Though many say their quest for mindfulness requires focusing the mind, physical therapist Jonina Turzi’s path to contentment started with focusing on her back.
A longtime fitness enthusiast, Turzi began a routine yoga practice and used a specific technique to improve posture.
By lifting her body, she says, she lifts her heart.
“I’m looking at things with a healing language,” says Turzi, founder of West End Yoga Studio on West Walnut Street. “There’s a very strong intent on not hurting yourself, being kind to yourself.”
Traditionally, yogis begin with a mountain pose. While seated or standing with feet together, the chest presses forward, with shoulders back and back straight. While this aims to lengthen the spine, Turzi found it wasn’t going far enough.
S- versus J-shaped spine
Americans typically have an S-shaped spine; illustrations of the curvature at both neck and pelvis are color-coded in every modern anatomy book.
But after earning a doctorate in physical therapy, Turzi learned that those in other cultures — particularly indigenous peoples who are more active than those in the industrialized world — actually have a J-shaped spine. The neck is directly in line with the rest of the spine, the tailbone curving away from the back in a more pronounced way.
And so she began to emulate this vertical spine.
To do this, sit on the edge of a chair, knees bent, one foot in front, the toes of the other on the floor under the body. Push the chest up and out to “move the back of the heart forward,” Turzi explains.
Lift and roll the shoulders back, then tilt the pelvis forward as if it’s a pitcher pouring a glass of water. A dowel (or broom handle) placed behind the spine should touch only at the tailbone and the top of the neck.
Begin with a 30-second hold and work up to two minutes. Doing so requires effort and involves leg and often overlooked abdominal muscles.
After just a few days working on the same pose, Turzi felt a physical and stress-reducing change, one that became hard-wired after about two years.
“When the nervous system is decompressed, something shifts in the limbic system (which controls emotions),” she says. “We become nicer. We stop fighting ourselves internally.”
She also meditates 20 minutes to an hour each day, in a dedicated space with touchstones, such as shells and stones, and photos of loved ones nearby. After completing her mental checklist, she feels ready to help her therapy clients do the same (or to lead an intense class at her studio).
“Something happens that I just don’t tap into my busy, everyday life,” she says.
Sure, she can support the weight of her entire body on the palm of one hand. But just as important to her, Turzi says, is being able to still her body long enough to feel her presence within it.