Twists are integral to most yoga classes. There are obvious twists: ardha matsyendrāsana (seated spinal twist) and twisted lunge. Then there are hidden twists: trikonāsana (triangle) and side crane. With preparation and focus, your twists can be a thing of beauty. Here’s how:
A good twist needs a solid base. A base that you can grow from and use to gain mechanical advantage. Your starting position will determine your foundation.
- Sitting – Make sure that both sit bones are grounded firmly into the floor or a suitably sized block if you (or your sit bones) can’t reach the floor. And keep them there! So often one side of the pelvis will lift as the pose builds and your attention shifts to other elements.
- Standing – Get the legs right: 1) ground through both feet equally 2) activate the quads 3) engage mula and uddiyana bandhas (if possible) 4) draw the legs towards each other. All these steps may happen before and during the pose.
- Lying – In supine twists, keep the shoulder blades drawn together and towards the waist. Keep contact between the shoulder blades and the floor – even gently pushing the one shoulder that’s trying to lift, back towards the floor.
Once your firm base is established, take your attention to the spine and pelvis. While grounding down through the pelvis, inhale and grow tall through the crown of your head. See how long you can make your spine. Anatomically this action draws the bones of the spine away from each other and applies a little stretch to the surrounding soft tissues. This stretch protects the spine and makes the twist that follows safer.
On a yogic level, lengthening the spine before twisting creates space to twist into. Try twisting without lengthening, and then try the lengthening – see if you feel the difference.
And Finally …
So now that you have the foundation of the pose and created space in your spine, you may twist safely. But not every twist is created equally – here’s how to get the best one you can for your body.
- Exhale to twist – this helps to activate the correct muscles for the twist. And emptying the lungs allows the ribs to move more easily into the twist. Inhale as you return to the centre in preparation for twisting to the other side.
- Use your abs – we have two sets of abdominal muscles that enable us to twist, the internal and external obliques. These run diagonally between the pelvis and ribs to form the majority of the abdominal wall. Engaging these muscles is the safest way of initiating a twist. It also draws the belly in, which might allow you to turn without your belly ‘catching’ on your legs in some seated poses.
- Think pelvis AND shoulders – on the side that the shoulder is going forwards, gently push the pelvis back (and down into the ground if you are sitting). This protects the joints of the pelvis from too much twisting, which they don’t like!
- Foundations and grounding – keep mindful of these and don’t twist so far that you lose these connections. Better a small twist with firm foundations than a big one that has lost form.
To twist or not to twist…
Traditional wisdom states that twists aid digestion and remove toxins by ‘wringing out’ all of the intestines in the abdominal cavity. This means that people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gut problems can find twists beneficial if done carefully, while others find them painful and problematic. My advice is to listen to your body and don’t twist if it is uncomfortable or painful.
Anatomically speaking, twists are wonderful at mobilising the myofascial connections of the body increasing range of movement and enhancing pain-free function in all directions.
If you have sacroiliac or spinal joint problems, you will need to take care with twists. Stay mindful to avoid any pain or discomfort and these issues may benefit from twists too.
Try these tips for twisting and turning and see what you think. Happy twisting!