Yoga twists are lovely to practice in a class and have many physical benefits. However, one thing I was told years ago when I first started to practice yoga was that they cleanse the body and help us to detox. I was told that they squeeze out the “bad stuff” (like toxins) from our body, leaving us feeling clean from the inside. I always wondered what this meant and how it worked. So, this month I thought I would take a quick look.
What is the theory behind twists and detox?
The idea is that during a twist, we compress an organ or area in the abdomen, which would squeeze out the (toxin-filled) blood from that organ. Then, when we release a twist and return back to normal, the area that was being squeezed is released. This allows fresh oxygenated blood to flood back in. This is how a yoga twist action “cleanses”.
What actually happens when we twist?
There are different ways to practice twists in a yoga class: supine (lying down on our back), seated and standing. In all the asanas which involves twisting, it means rotating the spine, specifically the shoulders, so that they are turned the opposite way to the hips. So, in terms of what twists physically do, the benefits are fairly clear. Twists can work to lengthen and strengthen the muscles in the back and along the spinal column. They can also help to improve the resilience of the soft tissues in the back. Practicing twists in a yoga class can help to restore and maintain the full range of motion in the spine and upper body.
But does it mean that yoga twists “clean”?
The truth is, our body naturally works towards balance and cleansing. The systems of the body are set up to process things that we put in, through diet and everyday life (food, alcohol, nicotine, toxins from the environment or drugs etc) and to get rid of the things that we do not need. It works towards homeostasis naturally. For example, the liver and lymphatic system are working all the time to flush out harmful or unnecessary items from our body.
We do know that, as we twist, say in a seated twist (as shown in the photo), we apply a gentle squeeze to our abdominal organs, such as the colon (bowel and intestine). This can help with our digestion, in the same way that a gentle massage of this area can ease constipation, gas or bloating. Combine that with breathing and we can start to help soothe a stressed out digestive system (and a stressed out body). (We need to also note that eating the right foods for your body is also needed if your digestive system is out of balance). The twisting motion, combined with moving in and out of a twist with the breath, can help with this massage effect.
In Yin yoga, twists are said to stimulate the liver and gallbladder meridians, as well as the kidney and urinary bladder meridians. Meridians are the invisible channels where energy (Chi) is said to flow. In Chinese Medicine, these organs are part of the body’s approach to cleansing. Holding a twist position for a few minutes in Yin can act like acupressure, which has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries, to help heal from ill-health and to build and maintain good health.
Science has not yet really proved that yoga twists “cleanse”- it would be a difficult study to design, measure and run. But maybe in time there will be some “proof”. However, I know personally I feel better after a few twists and time on my yoga mat.
Yoga retreats at La Crisalida
Yoga is an important part of La Crisalida’s holistic programme for health and wellbeing. As such we offer a yoga class every day. Combine this with freshly prepare plant-based food and juices, exercise, rest and a focus on connection and you have all the ingredients to create health and wellbeing.
Twists certainly help to increase flexibility and maintain a full range of motion through our upper body and spine. Yoga practice gives us dedicated time to breathe, to be present and connect inside. When yoga practice coincides with healthy lifestyle and mindset the benefits on our health are demonstratable. And often twists just feel so good it is worth doing them anyhow!
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).