Easy and yet challenging: the magic formula for all-purpose yoga poses.
Or actually, that’s the magic formula for when I teach a mixed-levels class.
Though in the middle of a sequence, I often insert a pose that’s, ahem, a bit of a stretch, I’m mindful of not asking people to do poses so complex that only half the class can do them while the other half stares, feeling baffled and incompetent. (Just like me when my teacher once said, looking repeatedly in my direction, “Your leg goes under the arm, then hoist yourself up.” My response: “Look, I’m doing the best I can!”)
So anybody can do Twisting Crane (not to be confused with the more complex Shoulder Opening Crane), but it’s not a walk in the park. Balancing poses are great for keeping you mentally young by firing such large networks of brain cells (up to a quarter of them simultaneously) that your brain will stay sharp into an advanced age.
1. Stand tall. Lower your shoulder blades. Lift your chest. Tuck your buttocks under to lengthen your lumbar spine. Take five slow breaths as you feel well-grounded through your feet.
2. Lift your arms and lift your heels off the floor. Throughout this sequence, cast your eyes downward: balance will be easier looking down.
2a: Refer to this illustration and note that to do this right, we’re not lifting just a little bit, we’re lifting a lot. Hairy legs are optional. No, you cannot use your stilettos, Robert.
3. Now, while staying up on the balls of your feet, drop your arms to shoulder height, revolve your palms upward, and twist slowly (and deeply) to the right. You want to twist to your full range of rotation; I’m sometimes surprised to see people only twist a little, but I don’t want to be the teacher who walks up to you, physically adjusts you to where s/he thinks you ought to be…and leaves you slightly crippled for the next two days. Stay balancing for five slow breaths.
4. S-l-o-w-l-y spin 180 degrees in the opposite direction, breathing slowly, looking downward, and staying for five more slow breaths. Then come down and walk around a bit to relax your calves.
Benefits: The aforementioned neural network stimulation. Strengthens the calf muscles. Lengthens the spaces between the vertebrae and, with the slow, rhythmic breathing, helps the otherwise compressed-by-gravity discs expand. Improves your upper-body posture. Massages your your liver, your kidneys and your intestines with the gentle twist-plus-breathing combination. Exponentially increases your ability to balance, or at least your ability to balance in this position.
Avoid if: If your balance is so iffy that even a couple of seconds in this position isn’t doable, try doing this twist from a kneeling position for a few days before attempting the standing version of the pose. If your feet or calves cramp up, this could mean any of the following: (1) These muscles aren’t accustomed to this work. Keep at it. (2) Your body is deficient in some mineral, such as potassium; or, most likely, (3) You are dehydrated. Coffee, tea and many soft drinks are diuretic, so if you must drink them, drink also extra water above and beyond what you should till you find the right ratio for you.
How do you know what your right ratio is? Telling signs are not getting muscle cramps and having your lips naturally moist and plump (whereupon you can join the PLYS, the Plump-Lipped Yogis Society. I hear the monthly meetings are quite lively).
Final thoughts: Okay, if despite my promises that this pose will help you live with a sharp brain to an advanced age, if that turns out not to be the case for you, I’m banking on you forgetting who told you about this.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Ricardo das Neves
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Images: Author’s images.