By Linda Anastasia Ransom and Sharon Story
A note to our readers: This series is not necessarily designed to be done in a single session. (This post reflects an amalgamation of twist classes, including several poses that you must warm up for and work up to). One of the most important tenets of Healing Chair Yoga is that you must listen to your body and practice ahimsa (kindness, non-harming), and that includes not pushing yourself too far too fast. We are not here to change ourselves; we are here to meet ourselves where we are.
Benefits of Yoga Twists
Twisting offers many benefits. Twists rotate the spine and stretch the muscles of the back. This helps to restore and retain the spine’s natural range of motion. When you spiral your torso around your spine, you compress and massage the organs of the abdomen, including all of the digestive organs. This pressure helps to push stagnant blood and toxins from your kidneys, liver, and spleen. When the twist is released, these organs get a fresh, new supply of blood, which stimulates digestion and metabolism, and helps these organs flush toxins from your body more quickly. Twisting calms the nervous system and quiets the mind. As you physically “wring out” your body, you may notice that your brain and spirit feel cleansed and purified as well.
How to do twists safely
- Lengthen the spine when you inhale: In twists we work with the spine, lengthening to create space between the vertebrae. When the vertebrae are compressed, our spine tends to slump and our energy levels may drop. Through twisting we lengthen the spine and get space between the bones, which in turn allows for better energy flow throughout the body.
- Twist from the lower spine up when you exhale: Begin twisting from the lower spine, working your way up sequentially through the vertebrae. Turn the neck last.
Seated Gentle Twist
Begin by sitting in Tadasana in your chair. Inhale to lengthen the spine and, as you exhale, turn towards your right, taking the left hand across to your right knee. Your right hand will gently hold on the side of the chair. Stay here for three cycles of the breath, lengthening on the inhale, and perhaps deepening the twist on the exhale. At the end of the third exhale, return to center. Repeat on the other side.
Side Body Opening
In seated Tadasana, anchor your left hand to the side of the chair. Inhale to bring your right arm over your head. Exhale and gently begin to stretch the side body as if you were making a rainbow or arch. Stay here for three cycles of the breath. At the end of the third exhale, bring your body upright. Repeat on the other side.
Variation: If your shoulders are tight, bend your elbow and place your hand behind the head to make a gentle arch or rainbow.
Gentle Standing Twist with Chair
Move your chair and mat to a wall and place the back of the chair up against the wall. Place the mat under the chair; doing so will help to keep the chair in place. Stand perpendicular to the wall, facing the side of the chair, as pictured. Come to standing Tadasana. Shift your weight to the outside leg for stability as you bring the inside foot to the seat of the chair. Inhale and lengthen your body. Exhale and gently twist towards the wall. Use your hands on the wall or the outside of your raised leg for support. Stay here for three cycles of the breath, lengthening on the inhale, and perhaps deepening the twist on the exhale. Come back to center, placing the inside foot on the floor and coming back into standing Tadasana. Repeat on the other side
Side Saddle Chair Twist
Sitting side saddle on your chair, with both feet on the floor, find your alignment as you inhale to lengthen your body. Exhale and turn toward the back of the chair, bringing your hands in Namaste/Prayer position. Stay here for one or two cycles of the breath and notice how this feels. If this feels good, place your hands on the back of chair and deepen the twist. Breathe. Stay here for three cycles of the breath, lengthening on the inhale, and perhaps deepening the twist on the exhale. Come back to center. Repeat on the other side.
Twist with a Block
Begin in seated Tadasana. Place a block or two to the inside of the left foot. The lower the block, the deeper the twist, so be gentle with yourself, perhaps placing the block on highest level to start. Inhale to lengthen the body. On the exhale, begin to bring your right hand across to the block. You may look down or to the side. Be sure to keep your neck in line with the spine and not to twist from the neck. Stay here for three cycles of the breath, lengthening on the inhale, and perhaps deepening the twist on the exhale. Bring your eyes back to floor, unwind the twist, and inhale to bring your body up. Repeat on the other side.
Taking care of yourself
For those of you who have back injuries, chronic back pain, or degenerative disk disease, please approach these poses with caution. Only attempt to practice these poses with an experienced yoga teacher.