I have a crush on twisting poses. One day in yoga class I followed the teacher’s guidance into a deep rotated triangle. “Isn’t that juicy,” she said. I had never thought to call a yoga pose juicy before, but she was right. I could practically taste the old, stale energy being squeezed out of me while new, fresh energy flooded my spine. Every time I do a twist-heavy yoga practice, I leave feeling more free and refreshed than ever.
But I didn’t always love twists. In fact, I used to dread them. I could never twist as far as I wanted and when I walked out of class, my lower back ached and I actually felt tighter rather than looser. Mastering twisting poses took me awhile, but from that process I have learned a thing or two about what it takes. Here are some great tips that will help you master those oh-so juicy twists.
Belly first, chest second, arms last
This is my mantra whenever I twist. Say you are seated and moving into Ardha Matsyendrasana A (Half Lord of the Fishes pose) on the right side. Start with the belly. Think about pulling the left side of your belly towards the right side. Once you have twisted your belly as far as possible, add your chest. Only once you have twisted your torso as far as you can should you move to the arms.
Your arms are an extension, not a lever
I cannot count the number of times I have seen a student place their hand on the ground behind their back and use it to crank themselves into a deeper twist. Your arms should be used to maintain your twist, not to force you into it. Whenever you enter a twist, rotate your torso as far as you can. That is your body’s natural limit. Then, and only then, should you place your hands to the floor. Think of your hands as a kick-stand to help hold you in place. Let your breath and spine determine the depth of your twist, not how far you can pull yourself with your arms.
There is such a thing as over-twisting
We seem to love to add twists to everything. What’s better than a forward fold? A forward fold and a twist! What’s better than a backbend? A backbend and a twist! While these movements can be a lot of fun, it is important to twist with caution. Your spine was built to move in many directions, but when you twist while bending you run the risk of compressing your spine and pinching a nerve or even causing a disc to slip. When moving your spine in multiple directions, take care to keep your spine long and free. Twist slowly. If you feel compression in your spine, back off.
Tips for seated twists
Seated twists are one of the most common twisting postures in yoga classes. They are more accessible than standing twists, yet they allow for a deeper twist than supine postures. If you follow the above tips you should be safe, but I have one final tip to get the most out of your seated twist: Focus on your pelvis. Every body is different, and as such, your alignment will depend on your body. For some of us, our pelvis can stay steady while our spine twists. For others, our pelvis may need to twist with our spine. This has nothing to do with flexibility and everything to do with the build of your bones. Experiment, listen to your body, and do what feels comfortable.
The benefits of twisting
Twists are purifying. Twists cut off circulation and compress the digestive organs. When you release the twist, you flood your body with fresh blood. This fresh blood helps your digestive organs function better and cleanses waste buildup from your cells. Twists also help us maintain healthy spine movement and reduce back pain. As if that weren’t enough, twists open our chest, shoulders, and back, which helps reduce stress and anxiety.