For deep cleansing on the inside, twists offer an excellent massage into the internal organs and release trapped nerves and tension in the spine. What’s more, twists unlock the emotions and bring back balance to the mind
A flexible mind and a flexible spine go hand in hand. When your mind is tied in a knot, so usually is your body. But we learn through yoga, that whatever is twisted can be untwisted, and the spinal twists are a great way to get started. Because twists primarily work on the Solar Plexus or Manipura chakra, the chakra responsible for overall maintenance of the body, the capacity for unlocking mental, physical and emotional blockages is profound.
Eliminating imbalances and disease, the Solar Plexus is directly connected to the digestive system and proper digestion and assimilation is the key to good health. Many yoga texts talk about the fire of the navel and much of the dormant potential of the body’s power lies in unblocking this energy centre.
Twists have a wonderful effect on the body too. The twist occurs in the spine and the trunk which helps to make the back supple and releases pain. They reduce excess fat around the abdomen while making joints stronger and more supple. The twists are excellent for pain in the hips and shoulder joints, for lumbago and backache.
Internally, the pancreas, liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach and ascending and descending colons are all contracted, making twists very beneficial to tone the internal organs and help specifically with sluggish livers and relief of constipation. Twists are also good for acidity and flatulence.
In twisting, the nerve roots around the spine are massaged and the vertebral column is adjusted and realigned. Twists improve the circulation and energy flow throughout the spine. The back muscles are pulled and stretched in a different direction than usual and this relieves them of tension.
This powerful yoga asana and its vitalising effects can be felt quickly. Remember though, whatever you do to the one side, you need to do to the other too.
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
Sitting in Staff Pose (Dandasana) with your legs stretched out straight in front of you, bend your knees and put your feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under the right knee to the outside of the right hip. Then, cross your right leg over the left, stacking the right knee on top of the left. Bring the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Keep the heels equidistant from the hips and sit squarely and evenly on the sitting bones. It’s most beneficial to practise pranayama in this position, specifically the alternative nostril breath (anuloma viloma) to balance both sides of the brain. Alternatively, close the pose off with a mudra (energy seal), like Gyan mudra.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose/ Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your knees, put your feet on the floor, then slide your right foot under your left leg to the outside of your left hip and rest it on the floor. Step the left foot over the right leg and stand it on the floor outside your right hip. The left knee will point up to the ceiling.
Press the right elbow against the inside of the left knee and place your left hand onto the floor just behind your left buttock. You can use your hand as a further lever, holding and stretching through from the ankle. Pull your torso up and deepen the twist.
Turn your head slowly first to the front and then ease towards the back. Release the right hand and bring it through the gap between the knees and thighs and, releasing the weight of the left hand on the floor, slowly come to find and interlock fingers into the Bound Half Spinal Twist. With every inhalation lift a little more through the sternum and twist a little deeper with each exhalation. Be sure to distribute the twist evenly throughout the entire length of the spine. Stay for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and return to the starting position. Repeat to the right for the same length of time.
Come to sit in the crossed-legged Easy Pose (Sukasana), bringing the hands and arms alongside the body. On an inhalation, lift the arms and cross your hands over at the wrist. Extend the spine and head upwards, moving the hands backwards as you go to iron out any “creases” in the back.
Women more than two or three months pregnant should avoid this practice. People suffering from peptic ulcers, hernias or hyperthyroidism should only practise this pose under guidance. People with sciatica or a slipped disc may benefit from this asana, but great care should be taken.
By Angela Wood