Fellow yoga teachers, please stop saying that doing twists (whether seated, standing, or lying down) helps to “wring out the organs”. Some even go as far as to say they should be done as part of cleanses and can rid the organs of toxins, and that when you release from the twist, your organs are “filling with fresh blood”. While these may be helpful metaphors, they are for the most part not true and can convey a message that yoga teachers have little to no appreciation for the sciences of anatomy and physiology.
1) Generally (if you are contracting your internal and external obliques as you are supposed to) when you rotate your trunk, otherwise known as a “twist”, you are creating intra-abdominal pressure. What the heck does that mean? Your abdominal organs (with the exception of your kidneys and, arguably, part of your spleen) are encased in a sac called your peritoneum and tethered loosely in place by ligaments. Some of these organs are vacuous (like the stomach and intestines) and some are not (like the liver). When you compress the outside of the peritoneum, the organs will glide around and compress a little. This external movement helps to facilitate an internal movement, which can be helpful in many ways. Since organs, like so many parts of the body, benefit and function best when moved, twisting can be super helpful for helping out digestion. Remember when we wrote this post a while back about breathing and digestion (of course you do!), well the same principles apply here. It’s safe to say that the body does not function optimally in a stagnant state. So twist and do so knowing that you are helping create movement in your internal organs, but in NO WAY are they “wrung out.” That is not possible and if that happens to you or inside of you please go to a hospital, because you are going to die. Also, do the organs fill with fresh blood after a trunk rotation? No, they are CONSTANTLY filled with “fresh” (I’m assuming this means oxygenated) blood, because we have these vessels called ARTERIES whose job is to deliver this type of blood constantly from birth to death. And what exactly do they mean by removing “toxins?” This is a much debated topic in body science, but if they mean that twisting movements can assist in a metabolic process even on the cellular level, we’ll buy that. Because ALL movement helps to facilitate metabolic processes on just about all levels.
Now none of the above means that you can’t enjoy metaphor and imagery like, “imagine twisting and creating a spiral staircase of your organs.” That’s ok if that’s how it FEELS to you. It’s ok if you FEEL like your organs are in a Coney Island Carnival Carousel accompanied by the NYC mermaids. This is the beauty of a practice like yoga where one can explore and connect to the uncharted territory of the internal landscape. You can FEEL many things that not everybody else does and that experience is valid (Kim hates the “staircase of organs.” Mel does not mind it. And yet, we coexist.). But understanding the anatomical reality is a good place to start from when contextualizing, making sense of and sharing that experience with others.
2) Your organs don’t twist around your spine. For context, imagine lying on the floor with your knees twisting to one side and your head twisting to the other. Going back to the “feelings” issue: You might feel or be directed to allow “the internal organs to twist around your spine,” BUT they don’t. The peritoneum is ALWAYS in FRONT of the spine… with no exception. In a different relationship to gravity, such as a seated twist, you may FEEL as if the organs are moving around the spine, especially if you turn your head to the opposite direction than your knees. Doing so can enhance sensations, because you are playing with proprioception, nervous system functions, and if the muscles on the front of the body are tight then you are feeling them stretch. Don’t confuse feeling muscles stretch, connective tissue move and tracking the subtle spinal sensations for organ movement.
3) As stated above, yes, movement is GOOD for the body. Therefore, twisting can be really good for improving digestion and relieving acute constipation, gas and other general indigestion. But it should be noted that not everyone’s guts or enteric nervous system enjoys being so stimulated. Again, you will find exceptions to every rule. So as long as twisting doesn’t aggravate an already agitated system than feel free to enjoy. Go forth and twist as much as you want, safely of course (respecting the limitations of your body)! Because now that you know what’s really going on in the body you have better chances of performing twists with awareness, which opens the door to theREALpossibilities and benefits.