Beneficial twist or destructive pull?
Twister or puller ?
Twists are often one of the yoga poses that is greeted with great enthusiasm by students. But are you making a beneficial twist or a potentially destructive arm pull? Even if they feel quite challenging the rewards or relief when you release that big intestinal squeeze & spinal rotation are so intense that there is often a flurry of positive huffs puffs, ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ coming from the class! In a seated twists it can be tempting to pull yourself deeper in using the arms, possibly encouraged by teacher comments or wanting to copy deeply rotated demonstrations or fellow students. Too deep too often can cause injury and sometimes it is good to question what you are gaining by stretching very deeply in a pose. Your oblique muscles are the muscles that primarily rotate the torso, so next time you twist, check that it is those that are making the action happen, not just the arms pulling you into the pose.
Whatever you level and experience in yoga, try the following refinements in a seated twist…
1. Try not using the arms as you rotate the body into the twist, or just use a gentle finger to guide and support you where you would normally use the whole hand and arm/arms to give you twisting power. Once the body (not the arms) have established the depth of the pose for you, then maybe use the arms to deepen the pose a little more, but without loosing the engagement of the torso muscles that established the initial rotation.
2. Imagine that you are rotating into a seated twist using the belly button / turning from the point of the belly button so that is moved from from facing front, to facing more towards the side wall of the room.
3. Once you are in the twist, try to use this same belly button point of focus as if it wanted to UNTWIST you slightly (without the body actually moving in the untwisting direction), so you feel a muscular engagement that tries to counter act against the initial twist action of the pose. This helps to engage muscles for stability that should always accompany a deep stretch to protect you from over-stretching injuries.
4. Breathe! As for almost everything practiced in yoga - maintain a regular, smooth inhale exhale rhythm throughout the pose. If that is not possible then it usually is a great indicator that you are pushing/pulling/trying too hard. Back off a little bit and re establish steadiness and ease in the breath. Body & mind will follow.
Here is a great animation from Susi at Functional Synergy of how the oblique muscles of the mid torso create the twist action - it may help you to visualise correct movement