Twisting Yoga Poses | Anatomy, Benefits, and Three Poses

Practicing yoga is a wonderful exercise designed to tap into many aspects of your physical body, mind, and spirit. The physical movement of yoga is often the vehicle by which a practicing yogi explores the subtle intricacies of the mind and spirit.

You can encounter all types of movements in a yoga class that stimulate physical changes in the body. Yoga poses and sequences will heighten your balance, enhance your flexibility, and improve your strength, to name a few benefits. But one of the most important changes that can occur as a result of this physical exercise is gaining a greater awareness of your whole being.

When you practice yoga, expect to encounter several categories of movements. These may include balancing poses, core work, hip openers, inversions, and twisting yoga poses. In this article, we will focus primarily on twisting postures.

You will learn:

  • The Anatomy of Twisting Yoga Poses
  • The Benefits of Twisting Yoga Poses
  • How to Do Three Twisting Yoga Poses
a group of three women in a yoga class all wear black and do one of yoga's many twisting yoga poses

The Anatomy of Twisting Yoga Poses

One of the main intentions of practicing yoga is to generate an efficient flow of prana throughout the body. Prana is the “life force” or “life energy” that is present in all living beings.

When the energetic channels within a living organism are open and spacious, this life force moves freely throughout the system. In humans, prana is represented in the breath. It provides a full sense of well-being: mind, body, and spirit. However, when there are blockages within the physical body, prana cannot flow as efficiently as intended. Practicing yoga postures help to remove those obstacles and create more fluid channels for pranic flow.

Twisting in yoga is one way to achieve more space, particularly along the spine. In the act of rotating the torso, you lengthen the spine so there is enough space between each vertebra for a safe and efficient twist.

In everyday circumstances, the spine tends to slump thereby minimizing the space along the spinal column. This not only causes potential pain, enhances discomfort, and reduces mobility in the torso, but limits the flow of the pranic energy in the body.

Your muscles are also affected by the yoga twist. A twisting posture generally involves rotating your torso. Such a movement will stretch your back muscles and condition the obliques of your abdominal system. Often while twisting, your pelvis remains stable, thus, your hips gain greater flexibility and mobility as a result.

The skeletal system is certainly a part of the rotational movement of a yoga twist. The spinal column connects the upper and lower halves of the body. Practicing yoga twists will provide greater functionality and mobility throughout the spine.

a man in black shorts doing one of yoga's twisting yoga poses on a beach surrounded by palm trees

Benefits of Twisting Yoga Poses

Here are some of the well known benefits of practicing twists in a yoga practice:

#1: Improves Posture

If you have a hunched back, tend to slouch while sitting, or feel compressed in your lower back, twisting postures will help improve your overall posture and stature.

#2: Lengthens the spine for skeletal health and functionality

The act of twisting in yoga involves creating the most length in the torso to successfully achieve an effective rotation. If your spine feels compressed, the movement of your torso is limited.

#3: Conditions and Strengthens your Abdominal Muscles

Due to the breathing process while practicing yoga twists, you condition and strengthen your abdominal muscles. When you inhale, you will lengthen your spine. As you exhale, you will lightly contract your abdominal muscles while you twist. As you hold the revolving posture, your core muscles stay engaged, thereby building abdominal strength.

woman smiling and doing a seated twist yoga pose wearing all black in a white room

#4: Improves Pelvic Stability and Strength

The focus of the yoga twist is to concentrate on only rotating your upper body. Ideally, your pelvis remains in place. This will provide strength to the pelvic region to help hold your yoga twist as well as improve how your pelvis stabilizes and holds your upper body in other positions.

#5: Enhances Pranic Flow

As mentioned above, one of the main intentions of practicing a yoga twist is to enhance the movement of Prana throughout your body. Think of your twisting practice, as well as the other yoga poses you perform, as methods to create more space in your body for the most efficient movement of positive energy through your system.

How to Do 3 Twisting Yoga Poses

Now that you are familiar with some of the anatomical aspects of yoga twists and their benefits, let’s take a moment to describe some common twists that you can practice on your own.

  • Revolved Easy Pose (Parivrtta Sukhasana)
  • Half Lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
  • Revolving Side Angle Pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana)
woman laying on a black yoga mat doing a twisting yoga pose

#1: Revolved Easy Pose

Parivrtta Sukhasana (“par-eh-vree-tah soo-kah-sah-nah”)
‘Parivrtta’ = ‘revolved’, ‘Sukhasana’ = ‘seated easy pose’

Here is a simple and accessible seated twist yoga pose that you can practice. Revolved Easy Pose can be practiced seated on the floor, on a yoga mat, or even in a high-back chair. The intention of the pose is to lengthen your spine and create space throughout your spinal column for a safe and functional rotation of your torso.

How To Perform Revolved Easy Pose:

If you’re sitting on the floor for this pose, sit with your legs crossed at your shins or ankles. Ensure that your back is straight. To assist in the lengthening of your spine, start by placing your left hand behind you on the floor near your hip.

