This week’s Pose of the Week is the Wall Warrior Twist. It’s a pose to help you work smarter not harder in your yoga posture practice.
Work Smarter, Not Harder in Yoga with the Therapeutic Wall Warrior Twist
What does this posture offer? I’m so glad you asked!
The Wall Warrior Twist is a posture that I frequently use in patient care and higher level performance training with athletes of all genders, ages, shapes, and size.
The Wall Warrior Twist is like a 7-in-1 mindful movement.
Here are 7 benefits to get you started:
1. Improve Thoracic (mid-back) Mobility
One of the first things we notice about aging is stiffness in the spine. It just doesn’t feel as mobile and flexible as in our younger years. But you know what? That usually has LESS to do with age and more about our lack of movement.
Have you ever watched kids play? Do you see how silly and free they are? They get in all types of shapes and positions – they experiment with their bodies. And they move A LOT.
Then we grow up and get more still. We are told to sit still so we can learn. Sit still to do our job. Sit still to even meditate (which BTW isn’t true, you can make meditation moving).
Moving allows us to learn, work, and meditate. So lets recalibrate our expectations of ourselves, and of children. Children need to play and move to learn. So do we.
But children become self-conscious teens, and by the time we are adults, we’ve totally forgotten how to play. This little pose is playful and fun – and can teach us to dive back into the wonders of our body. You may pleasantly find your stiffness decreasing as you become more playful in your movement explorations!
So I encourage you to dance your way through the Wall Warrior Twist! Improving mobility in this area can reduce your risk of headaches, neck and jaw pain, shoulder injury, and improve your ability to check your blind spot!
2. Improve Mind-Body Awareness
The Wall Warrior Twist requires balance. And balance requires focus. If you were step out onto a ledge where there was a cliff plunged hundreds of feet to a spiky rock face, you’d really pay attention to your balance. This posture can help develop confidence PLUS balance, by forcing your mind to get still while your body moves. It’s a beautiful juxtaposition – the phrase “mindful movement.”
The word mindful often brings to mind the image of someone sitting still in meditation. While the word movement can make you think of an athlete performing or running. But when we create a partnership between mindfulness AND movement, we gain so much more than fitness. We gain resilience. We gain the ability to manage stress better. We are stronger and more fit – physically AND mentally.
Several studies prove it too. That if you take movement and make it mindful – it becomes a more powerful medicine for the mind and body. And who doesn’t want that?! Here’s one more study on mindful vs. non-mindful exercise for schizophrenia. Ok, and another on how mindfulness-based stress reduction added to aerobic training may prevent seasonal decline in physical activity. There are others, but the point is – mindful movement is highly likely to be consistently superior to non-mindful exercise.
3. Strengthen the Deep Gluteal Sling
The hip is a critical connecting point between the upper and lower body. There’s not a single sport or exercise that cannot benefit from improved hip strength or stability. The Wall Warrior Twist majors in improving the performance, endurance, and strength of the deep gluteal sling, or what some call the hip rotator cuff or hip rotators (although this set of muscles does FAR more than just rotate the hip).
If this posture is too hard, try this first.
4. Improve Pelvic Floor Function
The Wall Warrior Twist can tackle a tough to treat area, the pelvic diaphragm/floor. The pelvic floor is where I actually spend a LOT of my time as a pelvic and orthopaedic physical therapist, athletic trainer, and professional yoga therapist.
But the pelvic floor doesn’t act alone, and that’s what makes this posture so handy for improving pelvic floor function. The pelvic floor is part of a larger cylinder or abdominal canister or “house” (see images below) that stretches across three diaphragms:
- Vocal/Laryngeal (also called cervicothoracic or thoracic) Diaphragm
- Respiratory Diaphragm
- Pelvic Diaphragm
The pelvic floor creates the floor or foundation of our core strength, while the voice is like the roof and the main breathing muscle, the respiratory diaphragm, is like the ceiling. The walls of the canister are made up of the hip lock/gluteal sling, the abdominals, and the back muscles.
All of these work in synergy to create your strongest core. The pelvic floor is pressurized through rhythmic umbrella breathing, which helps improve pelvic floor strength and mobility. Not sure how to breathe for this pose? Start here.
5. Strengthen the Core
The last point above really helped explain and define the core, so revisit that section for a definition and check out he images below for a visual. The Wall Warrior I works on improving core timing – the ability to recruit and integrate the three diaphragms PLUS the Yogic Locks (in a nutshell this means optimal shoulder, hip, and core stability). Not sure how to strengthen your shoulders, hips, and core? This video on Yogic Locks will definitely get your started!
6. Improve Lung Power/Breathing
Breathing is the cornerstone of creating not only a strong core, but powerful lungs. And in this pandemic age of COVID, we all need to be excellent breathers! The breath type used in Wall Warrior Twist is the Umbrella Breath that I mentioned above. I also call it TATD breath because it is a breath type that strengthens the respiratory diaphragm and improves transversus abdominis and pelvic floor recruitment and relaxation, which is something we can all benefit from practicing. Mastering this breath type can aid in improving not only lung power and breathing, but in vocal preservation and pelvic floor unloading. So if you depend on your voice and/or want to improve your breathing and sexual function, this breath can help clue you in to the nuances of diaphragm control. Practice it here
7. Improve Core Timing
We’ve already spent a bit of time discussing integration of the core and pelvic floor timing as a central theme of working smarter not harder, but why is core timing important? Well, if have you ever laughed or coughed so hard that you leaked a bit of urine, or worse, stool, then you know just how important core timing is!
If your core and pelvic floor aren’t working together, bladder or bowel leakage is one way you’ll know you ned to work on core timing. Other ways you can tell if your core timing needs work:
- Painful sex
- Difficulty in holding back gas
- Back pain
- Pelvic pain
- Straining or pushing to go to the bathroom
- Can’t sneeze, laugh, cough, lift heavy objects, or jump, skip, or run without pelvic pain or leakage
This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but you get the point. Core timing is important for basic functioning in life. The Wall Warrior Twist helps with core timing by:
- Working on abdominal control of spinal neutral – a first step to master before moving into larger ranges of spinal motion i.e. control the amount of movement you have before introducing more movement
- Fostering healthy movement patterns i.e. not driving the movement with the obliques and hip flexors
- Maintenance of spinal neutral in order to isolate and improve mid-back mobility i.e. where most of your spinal rotation should come from during everyday activities
- Integrating the hip lock and core so they can be used together to improve overall balance and stability
BONUS! Improve Balance and Overall Fitness
I like my workouts to save time and be efficient. PLUS, the science shows multi-modal workouts like this movement snack improve fitness exponentially over single mode workouts (i.e. taking a run).
Multi-modal activity is defined as physical activity that combines aerobic, balance, strength, and flexibility. And you get bonus points if it also includes mindfulness!
Remember: You don’t need to get all your exercise at one time for it to work! I was actually in better shape AFTER I had 3 kiddos, and I credit multi-modal moves like this one.
Okay, it’s time to practice!
The Secret (Time Saving) Sauce of Wall Warrior Twist
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Garner is a passionate, unapologetic advocate of improving access to pelvic physical therapy, a mother to 3 sons, & a 25+ year veteran in Yoga & Lifestyle Medicine and orthopaedic and pelvic physical therapy & athletic training. She is the author of Medical Therapeutic Yoga, founder & CEO of Living Well Institute, owner of EudeMOMia®, and most recently uprooted to Greensboro, NC in 2019 with her family after 21 years of beach living, where they and their rescue pup Scout are wildly joyous about their new hometown.