Take The Gut Health Quiz
Back to Blog

All You Need to Know About Twists and Digestive Health

May 20, 2024
All You Need to Know About Twists and Digestive Health
This article was authored by Julija Spicynė, Certified Yoga Teacher and Head of Gut-directed Fitness @ Guthealth.care. Do you need support with a symptom, condition or gut health goal? You can book a free online consultation with Julija here.


In the world of yoga, twists are like the secret sauce that brings a myriad of benefits to both the body and mind. One of the most celebrated benefits is the positive impact twists have on digestive health. Let's explore how incorporating twists into your practice can support and enhance your digestive system.

Stimulating Digestive Organs

When you engage in twisting poses like Bharadvajasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana, and Parivrtta Trikonasana, you're giving your abdomen a gentle, yet effective, squeeze. This action is akin to giving your digestive organs a soothing massage, reaching the stomach, intestines, liver, and kidneys. Here’s how this helps:

  • Increasing Blood Flow: Twists boost circulation to the abdominal organs, enhancing their function and efficiency. It’s like turning on the waterworks for better internal irrigation.
  • Encouraging Peristalsis: The rhythmic squeezing and releasing in twists stimulates peristalsis, those wave-like contractions that move food smoothly through your digestive tract. It’s a gentle nudge for your gut to keep things moving.

Detoxification

Think of the compressing and releasing action of twists as wringing out a sponge. Each twist helps "wring out" toxins from your digestive organs, aiding your body’s natural detoxification processes. This is how it works:

  • Promoting Lymphatic Drainage: Twists stimulate the lymphatic system, a crucial network for flushing out toxins. It’s like giving your body’s drainage system a little extra help.
  • Supporting Liver Function: The liver is your body’s detox powerhouse. By enhancing blood flow through twists, you support the liver’s vital role in processing and eliminating toxins. It's like giving your liver a high-five for a job well done.

Reducing Bloating and Discomfort

Bloating and digestive discomfort are issues many of us face, but regular practice of twisting poses in yoga can offer significant relief. Twists help by:

  • Releasing Gas: Twisting can facilitate the release of trapped gas from the intestines, easing bloating and discomfort.
  • Alleviating Constipation: By stimulating peristalsis and promoting regular bowel movements, twists act as a natural remedy for constipation.

Balancing the Nervous System

A well-functioning digestive system is intricately linked to a balanced nervous system. Twists play a key role in this by:

  • Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System: Many yoga poses, including twists, engage the parasympathetic nervous system—the part of our autonomic nervous system responsible for the rest-and-digest response. This activation helps reduce stress and enhances digestion.
  • Reducing Stress: Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our digestive health. Incorporating twists into your regular yoga routine helps lower stress levels, supporting a healthier gut and overall well-being.

Improving Gut-Brain Connection

The gut and brain are in constant communication through the gut-brain axis, a vital link that influences both our mental and physical health. Twists in yoga can significantly enhance this connection by:

  • Increasing Vagal Tone: The vagus nerve is a key player in the gut-brain axis. Twisting poses stimulate the vagus nerve, improving its tone and thereby enhancing the communication between your gut and brain.
  • Enhancing Mental Clarity: Better digestion and reduced stress contribute to clearer thinking and overall well-being, making twists a powerful tool for mental clarity.

Contraindications

While twisting poses in yoga offer numerous benefits, there are certain conditions and situations where twists might not be advisable. It’s important to be aware of these contraindications to practise safely and avoid exacerbating any existing health issues.

Digestive Disorders and Twists

  • Acid Reflux or GERD: Twists can increase intra-abdominal pressure, which may worsen symptoms of acid reflux or GERD. People with these conditions should approach twists with caution or avoid them altogether.
  • Peptic Ulcers: Twists can put pressure on the stomach and exacerbate the discomfort associated with peptic ulcers.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): While some people with IBS may find relief from twists, others may experience increased discomfort. It’s important to listen to your body and avoid poses that cause pain or discomfort.
  • Severe Constipation or Bowel Obstruction: In cases of severe constipation or bowel obstruction, twisting poses may cause additional discomfort or complications. It’s best to avoid twists until these conditions are resolved.
  • For Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Hiatal Hernia, or the presence of blood in stools, it is advisable to perform the twist with great care or altogether avoid it.

Other Medical Conditions

  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women should avoid deep twists, especially those that compress the abdomen. Gentle, open twists can be modified to accommodate a growing belly, but it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider.
  • Spinal Disc Issues: Individuals with herniated discs or severe spinal problems should avoid deep twists that can exacerbate their condition. Gentle modifications or avoiding twists altogether may be necessary.
  • Recent Abdominal Surgery: If you’ve had recent surgery in the abdominal area, avoid twists until fully healed to prevent strain on the surgical site.
  • Inflammatory Conditions: Conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which involve inflammation of the digestive tract, may be aggravated by the pressure of twisting poses.
  • Osteoporosis: People with osteoporosis should be cautious with deep twists as they may put undue stress on the spine and bones, increasing the risk of fractures.

How to Incorporate Twists Safely

To reap the full benefits of twists for your digestive health, it's essential to practice them safely and mindfully:

  • Warm Up First: Begin with a gentle warm-up to prepare your body for deeper twists, ensuring your muscles are ready and responsive.
  • Focus on Alignment: Proper alignment is crucial to avoid strain. Lengthen your spine before initiating the twist, allowing the movement to come from the upper back.
  • Breathe Deeply: Use your breath to deepen each twist on the exhale, helping to engage your muscles and support your body.
  • Listen to Your Body: Never force a twist. Respect your limits and only go as far as your body comfortably allows.
  • Balance Your Practice: Incorporate both twists and counterposes to maintain balance and harmony in your practice, ensuring a holistic approach to your health.

Conclusion

Twisting poses offer many benefits for digestive health, but it’s crucial to approach them mindfully, especially if you have any underlying health conditions. Always consult with a healthcare provider or a qualified yoga instructor if you’re unsure about the safety of specific poses. By being mindful and informed, you can safely incorporate twists into your practice and enjoy their many benefits.

 

Want more FREE gut health tips!
Join our newsletter

Receive FREE gut health tips curated by our Head of Dietetics & Medical Affairs.

By submitting, you agree to receive gut health tips via email. Unsubscribe anytime.