Bird Dog with a Twist

I’ve been scared to practice a lot of movements in my postpartum body. I developed a small hernia and had diastasis recti after both my pregnancies and I was careful to avoid positions that increased intra-abdominal pressure, like crunches, v-ups (like boat pose), planks, and twists, for fear that they would overload my core.

I’ve come a long way in my body and in my understanding.

I’ve learned that it takes connective tissue a long time to heal.

I’ve also learned that no movement is inherently “bad”—it may just place too much load on certain parts of the body at a certain point in time. A movement or pose that may be unsuitable one day may be more appropriate after the body is more prepared to handle the loads. A movement or pose that may over-stress one body may be ok for another body.

Earlier this year, I felt strong enough for planks. I was able to see and feel my core turn on automatically as I entered the pose. That was huge for me!

I’m cautiously testing the waters of v-ups and crunches. I have to REALLY pay attention to my core to succeed in these poses.

I’m getting back to twists—but not super deep, use-my-arms-to-crank-it-up-twists. Mindful, slow, and engaged twists. Because I’m not twisting to try to work myself into a bind like in yoga; I just want my body to be mobile and strong in lots of planes of movement.

So when I was at Katy Bowman’s Move Your DNA workshop at Kripalu in June, I was really nervous when she introduced some twisting movements in quadruped (aka table top, aka all fours). But you know what? Those twisting movements rocked my world. I shared some of them with you in my last video, Core Strength in Low Bridge, and now I’m going to share some more!

There’s a myriad of ways we can lift our arms and legs off the ground in the quadruped position. However, Katy had us use our trunk muscles to lift our extremities. (Keep in mind, there’s no “right way” to lift your hand off the ground; there’s just different ways that serve different purposes.) She was exploring ways for us to build up our core strength for carrying. Think about it: when you carry a heavy bag of groceries in one arm, the tendency may be for your trunk to rotate toward the load. It’s possible, though, to use the same muscles that would move you into a twist to resist the action of twisting. Whew, say that ten times fast.

Not only does this movement have functional applications in your real moving life, it also fits nicely with a common move taught in yoga and other mat-based classes. I’ve heard it called “bird dog” before so that’s the name I’m going with.

In the video, you’ll see that I try a few different ways of lifting my right hand away from the ground. But by lifting the back right side of my rib cage up towards the ceiling, I’m also able to lift my hand. That’s the target action here. Once you find that, you can take it through a fuller range of motion by releasing the right shoulder toward the ground and then again, rotating through the trunk, to square the shoulders.

You can do the same thing with the legs. You’ll see I lift the right side of my pelvis toward the ceiling in order to get my knee off the ground. Then, to take it through the full range of motion, I extend my leg back (you can do this with your toes on the ground or lifted) and release my right hip point down toward the ground. I like to move with the breath so on my inhale I release down and on my exhale I level out my hips. I pay attention to the leg that is still on the ground, making sure my left hip stays stacked over my knee.

Finally, I put the movements together. I lift the back right side of my rib cage to lift my right hand and then I lift the left side of my pelvis toward the ceiling to lift my leg knee. Badabing badaboom…bird dog pose with super core engagement. This way, there’s no extra instruction about “pull your navel toward your spine” or “avoid dumping through your lower back”—everything’s already engaged from the start because the core was the prime mover.

Here’s some other alignment points to play around with while you try this out:

Hands—Should be shoulder width apart, fingers spread; try stretching your thumb to a 90 degree angle with your middle finger.

Arms—Rotate the upper arms so the elbow creases face forward.

Wrists—Feel free to practice on fists instead. You can also try lowering to quadruped from a kneeling position; this way your back muscles and leg muscles will turn on to help hold you in position, placing less load on the wrists.

Legs—Keep your knees under your hips (except on the lifted leg, then obviously the knee will be behind the hip).

Try your bird dog with a twist! Are there any movements or poses you feel scared to practice that you would like to practice? Reach out to me and let’s see if we can get you moving in the right direction!

Jen SchappelComment