Bad Yoga #16: If I Twist the Wrong Direction the First Time Then I’ll Hurt Myself?

Our dream came true when one of our readers wrote to us with the most fabulous question:

I’d like to see if you can answer a question for me. I’m currently working on my 500 hour yoga certification. This past weekend one of the teachers, in talking about twisting postures, insisted that twists must be done to the right then left to follow the path of the intestines. She went so far as to say that you are putting your students digestive health at serious risk to do twists left then right. This just doesn’t seem likely to me. So please, if you can answer this question; does it matter which direction twisting postures are performed? I’m working on a scientific based workshop about asanas and would love to have some data regarding twists.

Thank you for your help,
Bruce Peterson

Great question and people are now sending them to us for answers. Happy happy day!!!!! (um, please do this more.) Ok, well, here’s our answer. Feel free to let us know how you think we did. Thanks again Bruce!

colonBe aware that systems of medicine that are explicitly based on the use of energy flowing through the body (i.e., acupuncture, ayurveda, etc.) may be more supportive of what your teacher is suggesting. Some people use yoga in this kind of therapeutic way. We don’t (but do support other beneficial aspects of yoga), so we’re going to keep our explanation in the context of the physiology we do refer to in SMARTerYoga™. This is partly the difficulty of culturally appropriating spiritual/esoteric practices like yoga and trying to apply them to a different demographic.

  1. Right to left is the direction in which the colon is structured and it moves its contents along this pathway. So, that’s accurate, so far….
  2. The enteric nervous system is very sensitive and responsive to touch. So, if you were doing visceral massage I would go with what’s typically been taught and massage right to left in order to help facilitate the movement described above. But, twists are not massage and do not provide the direct pressure that a massage would.
  3. Let’s put “yoga advice” in the context of daily living. If the advice you were given is true then you should be worried of ever having to spontaneously rotate your trunk to the left. This happens countless times in a day. Imagine having dropped something on the left and you pick it up with your right hand. Does that mean you now have to develop an OCD-like ritual to compensate for twisting “against your colon?” Doesn’t seem functional for easy living.
  4. Never have we read anything in movement literature that suggests otherwise. Maybe double check by looking in Lexus-Nexus or PubMed articles? Or collect data by working with students/private clients and document them as case studies.
  5. Neuroscience! The human brain is bilaterally organized, meaning we have a right and left hemisphere that is connected by the corpus callosum. When these two halves of the brain control our limbs they do so contralaterally. Left brain is in charge of the right side of the body and right brain is in charge of left side of the body. Guaranteed, if you google, “trunk rotation and bilateral organization of the brain,” you will find a plethora of scientific and movement oriented literature that suggests crossing our midlines is necessary for optimal brain function. I highly doubt that our brains and bodies would be constructed in this way if we had to be so careful about, what is to most of us, casual and unconscious movement. If, having been born structurally normal, I shouldn’t have to care about which direction and order I rotate my trunk. It does’t make evolutionary sense and it flies in the face of the principle of homeostasis.

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