Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Twisting is Profoundly Delightful

Develop Ease, Unwind Tension, and Build Strength

by Susi Hately Aldous

All movements in yoga make us feel great - backbends can boost us like no cup of caffeine can; forward bends can elicit a gracious, infinite patience; and standing poses a rooted lightness - but twists - these are profoundly delightful.

When done properly, twists take us deeply into the spine - rotating, twisting, squeezing, strengthening and releasing all the tissue that lies along the midline of the body. Their effects are fast - just one or two twists mid-day can help release locked up tension that is brought on by activities at home or work. Almost immediately, the upper body stands more upright with greater ease and relief. It's as if freedom is born within.

This incredibly awesome feeling can also lead to a certain addiction to going deeper. With addiction comes the potential for dysfunction and possible injury.  For example, depth in twists before the body is ready can shift the mechanics of the shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle as they relate to the spine.

  • In the shoulder girdle, depth too soon can lead to instability of the scapulae which can lead to issues in the neck, shoulder, elbows or wrists.
  • In the pelvic girdle, twisting too deeply can lead to overtwisting the pelvis, which can lead to imbalance in the SI joints. 

So it is important to remember the following when moving into twists:
  1. Relax first. Connect to your spine and your primary twisting area - the obliques.
  2. Be on your sitting bones with your spine vertical. Rounding the spine and twisting puts your spinal discs in some of the most vulnerable and dangerous positions.
  3. Remember the mechanics of a twist. Skeletally, twisting ideally happens at about T11-ish/T12-ish; and in the cervical spine. Muscularly, the engine of the twist is at the obliques. If you are tight in the spinal myofascia, you will be limited.
  4. Don't force. Force will only cause misery.
  5. To avoid misery think ease. When initiating the twist, keep your nose in line with your breast bone. Only go as far as you can maintain this position. You will be using your obliques more and experiencing less tension elsewhere.
  6. If you do use your arms to go further, try not to use them too much. If you do, your twist will turn into an "arm pull"  and all that effort will be wasted. Instead of building your energy and strength centrally, you'll build tension in your arms and neck. How fun is that?
Twisting is incredible for improving posture, managing minor digestive complaints and improving breathing. Remember, it is a rotation, so keep the movement central before taking it to the arms. Your body and mind will love you for it.

If you want more, there is a full chapter on twisting in Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries.

If this resonates for you and you would like to tune in more: visit me at

Sara's note: Susi is my teacher and my teacher's teacher for Therapeutic Yoga. This article is taken from her May newsletter 2010.