretch the body in parts using linear right angles is taking us even further from source. I am inviting people to consider the wisdom of the human body and to listen from within. Once we are aligned, it feels like the physical sheath disappears because we are balancing the body not contorting it and we can connect with the energy of who we truly are and the flow of life that is who we are.

  8. Alison Scola says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article and your body of work, Michaelle! As a yoga therapist I work with individuals with many serious structural issues. I have seen YogAlign transform people's bodies in miraculous ways and relatively quickly. Lately, I have had an influx of clients that are long time advanced yoga practitioners that have created instability in their bodies. They have serious pain in their sacral and lumbar region do to laxed ligaments. YogAlign is helping them to create strength and stability and giving them a new way to approach their practice which they feared they would have to give up. This has shown me how I need to practice and teach others about the possible damage we can do to ourselves when we do not apply the functional bio-mechanics of YogAlign. Spread the word so that we can all practice safely!

  9. yogawithelizabeth says:

    Michaelle Edwards' YogAlign program is the best approach to Hatha Yoga I have ever experienced in my 40 years of practice and study. After 35 years of teaching, I am witnessing positive transformations and healing of aches and pains for everyone in my classes. Chronic back and joint pain is gone for everyone, including myself. Thanks to Michaelle, I was awakened to a life-changing "AHA" by connecting the dots between the way I was practicing and teaching yoga postures and the joint pain I was having. Prior to studying and practicing YogAlign, I thought that my SI joint and knee pain were due to age and being very active. I am pain free now and so are all my students. The experience of having no pain to deal with in our bodies has effectively given us all a new lease on life… a life of feeling more alive, free and uplifted! Prior to doing YogAlign, I thought I was strong. Now I am stronger than ever! Kudos to Michaelle for all her work. I consider Michaelle Edwards to be a genius and courageous pioneer. Her approach is good for every body. Her work is groundbreaking and revolutionary. I encourage everyone to get on board with this new approach to yoga, and embrace what is common and bio-mechanically sound good sense. The yoga world needs to interrupt their business as usual so that there's a huge wake up call they can stop to answer. Listen to and heed Michaelle's advice and re-direct the mainstream conventional yoga program so that safety and smart body mechanics becomes the focus. Trying to do contorted positions that go against the body's natural functions needs to be as outdated as believing the world is flat or women shouldn't vote.

  10. Laurie Anthony says:

    Mahalo for the well written and informative article Michaelle. This of course reinforces everything I learned through listening, studying, and experiencing the YogAlign method at our recent training . Applying this knowledge and experience with those I work with now that I am home has been amazing with respect to the obvious results in people's posture integrity and alignment. The feedback I receive from them verbally aligns with what we see: "….less pain (if they came with it), feel/look stronger and taller, feel better emotionally, move easier, breathe with way more awareness,……." and on and on. The YogAlign method is helping these people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; as it has me. Thank you!

  11. Angela Gallagher says:

    An excellent article Michaelle. I have been doing yoga for over 12 years and have had a chronic condition with my left shoulder and a tight thoracic spine in addition to slight lordosis. After completing michaelle's teacher training this year I have a better understanding of my body am pain and tightness free and my body is in alignment. No other form of yoga has been as effective as YogAlign. I am more in tune with my body and now only do poses that maintain the integrity of my spine and have a better awareness of my posture. I am so glad to have come across this form of yoga and am to start spreading the word of the benefits of us listening to our bodies.

  12. Greg Fondren says:

    Thank you for being a stand for yogis being mindful of their bodies, Michaelle! Ignorance leaves many a beginner to assume that getting as close as possible to attaining the look of a yoga model in a magazine or poster should be the focus of his or her practice, which is why I love that you are putting the findings of your research out on the table!

    I want practicing yoga to benefit my health as much as possible and for as long as I live. Thanks for informing my practice as you have and for making this information available to my future students!

Leave a Reply