Press into the ground as you inhale to help straighten your spine. As you exhale, draw your navel in toward your spine to engage your abdominal system then slowly rotate your torso to the left.

Lastly, place your right hand on your left knee to hold you in place. Hold the posture for 5 to 10 breaths. As you inhale, continue to feel the lengthening of your spine. With each exhale, lightly engage your core muscles to stabilize your torso. Remember to practice the pose on the other side.

a man and a woman sit back to back on a yoga mat doing revolved easy pose

The benefits of this pose include greater mobility in your back and spine, it tones your oblique muscles, and it stretches some of your back muscles for added relief.

#2: Half Lord of the Fishes

Ardha Matsyendrasana (“ar-dah maht-see-yen-drah-sah-nah”)
‘Ardha’ = ‘half’, ‘Matsyendrasana’ = ‘Lord of the Fishes Pose’

This is an interesting name for a yoga pose. It actually has a mythological story to accompany the full meaning of the posture. The Sanskrit word is Ardha Matsyendrasana and is named after a wise yogi, Matsyendra, who was the founder of Hatha Yoga.

When you break down the ancient word, ‘ardha’ = ‘half’, (this refers to performing the pose on one side of the body) ‘matsya’ = ‘fish’, ‘eendra’ = ‘king’. One interpretation of the ancient Hindu story is this.

While situated on an island, Lord Shiva, the creator of yoga, was explaining the mysteries of the philosophy to his counterpart, Parvati. As they were near the water, a nearby fish was listening to the conversation. Shiva noticed the fish sitting still in the water and realized that the water creature had learned all about yoga. As a reward, Shiva blessed it and named it Matsyendra, which means Lord of the Fishes.

a woman doing half lord of the fishes in a yoga studio

How To Perform Half Lord Of The Fishes:

Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Cross your right leg over the extended left leg. Bend your right knee so that your foot is on the floor just to the inside of the left leg.

Using your right hand to support you, place it slightly behind you to help lengthen your spine. Inhale to feel that full spinal extension. As you exhale, slowly rotate to the right. Hook your left elbow on the outside of your bent right knee. Keep your palm up as if you were waving. (Use this maneuver to simply hold your body in place rather than trying to pull yourself into the pose.)

Hold the posture for 5 to 10 breaths. This seated rotation improves your spinal rotation while strengthening and lengthening the supportive muscles in your back and abdominal system. The posture also helps with your circulation and digestion. Be sure to practice the pose on the other side (the second half!)

Many yoga poses, like this seated twist yoga pose, pay homage to great and important figures in yoga history and tradition. When practicing poses named after these individuals, as a yoga student, it is important to sit in reverence to them. For example, while seated in Half Lord of the Fishes, be sure to sit up tall and proud to honor a founding figure in the yoga lineage.

#3: Revolved Side Angle Pose

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (“par-eh-vree-tah parsh-vah-koh-nah-sah-nah”)
‘Parivritta’ = ‘revolved’, ‘Parsvahonasana’ = ‘side angle pose’

This is a lunging posture that incorporates a twist. Revolved Side Angle Pose targets the torso as well as provides strength in your legs and hips.

three women doing revolved side angle pose

How To Perform Revolved Side Angle Pose:

You can start this posture by standing in Mountain Pose. Step your left foot back to create a lunge. (Be sure to turn your back heel to the ground to fully stabilize your stance.)

Raise both arms overhead. You will be in Warrior 1 Pose. Lifting your arms will help lengthen your torso and spine to effectively move into a rotation.

Slowly rotate your upper body to the right. Lower your lengthened torso until your left hand reaches the floor (or a yoga block if you cannot reach the floor.) You can place your hand either on the inside of your leg or for a more advanced posture, place it on the outside of the leg. While keeping your spine straight, continue twisting to the right side of the room while raising your right arm toward the ceiling.

Hold this posture for 5 to 10 breaths. This particular pose has multiple benefits as it stimulates your entire body. Because it is a yoga twisting posture, your spine, back, and abdominal system are positively affected. Twisting poses like this, can also stimulate digestion and relieve constipation. And since you are in a lunging position, the pose will stretch your hamstring muscles, strengthen your quadriceps, and target the joints in your hips, knees, and ankles. And don’t forget to practice the pose on the other side.

Some Final Thoughts

There are many poses you can practice in yoga. The twisting yoga postures, though, include a host of benefits that influence your whole body, mind, and spirit.

woman lying down doing a twising yoga pose on a deck

Experience spinal strength, improved back muscle flexibility, heightened core strength, as well as an evolved sense of awareness due to the efficient flow of prana throughout your system.

Try the described yoga postures every day in the coming week and discover the significant and positive changes you can make in your body.

Were you inspired by this article about yoga twists? You can learn more by visiting our in-depth yoga pose resource: Yoga Pose Library. Here you will find a complete list of yoga postures you can practice to deepen your knowledge and awareness of the yoga philosophy.

Photo of author
John Cottrell is a Registered Yoga Teacher and Certified Yoga Therapist residing in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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