By Alexander Wayne
The image of a scantily clad individual twisted up like a pretzel was for decades the iconic image of the yogi. Contortionist seemed a subtle synonym for one who practiced the sacred Science of Self. While we’ve grown in our understanding to know Yoga as much more than physical postures, this picture still lingers in our collective consciousness, and for good reason. Spinal twists not only have many health benefits, but they simply feel really, really good.
Like a mop saturated with dirt and grime, our abdominal organs can use a good wringing out every once in a while. The compression that occurs during a twist squeezes toxins out of the liver, pancreas and other organs and glands. The release from the twist encourages a deluge of oxygen and nutrient rich blood to rush back into said areas.
The muscular skeletal benefits are vast as well. Lengthening of the muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia ensures joint mobility, and a properly performed twist promotes flexibility and efficiency of our superhighway of the central nervous system, the spinal column.
There are a few items to be mindful of when engaging in any twist, be it seated, standing, supine or inverted. Aim to maintain full spinal extension by lengthening before rotating, and build the pose from the base up. The range of rotational motion increases as we ascend from the lumber/lower back to the thoracic/mid back and on up through cervical/neck, so it’s a good idea to establish a stable foundation and focus on the integrity of the movement as it relates to one’s own anatomy rather than an idealized form.
I find the most gratifying aspect of a twist to be how it puts us in contact with what seems to be the fingerprint of the divine. Nature often signs her name in spirals, from the structure of DNA to the frozen whirl of the shell to the ever spinning galactic structures of the universe. And to take a moment to experience our being as connected and infinite in all directions is, to me, the very essence of Yoga.
A few twists to give a whirl:
Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana