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Yoga... Seated Twists, A Conscious or Unconscious Effort?

By Meguire Caldwell

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, or even if you’ve followed a simple stretching routine, you have probably maneuvered yourself into a seated “twist”. Some people dread them, while others may love them. Either relationship you may have with twisting, it’s good to know that twists are considered one of the more challenging, yet one of the most beneficial poses, as long as we are doing them correctly.

A twist is different from a turn in that the foundation from which we are twisting remains anchored and steady. However, in a turn, the base follows the part of the body from where the turn was initiated. One way to think of a twist is like trying to take the sticky lid off its jelly jar. If the bottom of the jar is not anchored, the lid will never come off; the whole thing will just keep turning around itself.

The action of a twist has powerful physiological effects on the connective tissues, internal organs, glands, as well as the circulatory system. Like wringing out a rag, a twist tightly hugs the stomach, spleen, kidneys, intestines, and gallbladder. As the twist ends, and the torso releases and returns to a neutral position, the organs are flushed of wastes as fresh oxygen and blood rush into the internal parts for rejuvenation and purification. From a holistic point of view, practicing the correct form of a twist is a natural pathway to remove toxins from the organs, glands, and circulatory system.

In addition to organ detoxification, twisting is providing a thorough massage to the entire visceral system. And while blood circulation is brought to the spinal muscles and disks, the upper and lower parts of the rib cage are made free, allowing for great mobility of the lungs and diaphragm. Thus, twists can improve breathing capacity. An increase in steady flowing breath provides fresh oxygen to cleanse the organs and visceral system. Meanwhile, the spine is actually being extended and elongated. The individual muscles and ligaments that connect each vertebra are strengthened. This allows the spine to fulfill its purpose, which is to be the supportive, strong, and stable. Just as in life, sometimes in our yoga practice it’s not until we are properly aligned that we are able to fully experience what the pose has to offer.

So if twists are so good for the body, then why aren’t people doing them more often? The truth is, they may be doing them, but they may not have the most desirable form or alignment. Believe it or not, many people unconsciously misalign their bodies when they perform a twist. In taking a look at a few misalignments, see if you are guilty of one or all of the “most common unconscious tendencies in twists”. And don’t worry, nobody has to know about your tendencies, just keep reading, and I’ll guide you to a more desirable pathway to getting the most out of your pose!

Some Common Misalignments

Initiating the twist from the side to which you are twisting. (For example, let’s imagine you’re sitting in eka pada parivrtta upavisthasana. You are in a seated position with the right leg extended out in front of you, and the left leg bent at the knee, heel tucked in as close to the buttocks as possible. As, you begin to move into the twist, you turn your body to the left, toward the bent left knee. You initiate this action from the left side. Doing so is not bad or incorrect; however, the right side is a more optimal place of initiation).

Initiating the twist from the head, and from the eye closest to the side to which you are turning.

Un-grounding the outside hip and lifting it toward the direction to which you are twisting.

Contracting the side of the body that you are twisting towards.

Loosening the broadness in the shoulder region, creating a slouch, especially in the shoulder opposite to which you are turning.

Pulling the chin down, simultaneously crunching the throat.

So, given the above misalignments, are you guilty of unconscious twisting tendencies? Well, even if you have discovered that you have been doing all them all the time, it’s not too late to rediscover the benefits this beautiful posture has to offer. Before I share these few easy steps to getting the most out of your twist, please feel free to take a seat in a nice comfortable place and try each step as you read along. Take it slow and receive a nice, inhaling breath with each small, conscious movement. Be gentle with your body, and remember that although these are professionally documented suggestions for alignment, it is always good to take precautions and find yourself a certified yoga instructor to help you in your yoga practice.

Sink all corners of the pelvis and buttocks equally into the earth. Focus the sink even deeper into the side to which you are turning.

Sit up tall, as if you are extending both sides of the body up to the sky; feel longer before you initiate the twisting action.

Think of moving from the inside of the body. As you inhale, extend the spine from the base, and as you exhale, begin to twist.

Begin the twist from the base (as if your pelvis is the jelly jar), and spiral up and around the center of the body (as if your torso is engaged in the twisting upward motion of the lid of the jelly jar).

Become aware of the back and side body that is opposite from which you are turning. Initiate the twist from this awareness.

Inhale and fill up all sides of the body. Draw the shoulder blades back and down to prevent a hunched-back feeling.


Now, think of creating a resistance to the twist by gently contracting the side to which you are twisting towards. Feel a sense of extension, space, and lightness. If you were trying the twist as you were reading, I bet you are feeling great right now. I can also bet that if you include a twist or two as part of your daily yoga or exercise routine, you will begin to feel the physiological power of the pose. Remember from earlier, how like the wringing out of a rag, the organs are squeezed and toned, as toxic wastes are removed. Upon the release of the twist, fresh blood and oxygen rush in to bathe the organs, keeping them healthy and happy. The visceral system is cleansed and the spine is elongated, while all the muscles and ligaments between each vertebra are toned and strengthened. This creates stability and length in our bodies and in our lives.

Often we can apply our yoga practice to our life practice. Just as in yoga, when we make a conscious effort to truly align ourselves from the inside out rather than the outside in, our experiences in life start to take on a new lightness and steadiness. As our awareness of our backbone, our life purpose, returns with patience and self study, our existence and relationships are enriched with health, strength, and stability. So whether you find yourself in a twist or in a fit, just ask yourself: “Am I making an unconscious or conscious effort?”

References: Anusara Yoga Teacher Training Manual; (images);


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