You'd be hard-pressed to find a yoga practice without a twist. Whether you're standing in Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, seated in Ardha Matsyendrasana or reclined in Supta Jathara Parivartanasana, these poses play a role in both active and restorative practices. There's a reason twists are so ubiquitous in yoga — they offer numerous physical and emotional benefits. Use twists to stretch out your spine and hips, stimulate digestion and calm your mind.
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Twist Your Spine
Twisting is one of the major directions in which your spine moves. But like any activity, if you don't train it, you lose flexibility in that movement.
A lack of flexibility in the twist means that when you do so suddenly, such as turning to quickly close a car door or twisting and bending to retrieve a dropped set of keys, your back may react with a spasm, pulled muscle or an even more severe injury. Twisting in yoga practice keeps your back supple so you can regularly twist in daily life.
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It's often said that you're "rinsing" out your internal organs when you twist in yoga practice. This is a flowery description, but not entirely accurate. Twists do move the internal organs around in your midsection, which can increase their motility, or rate of action. Twisting may increase the motility in the large and small intestine and the stomach, helping to move contents more swiftly and thus alleviating gas and constipation.
Twists can also ease the cramps and stomach discomfort that accompany digestive ailments and menstruation, as they soothe muscle contractions in your midsection.
You may also increase circulation to the internal organs by twisting through your spine. This helps your organs, including your kidney and liver, work to their maximal ability. You're not actually cleansing them, however.
Surrender as You Twist
Seated and reclined twists are soothing to your soul, as well as your muscles and organs. They don't require a lot of muscular energy on your part, but instead you use leverage or gravity to achieve the poses. This allows you to focus on the breath and on relaxing your mind.
Standing twists require leg strength, balance and stamina. Your mental fortitude improves when you challenge your body in a Twisted Lunge or Twisted Chair.
Tips To Maximize Twists
You'll get the most out of your twisting yoga poses by doing them properly. Oftentimes, you shift your hips rather than truly twist your spine, minimizing the positive effects of the poses.
Next time you encounter a twisting yoga pose, focus on the following techniques:
Lengthen your spine: Before twisting, think about reaching through the crown of your head and down through your tailbone. When you're long, you're actually twisting your spine rather than crunching your trunk.
Exhale as you twist: Twisting compresses your mid-section and inevitably makes expanding your lungs and diaphragm more challenging. Work with this natural aspect of the pose by exhaling as you move into them.
Focus on the entirety of the spine: The neck and upper back tends to be more mobile than the lower and middle sections. As you twist focus on the whole of your back, all the way down to the tailbone. Of course, listen to your body: If you feel pain, lighten up on the twisting action.