Ok. Let’s talk girly parts.
Well, the parts above your girly parts.
Your pelvic floor, as us nerds in the industry would call it.
The pelvic floor is essential to the function of your core and lack of adult diaper-usage and, well, other grown-up awesomeness.
And while I could tell you all about the pelvic floor and it’s assortment of rockstar muscles, what I want to talk about today is imagery for the correct way to “pull your belly in,” aka “suck it in.”
Sadly, most have us been told from birth that the correct way to pull your tummy in is to pull the belly to the spine. We imagine the belly button going in towards our middle as tightly as we can and we think we got it all figured out. YET. What happens most often with that sort of movement is that we end up tucking our pelvis under at the same time. Why do we do this? Well, because it accomplishes what we THINK sucking it in will accomplish: A flatter tummy.
Yet, sadly, the only thing sucking it in and tucking your pelvis does is A) straightens out your gorgeous, much needed low back curve; and B) recruits a muscle called your psoas (hip flexor). And by doing both A and B, you literally cut off the connection to your pelvic floor. And because your body is a badass adapter, once you do that, your nervous system goes: Holy moly, unstable pelvis on the loose! And, WARNING DANGER, MY HOOHA MIGHT FALL OUT MY HOOHA. And it decides that because your psoas is already in working mode, it might as well use it to stabilize the pelvis as well (a process called synergistic dominance). Which leads to a vicious cycle. Which means you use your pelvic floor and core muscles less and less, leading to a major weakness in both areas. And, voila, a flat tummy is not a possibility and now you have back pain to boot.
So, here’s what I want you to do instead of sucking it. I want you to forget that your Pilates teacher told you to pull your abdominals to your spine too. I’m not saying they are wrong, I’m just saying the cue is limited - and it has to be limited because they only 0.5 seconds in a mat class to direct you. A better way to think about “sucking it in” is this (and enjoy my wild imagination):
Imagine that your spine is an elevator shaft. And your belly button is a person entering that elevator shaft. (I realize I just said shaft a lot). Inhale without any movement to start and then exhale and press your belly button to your spine by imagining that that belly button person is walking in to the elevator. Then, continuing the exhale, imagine that the elevator goes up the spine. So, you’ve braced your belly button in towards spine and then lifted it up towards the top of your head. To increase this movement, visualize a strong wire pulling that elevator up up up up up.
If you are doing this correctly, you should feel a sensation similar to a kegel happening down below the belly button, like above your hooha. I actually imagine that that wire is connected all the way down there. It’s a bonus move, folks. Like a kegel on steroids. Like, hello. Bonus.
Now, SPECIAL FANCY MOST IMPORTANT BIT OF INFORMATION: I want you to do all of the above without moving your spine or pelvis. Meaning, as your belly button enters the elevator, you maintain a happy, neutral spine with a happy natural curve. NO MOVEMENT IN THE SPINE. NO TUCKING OF THE PELVIS. I say this with lots of annoying capitalized letters because YOU WILL BE TEMPTED TO TUCK YOUR PELVIS UNDER. Do not do that. (said with love). Neutral curve. Lengthened, stable spine.
At first, you may not feel much happening and your belly may still bulge a bit and I want to assure you that this is normal. Your pelvic floor and associated core muscles might not be strong enough yet to create a sense of activation. But, the more you do this - just like they bark at you to do kegels all the freakin’ time- the more you will feel it. And, the more you do it, the more your core will be able to pull your abdominals into towards their original stored and locked position in a way that is both healthy and dynamic.
Ok. I will stop there. Because I have a lot more to say. But, I am rambler and ramblers must know when they have said enough. Until next Friday, I bid you belly button elevator shaft success.