Daily life has a way of getting us out of whack. No matter how balanced we try to be in our bodies, we’re almost always favoring one side or another. I’m going to tell you about an exercise I began to teach and practice when I noticed huge muscular imbalances during rotation in my own body and in my clients’ bodies. It is a variation of a Yoga Tune Up® exercise called Revolved Abdominal Pose. But first, I’ll tell you how I knew I needed to get to the bottom of the problem: I was having lower back pain only on the right side, and every time I would get out of the driver’s side of the car, my SI joint would click.
I began to think more about my daily habits. For example, every time I backed out of the driveway or a parking spot, I did an extreme rotation of my spine to the right. I even caught myself soaping up my left butt cheek with my right hand by rotating ALL the way around to the right to do it!
Pain was of course my first wake up call. Other wake up calls occurred during my private Pilates sessions with June Chiang. Doing the four point kneeling exercise where you lift one leg up was simple and super easy for me on one side—but when I lifted the other leg, it was an utter failure resulting in a lateral ribcage and hip deviation faults. Yikes. This instability pattern repeated in a supine bridge with a one leg lift. When I lifted one foot, everything was hunky dory, but when I lifted the other foot, the opposite ilium bone would drop.
Then I began to think about the bigger picture. Sitting on the couch, I ALWAYS slumped to the left with my elbow on a bunch of pillows to read my emails on my laptop. When I dined alone, I ALWAYS placed my iPhone on the right side of my plate to scroll through my Facebook feed. And the list goes on…
The good news is that, to feel better, I don’t have to take a pill or have surgery. I am empowered to be aware of my alignment during my daily activities. I continue taking my Pilates private sessions because we all need an extra set of eyeballs on us when we move to see what we’re blind to.
The moral of this story is that exercise can do a lot—but it can’t do everything. Exercise alone wouldn’t have changed my pain. I had to practice the exercises AND change my daily habits to stop the SI joint clicking and low back pain. I’m happy to tell you that it worked, but if I fall back into my old habits of rotating to the right all day long, and/or not practicing these preparatory exercises, the pain returns. By paying attention to both, my body is now better-equipped to deal with tasks like putting dishes in the dishwasher, donning a jacket, or dragging a roller bag through the airport.
I was inspired to deconstruct this Yoga Tune Up® pose because I knew that my obliques, spinal rotator muscles, and iliopsoas on the left side were extremely weak. I just needed a few modifications to make these muscles work harder. By changing the two things below, I could no longer cheat and use my superficial global mobilizer muscles in this exercise:
1) I limited the range of motion in de-rotation by using the blocks to bring the ground up higher.
2) I took the arms out of the equation by holding them up in the air.
Now I could no longer use my arms to assist in de-rotation and bypass the deep spinal muscles and local stabilizers I was supposed to use in this exercise. Furthermore, another wonderful thing happened that was the icing on the cupcake: when I did more repetitions on the weaker side, the compulsion toward incessant right side rotation in my daily life decreased. What used to be a “dull and sleepy” area of my body, was now illuminated! Proprioception of my left torso profoundly increased and the pain in my right SI Joint decreased.
I described how I modified the YTU Revolved Abdominal Pose to help my rotational imbalances. Are you ready to try it? Here’s how, plus a video clip:
- THE EXERCISE: Lie on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees, so your shins form a “table top.” Place 2 yoga bricks, flat side facing up, on either side of you at hip height. If this is too difficult, place the bricks with the thin side facing up to bring the ground up higher and decrease the range of motion. Place the 3rd brick between your upper inner thighs. Keep your bottom ribs on the floor (the area below the bra/bro strap)—if you’re having trouble, bring your thighs closer to your chest. Point your arms up to the ceiling, palms facing each other.
- ROTATE in Neutral: On an inhale, let your knees and thighs land on the block on your right side. This is the easy part. Then, on an exhale, engage your TA, PF, Multifidus, Rectus, and Obliques to stabilize your spine. (In other words, don’t arch or round your back—just keep its natural curve and allow the muscles that stabilize your spine to do the work.) On an inhale, maintain that connection you’ve created, and on your next exhale, DE-ROTATE and return the legs back to table top.
- Repeat on the other side, and continue the exercise for only as long as you’re able to maintain a neutral pelvis and spine—that is, as long as you can keep going without hiking up your hips or otherwise “cheating.” This exercise asks your body to do something it never does: rotate against gravity, so it should be challenging.