Walking with a Twist
The key to walking with a twist is understanding that when you twist your spine, most of the twist happens in the lower half of your ribcage.
Twisting Happens in the Lower Ribcage
If you sit down in a chair or on the floor and then twist to one side, the lower part of your thoracic spine and ribcage will turn relative to your pelvis. Your thoracic vertebrae (these are the vertebrae to which your ribs attach) are designed to turn relative to each other. And your ribs are levers that you can use to help them twist.
I should point out here that although it mostly happens in the lower ribcage, it also happens to an extent in the upper ribcage and to a lesser extent in the lumbar spine.
To be aware of these, try making them feel long.
The Muscles that Twist Your Spine
Your abdominals, particularly your obliques, are what you use to turn your ribcage relative to your pelvis.
The obliques angle forwards and up from your pelvis to your ribcage and they also angle forwards and down. It's because of the way that they are angled that they can be used to turn your ribs relative to your pelvis.
Another set of angled muscles is located between each set of ribs. These are called the intercostals and they can be used to turn your ribs relative to each other.
If you twist while holding your pelvis still (say for example while sitting on the floor) your lower ribs will turn relative to your pelvis thanks to the action of your obliques. Meanwhile your upper ribs will turn with respect to your lower ribs because of your intercostals.
Walking with a twist is one way to combat weak abs.
Walking with a twist will not only help you walk with confidence, fully present in your body, it'll help your heart pump blood and it'll massage your organs at the same time. It can also be used to strengthen your legs and walk with more power.
It may also help you deal with low back pain, the type that feels like your lower back is being compressed from inside of your body.
You Ribcage Is a Flexible Structure (Or Should Be!)
If you are used to thinking of your ribcage as a rigid and inflexible structure it's time to change that way of thinking. Your ribcage is actually quite mobile. And moving it helps to mobilize the thoracic spine. Also, making your ribcage more flexible, or keeping it flexible can help your breathing since the intercostals (and abs) can be used in the breathing process if you learn to breathe into your ribcage.
Massaging Your Organs and Assisting Your Heart
If you've ever twisted a wet wash cloth you know that when you twist you ring out the water. Twisting your ribcage relative to your pelvis you can do something similar, you can squeeze your internal organs. If you twist and then release and then twist again (to the opposite side) you can squeeze and then release your internal organs, giving them a massage, or more appropriately helping to pump fluids within them.
This pumping action not only happens within the organs of your abdomen, it also affects the main blood vessels that run down (and up) through the abdominal cavity. By twisting and releasing you help to squeeze blood through these organs assisting your heart in the pumping of blood.
Twisting Your Lower Ribcage
Before I get on to walking with a twist I should explain a bit more about the ribcage and it's ability to twist.
Most of the twist happens in the lower half of the ribcage. This is the part of the ribcage that has the arch in front. Your upper ribcage twists a little but the ability is hindered by the attachment of your ribs to your sternum. So what's really happening when you twist is that your upper ribcage turns relative to your pelvis. However, if you are walking and you keep your upper ribcage facing your direction of travel, your lower ribcage can twist as you walk.
It's a lot like the action used in Latin dances like the rhumba and cha cha cha but instead of dancing you are walking and in the process you make your walk look graceful. And it feels good at the same time.
Walking with a Twist
So how do you walk with a twist? Start by standing tall.
Pull your head back and up so that your neck feels long. Actually, by making your neck long your straighten your cervical spine (the part of the spine that joins your head to your ribcage.) The more you straighten this part of your spine the more you straighten the your upper thoracic spine which is directly below it.
This causes your upper chest to lift and open. (You might find this easier to notice if you repeatedly, and slowly, pull your head back and then move it forwards.)
With your upper ribs lifted your abdominal (and intercostals) have a foundation from which to act. They can then be used to help turn your lower ribcage and pelvis relative to your upper ribcage.
