*I wrote and posted the following blog post in November 2012 and edited in December 2014. You are reading the edited version.*
For many women the belly is a problem zone laden with negative emotions. Maybe you feel totally disconnected from this area of your body. Maybe the look of your belly in the mirror even triggers a sense of loss and hopelessness.
You might do what most women do. You hold constant tension in your abdomen by sucking it all in. You might suck it in to hide it. You might suck it in because you think this is what „engaging the core“ is all about. You might suck it in and not even know you do it.
Sucking in your belly is disrupting the normal pressure in your abdomen, pelvis and chest, it has nothing to do with engaging your core and it makes for unfunctional abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.
The fix is simple. Notice that you do it and stop doing it. Release your belly. Let it be as big as it wants to be without pushing it out. You might be surprised how much your belly can relax once you allow it to.
Now the muscle isn’t stuck anymore and it can actually start working. A muscle that works well can contract, lengthen and relax to tackle any task at hand. A good position to practice the belly release is on hands and knees because gravity helps you get your belly closer towards the floor. You might need to have a bit of patience but I’m 99% sure that your belly will grow a bit bigger. And that is a good thing.
Getting ready to contract the deep abdominal muscle (transversus abdominis aka TvA) correctly
How you position your pelvis and rib cage also matters to the proper functioning of your TvA – after all, the muscle attaches to large portions of both.
Your ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spine – the front and top of the pelvis) and your pubic bone should be in a vertical line when standing or sitting. It will give you a curvature in your lower back. The ASIS is often referred to as the „hip bone“. To locate your ASIS, put your hands on your pelvis and find the point that protrudes in front.
When you are sitting it should look like this:
Now that you are sitting in neutral pelvis, relax your belly and check in with your rib cage. Do you feel a strain in your upper back? Does it feel like you are overarching your back? You are most likely thrusting your rib cage forward. Try to relax your rib cage back and lower it down so the lowest rib starts to align with your ASIS. Relax your belly again. And breathe.
Some cues for you:
Take air in through your nose and let the air fill your rib cage. Exhale through your mouth.
If you notice your shoulders coming up to your ears when breathing and / or your diaphragm feels constricted, focus on sending the breath into the lower half of your rib cage.
Take long inhales and even longer exhales.
Notice how your belly moves out (slightly) as you inhale and (slightly) moves in towards the spine as you exhale.
Once you get the hang of it and this feels natural, you can start doing some TvA contraction exercises.
Contracting the TvA
The TvA wraps around our waist like a girdle and contracts like one. Pretty cool.
So.... inhale again and now as you exhale through your mouth you draw your belly button towards the spine – with about 20% effort.
Maintain the neutral position of your pelvis as you do this.
Make sure that your rib cage is not thrusting forward.
Allow the area above AND below your belly button to move in sync.
Let your belly relax fully after each contraction (take a couple of easy breaths) and check in with your pelvis and rib cage and re-set if necessary.
What you can do throughout the day
Notice where your pelvis and rib cage are in space when you sit, stand, walk, lift, bend, carry, pull and push. Keep them in neutral as much as you can.
Catch yourself when you hold your belly in and … let go of the tension. This might happen 500 times a day. A sucked in belly, isn’t a healthy belly. Sucking in does not train the muscles. Let it go and learn to embrace your curves for the sake of the long-term function of your core.
Need more help?
A pelvic floor physiotherapist can help if you have a sense that there are tension patterns in your diaphragm, belly and / or pelvic floor that you can’t so easily release yourself.
Does the thought of letting your belly relax, terrify you? Do you carry tension in your body that you think may be connected to your emotions and thought patterns? Maybe seeing a psychotherapist, healer or Maya Abdominal Massage Therapist is of help for you.
If you would like to connect with women also struggeling with the transition to parenthood and the way their bodies changed, contact me and I connect you to relevant facebook groups.