If you’ve done even one yoga class, you’ve probably already done at least one twisting pose in your practice, probably more. Twisting has a large number of benefits to the body, however, it’s important to do them safely for the best yoga experience.
Here are some of the benefits of yoga twists, and how to master them:
When we do twists in yoga we rotate the spine and stretch the back muscles, which in turn helps to restore and keep the spine’s range of motion. Not having a strong range of motion can run the risk of our joints becoming hard and inflexible, and the supportive muscles surrounding the spine can shrink. Stretching the muscles regularly with twists can prevent this.
Working with the spine in twists lengthens the spine - this means creating space between each of your vertebrae. When there is no space between the vertebrae, your spine can slump, making your energy levels drop. Twisting lengthens the spine, and gets space in it, letting energy flow better through your body. Twisting can help to give an instant boost of energy.
Neutralizing the Body
When you’re in a yoga flow, especially if you’re doing a lot of back and forward bends, it’s good to include some twists, as they are a neutralizing pose. As twists incorporate the center of your body - the core, they work a lot of muscles including the abs, obliques, and muscles around the spine, as well as shoulders, neck, and hip muscles. This helps to keep your practice well-rounded.
Doing twists in your yoga practice can help to aid your digestive system. This means that there is movement created around your digestive organs, which helps your food move along your body. Twists can also help to detoxify your body, by squeezing your organs slightly, pushing out old blood, and letting new blood flow when you release the twist. This also stimulates circulation and reduces tension, helping your digestive system work properly.
Now you’ve learned some of the benefits of twists, here are a few examples of twists you can try out:
Supine Spinal Twist
Lying on your back, hug your knees towards your chest. Next, drop both of your knees to the right, placing a yoga block under your knees if you need to. Extend your arms out, making the top of your body a “t” shape. Hold for a few breaths, then try the other side.
Half Lord of the Fishes
Starting in a comfortable seated position with your legs both extended, bring your right foot up to the outside of your left quad, making sure your hips are still on the floor. Bring your left elbow to your outside right knee, and place your right hand behind you to keep stable. Make sure your spine is lengthened, drawing the crown of your head upwards. Hold for a few breaths on each side.
Revolved Lunge Pose
From Downward Dog, step your right foot back between your hands and drop your back knee. Engaging your core, lift up your torso and stack your shoulders over the hips. From this position, bring both of your hands up to your heart center, and hinge your body slightly forward, remembering to keep your core engaged. Next, bring your left elbow so it's to the outside of your right knee, lengthening your spine by drawing the crown of your head upwards towards the sky. Hold for a few breaths, then repeat the same on the other side.
Safety in Twists
When doing a yoga twist, it's important to inhale and make your spine long first, and if you’re seated, to also make sure you’re as grounded as you can be in your sitting bones. If you notice any curving or rounding in your spine, especially your lower back, get a yoga block or some blankets you can sit up on to help you maintain the length of your spine and support you back.
Try to twist from the lower spine up, when twisting it’s important to be aware that the different areas of your spine have different ranges of mobility. The lower part of your spine, the lumbar, can only rotate around 5 degrees, compared to the cervical spine which can rotate around 50 degrees. Starting from the lower spine avoids your neck overextending and helps to involve the whole spine.
How to intensify twists
Twists are not only really good for the back but are also amazing for stretching the muscles around your shoulders and chest. To get more of a stretch in these areas, you can put a bind into your pose, or press against a wall or chair when you twist.
When not to twist?
If you are pregnant you should avoid some twists, because they can place pressure on your abdominal cavity. Some gentle twists are okay after your first trimester.
If you have a spinal disc injury you may have to avoid twists, similarly with chronic digestive issues, as they might make your condition worse. If you're feeling like you need a fresh start, twists are powerful poses to clean the slate and start fresh. They're also very detoxifying for your inner organs and your spine, with an array of health benefits.
Enjoy this week's twist-focused yoga classes!
By Amy Cavill
1. Erin Wimert - Get Twisted
2. Keith Allen - Twist & Flow
3. Elise Fabricant - Get Long & Twisty
4. Rob Loud - Twists & Binds
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