Twisting Yoga poses like Half Twist pose, Revolving Triangle pose, and Revolving Side Angle pose create joyous benefits. The twisting motions increase mobility in the vertebral column, massage internal organs, massage nutrients in and through the spine, aid in moving material through the digestive system, tone back and core muscles, and balance energy flow throughout the main energy channel (Sushumna) that travels along the line of the spine.
In order for all these physical and energetic benefits to occur, we need to apply proper preparation and alignment prior to rotating into the transverse plane of the spine. I like to imagine twisting like turning a screw into a bolt. If you are just slightly misaligned, the threads do not match, the threads endure grinding pressure, and the motion is limited or even impossible to occur. Just like lining up the threads of the screw and bolt, I like to take time to line up the vertebrae in the most spacious placement. From this alignment, the vertebrae rotate evenly without pressure going into the intervertebral discs and without adding further blockages into the body.
Regardless of the position of the Yoga twist (lying, sitting, standing, or inverted), I follow a simply principle: the spine should not be in a forward bend, back arch, or side bend in any form or degree prior to twisting. The twisting Yoga pose should not be combined with or involved in another position or plane of movement. If the spine is in another plane (ie back arching), the spine has reduced space along one edge of the vertebrae. Adding a twist to the uneven space can lead to acute or chronic injury.
For those with spinal disorders like scoliosis, this principle is even more important. If the spine is already moving into another plane and then one twists into a pose that is adding the transverse plane motion, the vertebrae can be experiencing severe blockages and may worsen the condition of the spinal disorder.
Some basic preparation techniques to follow:
*In seated twists, settle evenly into both sit bones and rise into the center of the sit bones. Keep this center and emphasize elevating through the crown of the head. How much additional space am I creating prior to rotating?
*In lying twists, be aware that when the pelvis rotates opposite to the shoulders that the pelvis is not being pulled out of the plane of the spine such that the spine is curving to that side. Is my head and the bowl of my pelvis still in one straight line?
*In revolving standing poses (especially at partial or horizontal angles to the ground), I focus on extending the spine out of the pelvis before twisting.
Common error in these angled poses is to slightly collapse the torso into a small forward bend. Again, two planes combined causing imbalanced rotation in the twist. Is heart center floating away from the pubic bone creating a full extension of the spine?
With all twists, try to set the spine such that the belly, waist, and back feel completely even – no curves, bends, or leaning.
Use the sensation of Mountain Pose (basic standing) to act as a guide in aligning the pelvis and vertebrae. When you rotate into your twist, feel that it isn’t driven heavily into just one portion of the vertebral column – let the twist flow evenly and naturally from the sacrum up to the neck. Once in the twist, enjoy relaxing your shoulders – not tense and lifting into the neck. The neck should experience lightness all around, thus having full space to receive breath. Relax into the jaw and face. Feel completely free with breath – not restricted or shallow – breath flowing into the twist and organs adding to the healing massage. Set the eyes at a drishti (focal point) to bring your attention back into the twist and into the moment.
Twisting has many more fine tuning and alignment cues, but use these basic preparation cues to set your initial pose with balance, integrity and vitality.