Twists are wonderful poses for keeping the spine and internal organs healthy, but how, exactly, do they do that? By bringing fresh blood flow and spaciousness to the entire torso, from deep within all the way to the surface skin.
One might hear or read that “twists are detoxifying,” but this is not completely accurate: twists tone the internal organs by squeezing them and restricting blood flow for a few breaths, then releasing the restriction and allowing fresh blood to flush the “old” blood out. It’s like when one wrings dirty water out of a sponge, and then allows it to fill with clean water.
Similarly, twists massage, bring fresh blood and stretch the muscles that line the spine, thereby allowing the vertebrae to move within their full, healthy range, rather than being “locked” into position by stiff muscles. Think of the cracks that sometimes happen at a (good) chiropractor’s office and how much relief they can bring to a sore back. Twist often spontaneously cause this kind of release in one’s back once the muscles have relaxed sufficiently to allow for it.
And, as an added bonus, twists definitely help things move along in the intestines!
The ability for the spine to twist increases from the bottom to the top of the spine, with the lower back having the least ability to twist, and the neck having the most. This also affects how your internal organs respond to the twists. I also differentiate twists into “open” and “closed” variations (these are my own terms, so it’s not likely that you’ll see them used elsewhere): Open twists are those where the front of the body opens more than when the spine is neutral, such as when we take the left shoulder more to the left while keeping the hips squared forward; e.g., utthita trikonasana, extended triangle pose. Closed twists compress the front of the body more than when the spine is neutral, such as when the shoulder crosses the front of the body’s midline; e.g., parivrtta trikonasana, rotated triangle pose. Open and closed twists are counter poses to each other, asking the spine to move in opposite directions, and are usually done in pairs. Keep this in mind as you move through the following series.
[Please note that if you are pregnant, certain twists will probably not feel very good, and are not recommended. Please consult with an experienced teacher if this is your situation.]
We begin as we have in past practices, on the back with the foot in a strap – supta padanghustasana. Think about how these pose variations would feel if you were standing on the leg extended along the floor!
We then move onto utthita parsvakonasana, extended side angle pose, one of the most delicious of all yoga asanas, in my opinion! 🙂
The counter pose, parivrtta parsvakonasana, demands a deep release of the psoas.
Utthita trikonasana, triangle pose, asks the spine for the same kind of action as extended side angle, and parivrtta trikonasana, rotated triangle, is a closed twist like rotated extended side angle. Note the additional challenge of a straight front leg and how it affects your alignment.
Eric’s twist is next.
LOL, just kidding! But, I love this image that a student of mine sent me when I was still teaching in Virginia.
Here is the human equivalent of Eric’s twist (no Sanskrit name that I know of, and apparently an asana invented by Eric Schiffmann, a contemporary yoga teacher).
Finally, we arrive at the main event, the dying warrior (this one doesn’t have an official Sanskrit name either!). From downward facing dog pose, come into high plank and slip one leg under you and out to the opposite side. Ideally, you would keep the leg straight, but if that’s too much for now, you may bend the knee.
Finally, we undo all of that closed twisting with an ahhhh-worthy open twist on a bolster.
And that’s it for our twisty “torture” Tuesday and Thursday practice! 🙂 Enjoy in good spinal, endocrine and digestive health!