The “human pretzel” benefits of yoga
by Laura Brookover
Licensed physical therapist and certified Iyengar yoga teacher Julie Gudmestad recommends a “twist a day” to cleanse and detoxify the organs. Twists also trim the waist. Add a “twist-a-day” to proper hydration, eating clean whole foods (especially water-rich foods like watermelon and celery), and you’ll be on your way to getting that beach body just in time for summer!
Modern day yoga Icon, Baron Baptiste, recently published a yoga book for children, dedicated to his own three sons called My Daddy is a Pretzel.
To many who do not practice yoga, the idea that in yoga you “turn your body into a pretzel” is a common one. While the focus of yoga is often more grounded in the development of a balance of mental and physical flexibility, strength, endurance and tranquility, it is an undeniable truth that yogis do twist a lot during a well-rounded practice.
According to Yoga Journal, “Twists provide an abundance of benefits … to the circulatory system and internal organs, structural benefits to the musculo-skeletal system, and focusing benefits to your consciousness.”
Twists, known in yoga as “parivrtta asanas” (pronounced “pav-rish-tah ah-sah-nahs”) are promoted by Indian yoga master B.K.S. Iyengara as having a beneficial “squeeze-and-soak” action which is believed to detoxify the organs through a “wringing out” effect. In much the same way a wet towel is twisted and water is squeezed out, the blood flow to our organs follows a similar pattern. After the twist, the blood flow is renewed, carrying fresh oxygen to all the major organs and essentially renewing the system. People lose full spinal rotation due to sedentary lifestyles, surgical joint fusions, trauma or injury to the body and/or arthritis.
In the photographs here are some twists that may be practiced as shown or modified to suit your physical comfort levels by practicing “forgiving limbs yoga,” which means, if any yoga posture (asana) ever looks or feels too intense, the individual who is practicing (not the instructor) can modify the posture by “softening” or slightly bending the knees and/or by “softening” the twist by not twisting quite as far. Twists are contraindicated for women who are pregnant or think they might be pregnant.
A simplified variation of the twist is called “Bharadvajasana.” This means “pose dedicated to the sage Bharadvaja.” This is done while sitting in chair with the same benefits to the organs and spine as all other twists. It has the added feature of accessibility, as it can be practiced at the office, in school, in a wheelchair or even in a nursing home.
Always remember to elongate the spine, and work to keep the bellybutton facing forward while the upper spine twists gently. This helps avoid unnecessary back pain from over stretching and also tones the oblique abdominal muscles for a smaller waist.
Remember that the best way to twist is by performing the twisting motion on the exhale. This creates more room in the body cavity to twist. Inhale, lift the spine tall, exhale, and gently twist. Continue to breathe naturally, using the exhales to intensify the stretch as needed and the exhale to “soften” or decrease the twisting motion as befits the comfort of your spine.
Have fun with these challenging asanas. If you do, you’ll be on your way to a fresh new you that you can flaunt at the pool this summer.
Laura Brookover is a body-mind trainer. She teaches EmPOWERment Yoga at Destination Maternity, (210) 694-4692, and Bikini Bootcamp at Spectrum, Rogers Ranch, (210) 408-9050. For more information visit her Web site at www.laurabrookover.com. Photography courtesy of Jenn Brookover Photography.