In 1959, Chubby Checker started a dance craze called “The Twist”, but twists are so much more than sweet moves on the dance floor!
Age, inactivity and spending long periods of time at a desk or driving can have adverse effects on our spinal health, which can manifest into back pain and even neck tension. Practicing a simple spinal twist once or twice a day is important to maintain a healthy spine, release muscle tightness and even alleviate the stress behind the physical tension.
Spinal Mobility & Flexibility: Yoga twists effectively stretch the deepest layer of back muscles – the smallest ones closest to your spine. This gentle rotation of the vertebrae can increase your spine’s mobility as well as the flexibility of your obliques, abdominals and back muscles. If you’re a beginner, have really tight muscles or any injuries, start off nice and easy, then build up the time and depth of your twists; the longer you hold the pose for, the more you will improve your flexibility.
Internal Health: Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar describes twists as a “squeeze-and-soak” action. Yoga twists massage the internal organs, essentially wringing out toxins and metabolic waste products while encouraging the flow of fresh oxygenated blood. Twists helps organs such as the liver, kidneys, stomach, pancreas and spleen to perform their functions properly and can also help reduce abdominal bloating and improve digestion.
Mental Well-being: Looking to relieve unwanted stress? Twists help the muscles of the chest, back and shoulder relax and, when combined with your ojai breath (slow nasal breathing), allow stress to leave the body. Yoga twists are also invigorating, restorative and can help elevate your energy levels if you are feeling tired.
Twists come in many varieties – standing, seated, reclining, arm balances, etc. – and each twisting pose is powered by slightly different muscle groups or counterbalance with gravity. Here are three of my favorite twisting poses:
- Ardha Matsyendrasana, Half Lord of the Fishes pose.
- Supta Matsyendrasana, Supine Twist. In this pose, it’s more important that your shoulders stay flat to your mat than your knee (that is crossing your body) touch the floor.
- Parivrtta Anjaneyasana, Revolved Crescent Lunge. Last Saturday I practiced a new way to transition into this pose from Parivrtta Utkatasana, or Revolved Chair pose. The class would hover one foot just a few inches off the ground while twisting in their “chair”, then slowly move the hovering foot back into a lunge while staying in the twist. It was super challenging and my balance was shaky, but I enjoyed trying something new!
Tips for Performing Yoga Twists
- Only twist as much as feels comfortable to you.
- For seated twists, you will need to get frisky with yourself for a minute and push the tush cushion away form your sit bones so they can rest evenly as a solid foundation on your mat.
- Let your breath guide you. With each inhale, think about lengthening your spine and with each exhale, focus on gently twisting a little deeper.
- When you are finished with your twists, lie on your back, hug your knees into your chest, and gently rock back and forth for a nice spinal massage. The lie flat on your back and allow your muscles to relax and the benefits of those twists to sink in. This sweet savasana is the ideal way to end a rejuvenating session of yoga.
So, “Rock on now. Yeah twist on now. Twist!”
Peace. Love. Namate.