Although though we often joke about twisting ourselves into crazy “Pretzel-like” yoga poses, twists done with proper care and alignment are in fact extremely beneficial. Twists energize you if you’re feeling tired or conversely, can help you find calm. Twists wring tension from the body. The twisting action helps the muscles to relax and when the twist is released, the areas that were involved become flooded with fresh blood and nutrients. Yoga master B.K.S Iyengar calls this the "squeeze-and-soak" action.
Symbolically, twists keep avidya (spiritual tunnel vision or delusion) at bay. They help you to stay present with everything around you, keeping your inner vision clear. This can help you to stay present and focused throughout life’s constant changes.
Benefits of Twisting
- Stretches and maintains flexibility in the intervertebral discs and ligaments
- Cleanses and massages internal organs
- Improves digestion
- Stimulates the seven chakras
- Stretches and strengthens the spine
- Alternately stretches and compresses each side of the chest improving respiratory function
- Helps you find emotional balance and stress relief
- Stretches neck, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles (depending upon the specific twist)
If you work in an office, or spend a lot of time sitting down, take a break (or two) throughout the day and come into a gentle yoga twist to stretch your spine and relieve tension. Try a variation of a simple twist, such as Bharadvajasana, using a chair.
Bharadvajasana in a Chair
Sit sideways on the chair with the back of the chair to your right and knees facing to the right. Feet are on the floor, hip width apart.
Turn to your right and hold the back of the chair with both hands, using the hands to help gently twist to the right. Keep your head facing the same direction as your chest throughout the twist so as not to strain your neck or over rotate.
With each inhalation, lengthen your spine. As you exhale, turn from the navel (using core strength) and twist a little more deeply to the right. Try to keep your shoulders level.
Counter rotate out of the twist until you’re facing forward again. Swing your legs to the other side of the chair and repeat the twist to the left.
A couple of tips for any twisting pose:
- Elongate your spine by lengthening your torso as much as possible before coming into a twist. Think of reaching the crown of your head to the sky. Depending upon the twist, you may be able to press your hand into the ground to help with this action. A slumped over position limits your rotation.
- Initiate the twist from the abdominal muscles rather than forcing a twist by using leverage. This will ensure you reach your edge safely.