Of all the families of yoga poses, closed twists are some of the hardest to modify for larger bodies. But hard doesn’t mean impossible and I really wanted to find ways to incorporate these poses into my own practice and into the practice of my students. Closed twists are really good for the system – the compression on the abdominal organs can have a detoxifying affect, they can alleviate lower back pain and cramps and, most importantly, they can feel really good if they are set up properly!
One of the reasons that seated spinal twist is so frustrating for me is that even with the common modifications, this pose seems to not work with my body. Why? Well most teachers demonstrate this pose with the bent leg crossed over the extended leg. My body doesn’t particularly like leg crossing in yoga poses due to my thigh flesh abundance (I have similar issues in eagle pose or when trying to do the legs part of gomukhasana). Two things happen – my bent leg foot doesn’t reach the floor and my butt pops up. So what’s the good news? There’s absolutely no need to cross the foot over! I simply bend my knee, hug it into my chest, and pull my foot in close to my butt – as shown in the photo below. Because of my body shape, I’m going to get plenty of organ compression anyways! The straight leg should be active, with the foot flexed and the toes pointed up toward the ceiling.
Next we need to incorporate the twist part of the pose. Because this is a closed twist, you are going to turn toward your bent leg. If your right leg is bent, raise your left arm up and find length in the torso. Then, turn toward your bent leg and wrap your arm or hand around your knee. Don’t worry if only your hand reaches – that’s totally fine. No need for fancy binds here – you just want to feel a little pressure on your tummy from your leg (that’s the nifty organ compression that is so beneficial). Your right hand can come to the floor behind you – if the floor seems far away, put a block or a blanket underneath your hand to raise the floor up to you.
Once you’ve got the general shape of the pose and you are relatively comfortable, you can experiment with deepening the twist – don’t be shy about manually moving your belly flesh around if that helps you find a deeper pose! You can also look over your shoulder and I did in the photo below if your neck feels ok. Repeat on the second side so that you are even!
Twists are a really good way to transition from strong back bending practices into forward bends, especially if you have lower back crankiness. The transition from back bends to forward bends can be really rough on the spine if you don’t add a twist in before you forward bend and this is a perfect one to do as you move into the final poses of your practice. Don’t be afraid to change the way a pose looks to make it feel right in your body! Happy practicing!