Come on, baby! Let’s do the twist! Take me by my little hand and go like this…

What is a twist? That sounds like a simple enough question. We do it all the time. Twist to the left, twist to the right, twist again like we did last summer!

Twisting and our physical body.

Twists are very important, both as part of a balanced asana practice and as a component of physical mobility.  However, there are optimal ways of twisting and potentially injurious ways of twisting. In a mindful yoga practice, we listen to our body’s guidance to ensure that our twists not only feel good, but are good for us as well!

Twisting is also known as trunk rotation. The trunk, or torso, encompasses the entire area from the perineum through the neck. Movement of this region requires use of our core muscles. The major muscles in our core include the obliques, rectus abdominis, and lumbar multifidus. It is important to engage, or tighten, our core muscles when we twist. This allows us to twist effectively.

Effective twisting not only feels good, but it helps improve our core strength. A strong core allows us to move efficiently. Efficient movement is movement that puts the least amount of strain on our joints. Core strength is also important for balance, mobility of the spine, and physical flexibility and stability.

Mr. Iyengar was onto something!

The yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar said that twists detoxify the body by squeezing the spinal column like a sponge. While our bodies are quite capable of detoxifying themselves thanks to our kidneys, liver, lymphatic system, etc., when it comes to our energetic, or Pranic, body, Mr. Iyengar may have been on to something! We may not wring-out physical toxins by twisting, but our yoga practice does release psycho-spiritual contaminants.

We can imagine twisting as a way of detoxifying our ego. The word ego is not a bad one in yoga. We all have an ego. Our egos are the persona through which we interact through the world. They give us a sense of identity in the physical world. Our egos are not problematic. It is our attachment to our egos that gets us in trouble. When we over-identify with our egos and believe our egos are the ultimate truth of who we are, we are easily afraid. After all, if we believe our ego is all we are we will feel very threatened by life’s eb and flow.

Twisting helps keep our ego in check. When we twist, we release psycho-spiritual toxins: judgments, expectations, attachments, and ineffective thought and behavior patterns. As we detoxify our Pranic body through our yoga practice, we are better able to maintain proper perspective. We wear our ego like a favorite sweater. Sometimes its cozy, sometimes its itchy, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The ego is not our ultimate reality.

The breath guides the twist.

No conversation about effective twisting in a hatha yoga practice would be complete without considering the breath. Twists are energizing, and part of that energy comes directly from the breath itself. When we twist, we inhale to lengthen our spine, which basically means we sit as tall and straight as we can. We twist on the exhalation. To be sure, focusing on taking deep breaths as we twist certainly gives us the sense of having more energy!

Twists mainly work with the middle and upper portions of our spine, as the low back does not have as much mobility. In general, we keep the hips level and facing forward when we twist. However, letting the hips move a bit may be easier on the sacroiliac (SI) joint. It is important that we pay attention to how we feel in our own body as we twist.

There are times when it is appropriate to avoid or adjust our twisting. During pregnancy, we keep the navel facing forward and twist through the chest region. If we have osteoporosis, it is important that we twist gently and be sure to keep our core engaged. Those who have had a spinal injury or problems in the SI joint will want to consult their doctor or physical therapist before attending a hatha yoga practice for any contraindications of which they need to notify their yoga teacher.

And now, without further ado, why don’t we get twisty?

Practicing Marichyasana C:

  1. Begin in Dandasana
  2. Bend right knee. Right knee points upward towards sky. Make sure there is about a fist-width between right foot and left inner thigh.
  3. Keep left leg straight and left ankle flexed.
  4. Hold the right knee with the left hand. Take care not to pull on the knee.
  5. Place right hand on the floor behind you for support.
  6. Inhale and sit very tall. Exhale and rotate trunk toward the right. Continue to work with the breath and twist for five to eight breaths.
  7. To come out of the pose, release on an exhale and return to Dandasana.
  8. Repeat sequence on the other side.