Saturday, May 29, 2010

Twisted -- the Benefits of Yoga Twists

Sometime ago I wrote that yoga twists are one of the categories of poses that can help to cleanse or detox the body (See Yoga Poses For Detoxing).

Twists work with a "squeeze and soak" action on the abdominal organs, which stimulates the digestive system and makes it easier for the body to eliminate waste products. 

When you wring out a sponge, the dirty water is squeezed out, and the sponge can then absorb clean water again.

This is similar to what happens in twists.   The kidneys and liver are squeezed, or wrung out during twists, forcing out "old" blood that contains waste material and toxins.   When the twists are released, fresh clean blood enters the kidneys and liver, bathing the cells in nutrients and oxygen.

Twists also are obviously beneficial to the spine, helping us to retain (or regain) normal spinal rotation.   The hips and shoulders are also affected.  Many of us lose our full range of spinal rotation due to our sedentary lifestyles -- we may sit slouched over at a desk or behind the wheel of our car for long periods of time, and the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia start to shorten, which limits mobility.    Our backs may become achy and more prone to injury from this reduced spinal mobility. 

According to Julie Gudmestad (certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and yoga anatomy expert) practicing twists regularly help us to maintain the length and resilience of the tissues around the spine, abdomen, rib cage and hips.   Twists also help to maintain the health of the discs between the vertebrae.

To twist well, we need to keep the spine extended (slumping reduces our ability to twist -- slumping reduces our ability to do any yoga pose well!), and learn to twist evenly along the length of the spine, from bottom to top.     We're more mobile in the neck, and if we're not paying attention to the even twisting along the entire length of the spine, many of us turn the head first, neglecting the stiffer parts of the spine.

Until recently I have had the mis-understanding that the lumbar spine is also very mobile in twists -- but actually the twisting motion in the lumbar spine is limited.  What does happen for many of us is that the low back may over-arch as we lift the spine to twist more.   Twisting this way hurts the low back.  So we need to make sure we're grounding down well through the sit bones to keep the low back from over arching.   We then begin the twist in our lower back, and move our awareness up through the length of the spine, twisting evenly along its whole length. 

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