In our classes, we are constantly throwing out words like ‘bandhas’, ‘lower abs’, ‘pelvic floor’. We know we repeat it a lot but there is a very good reason. The deeper abdominal muscles should be responsible for supporting your body, but many people do not engage them while doing yoga or other exercise.
If you learn to engage those muscles, you will be more effective in yoga, running, or anything requiring stability. Your lower back will thank us for it!
Things to consider:
- Your top layer of muscles helps you bend. Your deepest layer supports your spine.
- If you don’t use your deep abdominal muscles to support your spine, your back and hips have to do all the work. The result: back and hip muscles will be prone to strain and injury.
- Your deepest muscles are the hardest to exercise. You must pull in your lower belly and lift your pelvic floor when doing core exercises.
Transverse abdominis “TvA”
Personal trainers, physios and some yoga teachers will use the term ‘transverse abdominis’. In yoga, we also call these our bandhas. Specifically, your uddiana bandha (lower abs) and mula bandha (pelvic floor). Engaging those bandhas will help pull your core muscles in and upward, which helps with yoga in 2 ways:
- It gives you space to bend forward
- It allows you to balance as it is your bodies key stabiliser
How to do that small movement
Essentially, you are trying to hollow out your belly – pull your belly button towards your spine. Then squeeze your muscles at base of pelvis upward. You could practice at any point in the day without anyone noticing. The pelvic floor is a hard one to explain in classes. To be blunt, you use the muscles that control your bladder – squeeze in and back tightly.
Poses to engage your TvA
When doing plank or chaturanga (the lowering down bit of press up), you will want to draw in your bandhas (lower abs, pelvic floor). This will draw your muscles in centrally, making the pose more about the core and less about the arms and shoulders. It will actually make the pose easier.
Side plank is another great pose. Again, to support your body, you must draw in those bandhas. In side plank, you are also working your obliques, your side abs.
Scale pose (Lolasana) is a great example of what happens when you draw in your lower abs and pelvic floor, it lifts you up! Start by drawing in your bandhas and push up on hands. It does require some upper body strength but you couldn’t do it without tightening those deep abdominal muscles.
To be honest, it’s hard for everyone to remember to “draw in their bandhas”. Even I forget when doing yoga or running. It’s helps when yoga teachers remind you in class, which is what I try to do in our classes.
If you do practice engaging your TvA’s, it will dramatically improve many things:
- If you want to learn how to effortlessly jump forward or back “float” into yoga poses
- If you want to learn to run more efficiently without pounding more weight into your legs, ankles, and feet. Any running technique clinic will tell you this.
- If you are having lower back problems and are trying to find solutions to build up those muscles, your physio will most likely give you exercises to work your deeper muscles.
Strong deep abs = happy lower back 🙂