Yoga spinal twists reach muscles of your upper back that tend to shorten due to the poor posture and lack of movement in a sedentary lifestyle. As the range of movement of your spine decreases, it becomes more difficult to perform daily activities and easier to feel aches and pains. Spinal twist poses are both invigorating and relaxing, and make you more flexible and stronger as they reduce stress.
Traps, Lats, Delts and Rhomboids
Spinal twist poses compress and stretch the large and small muscles of the upper back that are responsible for pushing, pulling, lifting, turning, shrugging, squeezing your shoulder blades and supporting your neck and head. Twists lengthen and strengthen your trapezius, latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoids, teres minor and major, rhomboids, supraspinatus and infraspinatus. That benefits circulation, inner organs, skeletal muscles and joints. The rotation improves range of movement and posture by balancing and exercising neglected muscles. The compression squeezes tissue, releasing old blood with its by-products and toxins. The relaxation allows fresh, oxygenated blood to flow back in. It's important, when performing a spinal twist, to articulate the twist up the spine gradually and with awareness. This engages all the muscles and avoids the mistake of turning just your neck and head and skipping the upper back and shoulders.
Half Lord of the Fishes and Bharadvaja's Twist
Ardha Matsyendrasana, Half Lord of the Fishes pose, is a half spinal twist that gives a complete right-left twist to the entire length of the spine. It's a seated pose that stretches your spine upward and is said to boost energy and calm nerves. Focus on keeping spine straight and shoulder blades down. Feel the opening across your upper back at the point of full stretch.
Bharadvaja's Twist is a seated spinal twist with an intense stretch for your upper back. As you twist your upper body to the right, away from your legs that are bent to the left and resting on the floor, drop your left shoulder and press your shoulder blades strongly into your back. This is trickier than it sounds, but it really stretches your spine and shoulders and releases tension in your back. Always do twists to both sides.
Marichyasana III, Marichi's pose, is one of those yoga pretzel poses that you can master step-by-step for a good spinal stretch. You begin in Staff pose, seated on the mat with both legs extended, and then bend your right knee and bring the leg as close to your torso as you can, foot flat on the mat. As you exhale, twist your torso to the right and wrap your left arm around your right thigh, pulling your thigh up, relaxing your right hip and moving your right hand behind you, fingers splayed on the mat. Gently lengthen your spine and deepen the twist on each exhalation as you pull your bent leg into your chest and lean back against your shoulder blades. Sit tall as you stretch into an upper back bend, keeping your attention on the shoulder blades. The upper back bend is a subtle move that gives a very strong shoulder stretch. Hold the pose for one minute and switch sides.
A Revolved Side Angle pose, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, gives you a head-to-toe stretch that increases stamina and improves digestion and balance. It opens and lengthens your upper torso -- shoulders, spine, chest and lungs. You begin in Mountain pose, step your feet wide apart, bend one knee and twist your torso toward the bent knee. The lower arm reaches to the floor and the upper arm reaches up in a long line with your extended leg as you look up. Once you are in the slant-twist position, engage your shoulder blades, pushing them toward your back ribs and lean back, lengthening your spine and front torso. Rest in the pose, maintaining awareness of your shoulder blades to increase the stretch. Twists that work your upper back and use your shoulder blades restore suppleness to your spine. But they also draw your attention inward, helping to center you and clear your mind.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .