Bird dog is one of my all time fav central stability exercises. It’s one of Stuart McGill’s Big 3 and done correctly with awareness, gets into our core, deep neck flexors and extensors, scapular stabilizers, and hip extensions and external rotators. Check out my Youtube video to see an example!
You may notice I am adjusting myself a bit while coming into this. If you have been to one of my workshops, you will hear me say that we should honor our natural curves. I am referring to the spine. Our neck and lower back are lordotic (concave arch) and our mid back has a natural kyphosis (convex arch). We don’t want to flatten the back, we want to stabilize in our natural spinal curves. Sometimes I will put a ball in the little dip in my lower back and work on keeping it there as I do the exercise.
I often get people to lift through the belly using their deep stabilizers (lots of transverse abdominis) and slightly squeeze the glutes to begin to stabilize with their hip external rotators on the supporting leg. Notice, I slide the leg out first. This is to maintain control and then I am working on using my hip extensors to lift the leg (not my lower back).
My gaze is to the floor just in front of me and my chin is in neutral so that I am stabilizing there to. Pushing into the floor from my shoulder blades, I can begin to use scapular stabilizers, then my opposite arm extends forward as I attempt not to tighten my upper traps (pulling my shoulder up towards my ear). The neck should be relaxed.
Any component of this exercise can be done by itself. Simply finding neutral spine is great, especially if you have had lower back pain for a while. The arm or the leg can also be done on their own.
Please note, nothing should hurt when doing this exercise and I am providing this info for educational purposes only. If you have health concerns, please contact your doctor/therapist before taking on a new exercise routine.
What comes to mind when you hear “core strength”? Crunches, planks, double leg lowering? 6 packs and 8 packs? Anything that works the abs? Well, if you have ever hurt your back, you may have noticed that a lot of the “traditional” ab exercises might actually make you worse. Lets extend beyond traditional thinking and what we can physically see with the naked eye. For a healthy back a person must have strong abdominal muscles AND a strong back.
We often think of and train what we can see, however there are deep layers of muscles in our trunk that are vital to the overall health of our backs. Different muscles do different things. Some act as position sensors (proprioceptive) and help with our balance as well as controlling the small movements along spine. Others stabilize the spine, working to prevent excessive movements, and then we have a our strong, sexy mover muscles (these are our 6 pack abs).
I’ve been teaching yoga for what I feel is a long time….. I did my first 200hr YTT in 2003. I fell in love with Ashtanga and like any relationship, we’ve had our ups and downs and a few little breakups, but I’ve always come back to it. In more recent years, the way I’ve learnt this system of yoga has not been militant or egocentric but more therapeutic (yes I said Ashtanga can be therapeutic).
As a yoga teacher, I have always taught for different studios under an old school studio model. By that I mean I followed the mandate of the studio and was compensated for teaching in accordance to how the studio set their pay scale. Feels weird to talk about “pay” and yoga doesn’t it? Now I am in a position where I am more independence and have the freedom to charge according to my values and beliefs. This is harder then it sounds! I have had some very interesting conversations on this very matter with other teachers and business coaches.
Standing on one foot can be challenging.Heck, sometimes standing on two feet is difficult!Maintaining balance depends on information received through the eyes (visual system), the muscles/joints (proprioceptive) and balance organs (vestibular system).Yoga has been known to help with balance as it focuses the mind on the task at hand.Ever notice if your mind wonders, you may get a little tipsy? Continue reading “YOGA & STRENGTH TIP: BALANCE”
Do you find you have tension in your shoulders? Or maybe your working on backbends and your feel stuck in your upper back or tight in your chest and shoulders? Sitting all day at a desk, computer, or in their car, our shoulders and upper back may round and the head creeps forward. Generally speaking, your ear should line up with the tip of the shoulder your shoulder (acromion). According to Kapandji (2008), for every inch your head comes forward, it increases the weight of your head by about 10lbs! This puts increasing amounts of stress on the vertebra in the lower neck. It also results in tightening of over worked muscles in the upper back and at the base of the skull. These muscles work overtime to keep the head up while the stabilizing muscles in the front the neck (deep neck flexors) become lengthened and weak. This posture often leads to more rounding through the shoulders and upper back as the chest muscles shorten and tighten, and the muscles that pull your shoulder blades back lengthen and weaken.
Yoga should help though, right? Well, that depends…. Let’s use a classic example, sticking the chin out (cervical protrusion) then tossing the head back in urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog). In this position, the base of the skull is basically hanging back there without any stabilization, jamming (very technical term) vertebrae in the neck. If you’ve practiced this way you may also notice that you are still rounding through the shoulders and find it hard to extend the upper back and open up the chest.
Next time you come into urdhva mukha svanasana, try lifting the sternum and slightly retracting (drawing back) and depressing (drawing down) the shoulders. If you actively press into the hands, this will help lift the chest. Keep the chin in a little and parallel with the floor. If you want to, you can then look up, extending the neck. Be careful not to lead the movement with your chin protruded (stuck out). In the Yoga Mala (1999), it is even written “…push the chest forward with the strength of the hands, lift the head up….” when describing urdhva mukha svanasana. Try it and feel the difference of tossing the head back immediately versus lifting with the sternum/chest. What feels better???…