Hippocrates said, ‘If you would seek health, look first to the spine’. This also rings quite true in yoga; when we are looking at a balanced yoga sequence, we should be moving our spine in each way – forward bends, back bends, sideways/lateral movements, axial extension lifting tall through the crown of the head, and twists.
Spinal rotation is a key movement for our spine, however, a sedentary modern lifestyle – especially when it involves a lot of sitting – can tighten up muscles, reducing our ability to twist. Practicing twists in yoga encourages the release of tension in the spinal muscles while also providing gentle stimulation of the vagus nerve which helps your nervous system to unwind and return back to a parasympathetic state; rest and digest mode.
If you think about where we twist through the belly, there are many internal organs – especially those that have a role in digestion – located here. The stomach, pancreas, liver, intestines… as we twist, we are gently stimulating and massaging these organs internally.
What twists can I add to my routine?
Jathara Parivartanasana (Universal Twist) is a gentle twist that is accessible for most people. As it’s performed lying down, you can do it while in bed so it’s perfect for first thing at the morning or last thing at night, when you’re low on energy or when you’re feeling unwell.
Many poses can be turned into twist variations by simply adding rotation through the upper body. For example, you can add twists to Virasana (Hero’s Pose), Sukhasana (Easy Crossed Legs), or Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge). For another specific twist, you could also try Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord Of The Fishes Pose), or Utthitha Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle).
Most twists will have an open variation where you twist away from the body outwards, or a closed variation where you turn in towards yourself. If you are pregnant or menstruating, twists should generally be okay as long as there isn’t a lot of core strength required in the pose and you opt for an open twist to allow space for the belly.
Key things to remember
Try and maintain length to the spine in the inhale breath – regardless of whether you’re upright, leaning sideways or any other position – then twist around that axis on the exhale breath. This is important to create enough space internally for your twist. Slouching while trying to perform a twist may compromise the integrity of the pose and potentially put you at risk of injury.
Also, some yoga twist poses have our hands or arms in a position where we can use them as leverage to twist further. It’s important that if you’re going down this route, to use them to gently facilitate a slightly deeper twist than your normal range of movement, but not push to force yourself around further.