As you walk focus on keeping your upper chest facing your direction of travel. As your right leg moves forwards allow the right side of your pelvis to swing forwards. As your left leg swings forwards do the same with the left side of your pelvis.
Adding Power To Your Twist
This is a "passive" method of walking with a twist. To make your walk more authorative, powerful or confident, focus on using your abs to turn your pelvis relative to your ribcage. Use the turning of your pelvis to swing your legs.
If your weight is on your left leg, use your inner left thigh muscles to twist your pelvis relative to your left leg. At the same time use your abs to turn your pelvis to the left so that your right leg swings forwards.
When your right heal touches the floor, shift your weight forwards and as you do so activate your right inner thigh to turn your pelvis relative to your right leg. Use your abdominals to turn your pelvis relative to your ribcage and swing your left leg forwards.
Using Your Inner Thighs
For more power, and a more connected walk, you can use the inner thigh of your hindmost leg.
If you were standing on one leg the equivalent action would be to internally rotate your free leg so that it rotates inwards relative to your pelvis. The front of your free leg then moves inwards, towards the opposite side of the pelvis. If you do the same action while moving the pelvis instead of the leg, then the opposite side of the pelvis moves forwards and inwards causing the front of the hip joint to close.
Say you are swinging your left leg forwards while walking. As the left side of your pelvis swings forwards the front of your right hip closes laterally. Then it opens again when the right leg swings forwards.
You can add extra drive to each step by making this action more deliberate. Use the internal rotators of your back leg to help swing the opposite side of your pelvis forwards. At the same time use your abs to twist your lower ribcage so that your upper ribcage continues to face your direction of travel.
Letting Your Arms Swing
The final aspect of walking with a twist is allowing your arms to swing freely. Actually, you will probably find that walking with a twist causes your arms to swing of their own accords. Because in this method you upper ribcage acts as a foundation for the movement of your lower ribcage, it also acts as a foundation for the muscles that attach your shoulder blades to your ribcage. Because the ribcage is stable these muscles may tend to relax and so that your body as a whole stays balanced while you walk, your shoulder blades and arms will naturally swing as you walk.
Walking with a twist is easy if you already know how to twist your ribcage (and can feel it twist.) The following exercises are to help you learn to feel how you twist if you can't already do so.
Costal Breathing and Feeling Your Spinal Column
The first exercise is a very simple breathing exercise that uses the ribs and spine and thus helps you to feel both of these body parts.
Start in a seated position on the floor with your legs crossed. (Alternatively sit on a chair with your thighs and shins parallel to each other and feet abut hip width apart.)
Roll your pelvis forwards so that your pubic bone moves down. Do this slow enough that it takes a slow 8 count to complete. Then roll your pelvis back. Repeat this exercise and as you do so focus on feeling your pelvis rolling back and forwards while keeping your ribcage upright.
Keep this action and then move your awareness to your lumbar spine, the part of your spine between your pelvis and ribcage. As you roll your pelvis forwards feel your lumbar spine bending backwards. Feel it bending forwards as you roll your pelvis back.
Carry on rolling your pelvis back and forwards and then focus on feeling your thoracic spine bending forwards and backwards with your lumbar spine. As you bend your lumbar and thoracic spine backwards feel the front of your ribs lifting and opening. As you bend forwards pull your ribs in and down.
If you do these actions slowly and smoothly you will more than likely find that you naturally inhale while bending your spine backwards and exhale while bending forwards.
Continue doing this exercise while focusing on feeling the front of your ribs moving up and down. Then from there expand your awareness to the side of your ribcage and feel your ribs expanding outwards, to the sides, each time you inhale. Then see if you can also feel the back of your ribs lifting slightly each time you inhale. Next focus on feeling your thoracic spine. See if you can feel it bending backward in its entirely each time you bend back. Then feel it bending forwards.
You may find that this is easier to do the slower and smoother you make your movements.
