In my classes they are often the first and last pose of a sequence, and one of the first things I have my private clients start doing in their home practice. Every yoga therapy session includes a twist, and I even encourage my students to do a “bed yoga” twist pose before going to sleep at night.
Spinal Twists are considered “bliss poses” because of the special effect on the mind, body and subtle body channels. A basic twists {like the seated twist shown in this photo} is the easiest and simplest pose for even the most newbie or physically limited yogi to achieve with the least effort and the MOST benefit.
I have found over the years that even a twist done imperfectly gives amazing and immediate results.  

A Bit About Twists

Types of Twists

Yoga’s spinal twists can… 

  • give the deepest physical change along your WHOLE spine of any other yoga poses
  • quiet the mind more immediately than any other kind of pose
  • massage your internal organs {which ones will depend on the focal point of the twist}
  • make you feel longer and more flexible as they create space between the vertebrae
  • balance the two main meridians or nādis {energy channels} along the spine – one relating to moon-like or feminine qualities and the other relating to sun-like or masculine qualities. 
  • cultivate a calm and relaxed state, making them great preparation for meditation!
  • resolve emotional blockage locked in the physical or subtle body system
  • Reclined twists {twists in a lying down position, as in Jathara Parivrttanasana}
  • Seated twists {twists in a seated position, as in Ardha Matsyendrāsana or Parivrrta Sukhāsana}
  • Back-bending twists {more on this in a future article, but in these kinds of twists, such as Bharadvajāsana, the heart is slightly ahead of the head, as in a backbend + the spine is twisting… whoa, mind. blown. right?}
  • Forward-bending twists {here the spine is sloped in a downward angle – from mild to extreme – while the spine is twisting, as wide angle forward bend twist or Parivrtta Prasārita Padottanāsana}

More about the different effects of reclined, seated and standing āsana right here

There are many twisting poses, with lots of variations for different results, and modifications for different body-types. We can narrow twisting poses into a few categories which will be familiar to yoga teachers, and experienced students. For the beginner, I hope this inspires your knowledge of the practices you are coming to love! I’ve included the sanskrit names of poses here and there {especially for yoga teachers}… but don’t fret, the English names are fun to say too… making it sound like you are ordering some kind of yogi cocktail – eg. “half frog with a twist” or “sweet pose with a twist” {you get the picture}. 

Yoga Teachers! 
Join me for a therapeutic twists module July 11-12!  

How & When to Twist

It is important in spinal twists to be well aligned, move slowly and consciously to ensure you are moving, releasing and twisting the “stuck” or tight areas, called granthis {means knots in Sanskrit}. These include the pelvis, heart region or thorasic spine, and the base of the skull. Simultaneously, you want to be sure not to OVER-TWIST and “spring a leak” in already hypermobile areas of your spine – these are the neck and waist. Details about this in my classes and workshops on twists. But here are two tricks… {1} twist your neck LAST, and {2} don’t arch your waist.

Sequencing {aka When to Twist}
Twists can be done at almost any point in a sequence, and you can do 2-3 twists within one yoga practice. You’ll need to follow any sequencing rules you normally adhere to regarding the other categories of movement {for example a forward-bending twist you follows general sequencing recommendations for forward bends}. But for the most part, twists can be slotted into your practice very easily. Here are some GREAT ways to think about when to do twists… 
  • Twist at the beginning of your practice for a gentle spinal warm up as well as begins the inner quietude that is the goal of yoga
  • Twist at the end of your practice {before Shavasana or meditation} will cultivate more meditative state & give the most benefit physically. 
  • Twist as a counterpose to a forward bend
  • Twist in the middle of your practice between more active sequences for a moment of respite
  • Twist in the middle of a restorative practice to allow more inner absorption of the affects of your practice.
  • Twisting at the beginning AND end of your practice is even GREAT, if you have the time.

{Sequencing geek? join my colleagues and me on this blog tour all about sequencing!}

My Favorite Spinal Twist

This version of Jathara Parivrtanāsana {translates to stomach twist pose}, is a reclined, back-bending twist. Watch the video to see a demo and follow the instructions below to include it in your personal practice.
 
How to do this reclined spinal twist…

  1. Start in the standard angles of the pose of the bent legged reglined spinal twist, knows as Jathara Parivrttanasana
  2. Rest here  
  3. Rest here for about 30 seconds.letting your whole body relax into the twist and allow your mind to settle
  4. Bring top knee down to floor by raising that hip in the air. Slide bottom knee and foot downward and back slightly into an elongated and nearly straight position, using leg muscles. Then relax the leg, letting the side of the leg lean into the floor.
  5. Make sure you are still allowing the ribs to twist back {do not be curled up on your side}
  6. You’re bent knee {the top leg} MUST STAY ON THE FLOOR! You can lift your hip, to get your knee down.  You may need to use your hand / arm to hold that knee down. 
  7. Your extended leg can just be straight-ish and must be RELAXED
  8. Don’t flip onto your belly – you should have weight in the SIDE of your extended leg, not the front of it. 
  9. Keep your back arm bent with your hand on your waist
  10. OPTIONAL PROP – if chin is more than slightly raised above the forhead, place a layer of blankets under the head to level. It’s okay if chin is slightly raised, as this is a result of the backbend through the ribcage.
  11. To come out, slide the extended leg up and return to the basic pose. Rest here for 2-3 breaths.
  12. To come out, roll back to onto your back and hold both knees (Supta Garbhasana)
  13. Do your other side

TIME – 2-6 minutes per side

Are you twisting in to bliss? 
Tell me about your favorite twist, or twist experience in the comments below, or on Facebook… and come check out a class this summer to explore twist variations and their inner effects!