Spinal twist benefits are numerous
Yoga twisting poses feel wonderful, and provide many benefits. Some of these benefits are real, while others may be speculative. What we do know is that when the spine is rotated, some muscles are stretching, while others are contracting. We may feel a release of tension in the back and even increased clarity in our brain. However, as numerous as spinal twist benefits are, there are certain things to watch out for which may cause injury or limit the benefits of the pose.
Here are 7 ways to ensure seated twists are safe and enjoyable…
Sit up straight
Don’t round your back. When we sit on the floor with our legs out straight, our back rounds. It’s best if we sit on a cushion, bolster, or block. A rounded back in staff pose typically indicates tight hamstrings, but if we sit on a cushion it will ease the intense 90-degree angle from our hips and allow the spine to be perpendicular to the floor, which is important when we are rotating it. We never want to round the back and twist at the same time as this puts undue pressure on the intervertebral discs and may weaken ligaments used for supporting and stabilizing the spine. Sometimes the back rounds because of tight hamstrings or when we are stretching or extending beyond the body’s ability.
Look after your knees
Be careful of sore knees. The common seated twist, called Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) can be quite an intense knee bend on the lower leg. If the knee joints are stiff or painful, this pose should be done with the lower leg stretched out.
Sit equally on both sitting bones
Don’t lean to one side. There may be some tightness in the outer hips when drawing the upper leg over the lower leg. This tightness will prevent one from sitting equally on both buttocks, which may place unequal pressure on the spine. There are two remedies for this situation. One would be to keep the foot on the inside of the lower leg (easier to achieve if the lower leg is stretched out). Another option is to try sitting on a folded blanket, cushion or blocks.
Stay within your comfort range
Each person’s spine has a specific range of rotation, which can change from day to day. Something that you could do yesterday may be beyond your reach today. If we are over-ambitious in our twists or try to force our body beyond the limits of its rotation, we are setting ourselves up for problems in the shoulders or pelvis as, over time, the ligaments slowly get over-stretched and lose their supporting ability. So a rule of thumb is to move slowly with focus and watch out for any pulling sensations at the back of the pelvis or shoulders.
Chin stays parallel to the floor
The neck lengthens evenly on both sides. Avoid turning your neck and elevating the chin at the same time, because this will compress the neck. This is especially true for those who already have neck issues.
Use your core for support
The back hand should not be weight bearing. Use your back hand only for balance, and as a prop to help you lengthen the spine. This will bring your core muscles into play and stabilize the spine.
Our twists will be safe and satisfying if we move slowly, and with focus. Always remember to keep the sitting bones evenly placed on the floor. During spine lengthening, make sure to move only within your range. With every inward breath, lengthen the spine, drawing it up from the base of the pelvis. And on the outward breath, ease a little deeper into the twist.