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A twist on twisting: protect your spine

May 23rd, 2012
Zoë Sophos

Woman does half chair twistWhen performing spinal twists, a right angle may not always be the right angle, according to Keeping the pelvis square to the floor as the upper body rotates is often encouraged in class, but it's not necessary for a deep stretch and can actually harm your body.

Yoga positions such as revolved downward facing dog and half chair twist are meant to keep the spinal joints, disks, ligaments and muscles supple as well as massage the abdominal organs and free the breath by relaxing the muscles around the rib cage. They are generally considered to be safe in healthy people when practiced appropriately, according to the National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. But improper practice can do just as much harm as good.

When practicing twists, yogis slightly rotate each vertebra in relation to each other, beginning where the base of the spine rests on the pelvis. Twisting too far while keeping the pelvis straight can cause strain and lead to a dislocated sacrum (the large triangular bone at the base of the spine). That injury occurs when one side of the sacrum pulls out of the sacroiliac joint attaching it to the pelvis.

Spinal injuries can be easily avoided, according to Yoga Journal, by consciously relaxing the muscles around the spine, waist and rib cage while twisting, by recognizing pain and not twisting the spine farther than is safe. Avoid slouching while twisting, or letting the hips rotate in the same direction as the torso. Rotating the pelvis during a twist is just as correct as keeping it straight, and may prevent unnecessary injury while working to build flexibility.