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According to experienced practitioners, yoga can reverse signs of physical aging. Still, it's easy to be intimidated by the pretzel-like poses seen on the covers of yoga publications. While you may never achieve poses that resemble those of circus acrobats, easier postures can improve your overall well-being. For beginners, a simple seated twist known as Ardha Matsyendrasana in Sanskrit provides a comfortable way to benefit from the practice.
Cleansing and Refreshing
Picture wringing out a wet rag to release the excess of water stored inside. This similar action happens to your body when performing a seated twist. Just like twisting a dishrag, winding your body around its axis compresses the organs, restricting blood flow. Catherine Woodyard discusses her study in the "International Journal of Yoga": "Twisting poses wring out venous blood from internal organs and allow oxygenated blood to flow in when the twist is released." Twists are the most cleansing of all the asanas and often leave the yogi refreshed and clear-headed.
Calming the Nervous System
Every nerve in the body roots at the spine; therefore, rotating around its axis proves beneficial to the nervous system. In the twist, nerves are stimulated. As you gently roll out of this rotated position, stored tension is released, and the nerves relax. Woodward's study suggests that yoga leads to an inhibition of the sympathetic area of the hypothalamus, creating relaxation and a sense of well-being. Integrating twists into a busy workday can fight stressors caused by the hustle-bustle of modern life.
Spinal Column and Muscles
Julie Gudmestad, writer for "Yoga Journal," recommends a simple spinal twist daily to restore and maintain normal spinal rotation. She mentions that most people lose full spinal rotation due the shortening of muscles over time and with activity. Simple seated twists lengthen and release these muscles, permitting mobility. Seated twists not only benefit the soft tissues that surround the spine, but also enhance the health of the discs and facet joints between the vertebrae.
Even though seated twists are beginner yoga postures, people with spine or back injuries should be cautious. Dr. Mary Pullig Schatz explains, "Forward bends, back bends, twists and standing poses can be either therapeutic or detrimental for your back, depending on how well you honor the principle of maintaining normal spinal curves." If you suffer from chronic back problems or if you are recovering from surgery, talk to your doctor first, then seek out an experienced instructor versed in proper alignment.