There is a perception of yoga by non-yogis, that yoga is about contorting yourself into pretzel-like twists. And I guess to a certain extent, they are right! In a good balanced Ibiza yoga practice, we do twist a lot. Of course there is good reason for those many twists we do – twists have many benefits including physiologically to the circulatory system and internal organs, structural benefits to the musculoskeletal system, and emotional benefits to your consciousness.
Physiological – Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar describes twists as a “squeeze-and-soak” action: The organs are compressed during a twist, pushing out blood filled with metabolic by-products and toxins. When we release the twist, fresh blood flows in, carrying oxygen and the building blocks for tissue healing. So from the physiological standpoint, twists stimulate circulation and have a cleansing and refreshing effect on the torso organs and associated glands.
Muscles and joints – Yoga twists involve the spine, as well as several major joints, including the hips and shoulders. In fact, full range of motion in spinal rotation is essential to many yoga poses. Unfortunately, many people lose full spinal rotation in the course of living a sedentary lifestyle. Some losses can occur if joints fuse due to trauma, surgery, or arthritis, but most range of motion loss comes from the shortening of soft tissues. If you don’t lengthen the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (connective tissues) to their full length at least a few times a week, they will gradually shorten and limit the nearby joint’s mobility.
In the case of twisting, the limitation is usually in soft tissues around the spine, abdomen, rib cage, and hips. If you regularly practice yoga twists, there are some clear benefits to these same joints and soft tissues. Not only do you maintain the normal length and resilience of the soft tissues, but you also help to maintain the health of the discs and facet joints (the small pair of joints on the back of the spine where each two vertebrae overlap).
Emotional – Centering and grounding. As the layers of muscle and bone revolve deeply, your attention is drawn into the stable, unmoving center of the pose. And this ability to stay centered as the hubbub of the world swirls around you will pay obvious dividends in the yoga of daily living.
Here are the most important anatomical points to remember when practising any kind of twist.
* Elongate the spine. A slumped spine drastically limits spinal rotation mobility. So take a moment to feel your sitting bones and create a stable base
* Ground through your base (usually sitting bones unless you are on your head – yes really!)
* Be aware that each section of your spine – cervical (neck), thoracic (ribcage) and lumbar (lower spine) has different mobility. The neck tends to be the most free because it has the most mobility, the thoracic has the ribs attached, so is somewhat limited and the most limited mobility is the lumbar spine with the fused sacrum. So be mindful about where you are taking your twist from, separate each section and start from the base up seeing if you can visualise every vertabrae of the spine. The neck requires the least effort and will twist most easily, and whole sections of your spine can remain “stuck”.
* Let the breath guide you. A good rule of thumb is that an inhale lengthens and creates space and an exhale allows the movement into that space, so rotate on the exhale.
* Use your hands as traction to help guide you.