Twisting with Hands in Prayer
Keep your spine straight or slightly bent backwards and put your hands together in front of your chest and turn your ribcage to the right. As you inhale, open your ribs and deepen the twist. As you exhale keep your twist and let your ribs sink down. See if each inhale you can deepen your twist.
To deepen your awareness of your ribs, focus first on the left side of your ribcage, focus on pulling it forwards. Then move your awareness to your right side and focus on pulling it back.
Rest when you are ready and then repeat the twist but to the left.
When twisting, pay special attention to the lower back part of your ribcage. When twisting to the right you can focus on pulling your right kidney forwards and your left kidney back until your can feel your lower back ribs twisting.
Also, you may find that your left ribcage doesn't "fill up" as much when you inhale, See if you can direct more air into your left lung when you inhale. (The left lung is smaller than the right because of the position of the heart. You may find that focusing on your left lung helps you to better utilize it.)
Twisting While Standing
Twisting while sitting on the floor the floor helps you to keep your pelvis facing the front.
When twisting while standing you have to use your legs to keep your pelvis facing the front.
Stand with your feet about hip width apart and knees slightly bent. Use your legs to keep your pelvis facing the front. With your hands in prayer, turn your ribcage to the right. Use your legs to keep your pelvis facing the front.
Next, turn both your pelvis and your ribcage to the right. Keep your upper ribcage still and now use your legs (and abs) to turn your pelvis and the lower part of your ribcage towards the front.
Repeat to the left.
Twisting with One Foot Back
Next stand with your feet parallel but your left foot back. Have your feet about hip width apart with toes facing the front but the toes of your left foot about a foot behind the heel of your right foot.
Turn your ribcage and pelvis to the left.
Keep your pelvis turned towards the left, about 45 degrees, and turn the upper part of your ribcage to the front. You'll be twisting your ribcage to the right relative to your pelvis.
Notice how your lower ribcage twists between your upper ribcage and your pelvis.
Rock your weight onto your back foot and turn your pelvis to the front. Rock your weight onto your front foot and turn your pelvis left as you do so.
When shifting your weight and turning your pelvis, keep both knees pointing forwards.
As you move your weight from your left foot to the right, use your left hip to turn your pelvis relative to your left thigh bone. Use your abs to turn your pelvis relative to your ribcage.
(You could actually think of using your abs to turn your ribcage relative to your pelvis but the sum total of all of these moves results in your upper ribcage continuing to face the front.)
Try this twisting exercise with the other leg forwards.
When actually using this technique while walking, focus on keeping your upper ribcage/chest facing the front.
Stepping forwards with your left foot, turn your pelvis to the right and land on your left heel. As you shift on to your left foot start to turn your pelvis to the front and allow this action to bring your right foot forwards. As you right foot passes your left foot, turn your pelvis to the left. As your right heel lands, shift your weight forward. As you shift your weight on to your right foot turn your pelvis to the front. Use your right leg to begin turning your pelvis to the right. Use your abs at the same time to help swing your left leg forwards.
So that it is easier to use your abs, pull your head back and up and you chin in so that your upper chest lifts and opens.
Lengthening Your Lower Back
If you find that your lower back aches or is aching while walking, you can try tilting your pelvis backwards prior to walking. Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart and knees slightly bent. First practice tilting your pelvis back (so that your tail bone moves down and your pubic bone moves up.) Practice tilting back and forwards. Then practice tilting back far enough that your lumbar spine feels straight and your lower back (to either side of your lumbar spine) feels open.
Next try to activate this action by pulling your lower belly in and up. Pull your lower belly in and up to tilt your pelvis back and straighten your lumbar spine. Adjust the amount of tilt so that your lower back feels comfortable. Stand this way for a minute or so and then slowly straighten your knees while keeping the same tilt. If you can't straighten your knees without losing the tilt, practice walking with your pelvis at this height and gradually work towards walking with your pelvis higher.
Walking with a twist, Quick links
- Yoga Poses for Abs: Understanding the abs so you can use them intelligently