Do the Twist: Revolved Postures in Yoga

24th February 2020

Twists are a regular feature in my classes and from time to time I’ll do a full class where we focus on exploring postures with a bit of a twist. These are typically called “Revolved Postures” or “Parivrtta Asana” in Sanskrit.

Twists generally mean moving the shoulders to face in the opposite direction of the hips. Think about them as wringing out a wet cloth. Iyengar describes the action as “squeeze and soak” – squeeze or twist yourself into position and wait a few breaths to soak in the benefits.

We may twist our back (lower, middle and upper) as well as joints such as hips and shoulders. If you don’t regularly lengthen the muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissue through stretching and twisting they will gradually shorten and limit the mobility of the associated joints.

Benefits of twists in yoga

Twists have numerous benefits to the musculoskeletal system, circulation system, internal organs and the mind. As such I normally incorporate several into a typical yoga class. Here are the main five benefits:

  1. Improved digestive function
    Twists compress the digestive organs and in so doing cause a lack of circulation to them. When you release the twist the rush of blood floods the organs bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients and cleansing the organs and glands.
  2. Detoxing, stimulating circulation
    The blood that comes into the organs after a twist can help cleanse the cells or any built up waste products and so increase cellular detoxification.
    You may also find that gas gets released through the digestive tract as a result of twisting action.
  3. Improved spinal rotation
    When we sit staring at screens all day and move just our heads rather the upper body, the muscles and tissues that surround the spine can become stiff over time. This will lead to a decreased range of motion and often pain. Twists bring back that mobility and gently stretch out the muscles and soft tissues restoring the spine’s natural range of motion.
  4. Reduced back pain
    As someone with a chronic spinal problem this is something I can certainly vouch for. We sit slouched in our cars and at our desks; even when sat on the sofa we fail to engage our back and core muscles well. Twists will strengthen and stretch the back muscles enabling us to sit more upright and provide pain relief. Twists will also help maintain the health of the discs and facet joins of the spine. While osteopaths, physios and chiropractors can certainly help it is daily yoga that has kept me away from monthly appointments with an osteopath. In fact, I’ve not seen her for years.
  5. De-stress
    Twists help to open the chest, shoulders and back releasing stored tension. Combine this with slow breaths and you will decrease feelings of stress and anxiety.

Twisting safely

As someone that has injured herself doing twists I want to ensure that you do them safely.

Do warm up before you do anything more than gentle twists. You don’t want your muscles reacting by cramping or going into spasm. Begin slowly and listen to what your body can do – do not over twist or go deeper than feels comfortable.

Always start with a straight spine sitting or standing as tall as possible. Inhaling will help increase the height and generally I would exhale on the twist rather holding the breath.

Also be aware that not every part of your spine can twist to the same degree. The neck (cervical) vertebrae have the most mobility (but still twist them slowly and gently). The 12 thoracic vertebrae below them have less twist partly because they have ribs attached to them. Then finally the five lumbar vertebrae have the least mobility. If you try to twist them too far (as I have done previously) you can end up aggravating the SI joint and giving yourself pain there.

Because the upper vertebrae can rotate further it is very easy for us to let them be the focus of the twist whilst the rest of your spine barely moves. So think of yourself as a spiral twisting up from the lower spine first so that each vertebrae plays it’s part. Move your neck and eyes last.

Book a class

Enjoy twisting safely in the context of a class. They don’t need to be challenging and you won’t be made to contort yourself into a pretzel shape!

Head over to my booking app to book in.