Let’s Do The Twist
A twist a day keeps the spinal cobwebs away! But it’s not just the spine that benefits from twists, as shoulders and hips are also involved in any twisting movement. When you picture a yoga class, a lot of people would say it involves twisting yourself into odd positions but not many people understand the true benefit of twists and that it should be a daily practice! Most of us live a fairly sedentary life, or at least indulge in posture crime when sitting for long periods at a desk. This can gradually shorten the length of muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia and impact the mobility of our joints. The consistent compression of the spine while standing or sitting can also impact disc health that can potentially lead to disc weakness or fusion.
Although B.K.S Iyengar promoted the ‘squeeze and soak’ idea of cleansing and detoxifying our internal organs using twists, it’s not entirely accurate. While twists encourage motility (movement within an organ) and mobility (movements of organs with relation to each other), organs conduct their own natural cellular detox. Where twists do contribute to the detoxification process is by stimulating metabolism and creating heat within the body.
Other benefits of twists include:
- releases stored tension
- softens the fascia (connective tissue) which increases the mobility of the abdomen and rib cage
- stimulates the vagus nerve fibers in the torso and neck which can create the ‘ahhh’ feeling
- creates a calming effect on the nervous system which can benefit epilepsy, depression and irritable bowel syndrome
- strengthens and lengthens torso muscles and lubricates the spinal discs
- releases stuck energy within the spine and in the shoulders and chest when these areas are encouraged to open
- lengthens the spine and creates inter-vertebral space, which in turn improves the flow of energy thorough our central column
Can twists be dangerous?
Although some studies have indicated that twisting can be bad for chronic lower back pain, a review of these studies suggest that it may be more bending combined with twisting that can aggravate the lower back, rather than just twisting on its own.
Lower back pain can lead to the weakening of the internal oblique muscles and by mindfully and twisting the torso in an upright position, you’re actually strengthening the obliques and therefore creating a better support structure for the back. Of course, always follow a medical professional’s guidance with twists if you’re pregnant, have an injury or a chronic pain condition.
Even people with osteoporosis can twist safely if they engage the core during gentle seated twists. The National Osteoporosis Foundation guidelines caution against ‘twisting of the spine to the point of strain’ and to avoid extreme twists by keeping rotation in the mid-range. Professional guidance is recommended when twisting if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis but your body does want to move and a gentle quality of motion is beneficial even with this condition.
You might hear the occasional pop or crack when twisting, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. It’s actually the synovial fluid in our joints forming a ‘gas bubble’ when pressure is applied. Sometimes the feeling of release that comes from that can become addictive though and popping our joints can become a habit. It’s important to remember that excessive ‘popping’ can potentially damage the joints. As long as you perform twists gently and without purposeful pressure to create a pop or crack, you’ll experience relief and keep your joints safe and healthy. If you’re worried about excessive popping when twisting through the joints, it’s a good idea to have it checked out by a physical therapist.
Some tips to get the most out of your twists
Grounding: Always ensure that you’re either grounding the sit bones if seated or the shoulders or knees when lying down. Determine an anchor point.
Breathing with the twist: Before starting a seated or standing twist, inhale and lengthen through your spine. Feel like the top of your head is being drawn upwards. Breathe out and move into the twist and only twist to the beginning of your twistable limit. Pause there and when you feel a little give within your body, inhale and lengthen again before breathing out and twisting further. Don’t rush into twists; let the breath support your body to uncurl at a pace that feels comfortable and keep your gaze soft.
Twist from the navel upwards: The lower back has less mobility than the rest of the spine, so the sensation we feel when twisting this area comes from the stretching of the muscles and connective tissue, instead of rotation of the lumbar joints. Stabilise the lower back by pulling in the abdominal muscles and encourage the twist to begin from the navel. Twisting from this point will still move the lower back muscles but leading from the navel instead of the lower back prevents any strain in this area. Let the twist work its way up through the very mobile upper vertebrae, letting the neck and head twist last (or not at all if you have neck issues).
Use props to help prevent rounding of the spine: If you’re tight through your back or shoulders and twisting creates a round spine during a seated twist, put your back hand on a block near the sacrum so that you can stay long and lengthened through the back. Blocks are great supports during standing twists such as Revolved Triangle Pose, if you can’t place the hand on the floor without comprising the length of your spine.
Some recommended twists:
- Restorative twist (using a bolster) – this is a gentle twist and great for beginners
- Revolved Belly pose (Jathara Parivrttanasana) – also a gentle twist than can be modified if necessary
- Revolved Triangle Pose (Parvrtta Trikonasana) – a bit more challenging as it’s a standing pose that requires balance while twisting
- Revolved Cross-Legged Pose (Parvrtta Sukhasana) – a pose that can be modified for beginners with props but also challenging for experienced yogis
- Revolved Side Angle Pose (Parvrtta Parsvakonasana) – another challenging pose as it requires balance and can put pressure on the front knee
If we take the time to twist our bodies, we can end up untwisting our minds too, through the release of stored tension and emotional stress. Moving mindfully through a twist with focused breath and an awareness of how every muscle and tendon is gradually unfurling around your centre, creates a deep connection to your body. Opening and lengthening our body removes the stress that causes us to curl inwards and instead creates a strong structure that supports emotional openness, confidence and clarity.
All of the twists above are a part of our extensive library of online yoga classes and we maintain a focus on safety by using detailed alignment cues. Experience the benefits of a twist today with our FREE 7-DAY membership trial and fall in love with your new lengthened, strengthened and stress-free body and mind!