Our cultural obsession with flat bellies has generated very many misguided exercise programmes for women – even in the yoga world. Many exercise systems in use today, including most styles of yoga, were designed by men for male bodies. Here a few things to consider before you start any strong abdominal exercise programme:
What if your core muscles aren’t weak but just tired? Postural misalignment, chronic emotional holding or excessive “crunching” could be tiring out your core muscles. Take your mind down into your belly and see if you can “let go” of any tightness there. Maintaining a relaxed belly and lifting the chest will elongate and tone your abdominal muscles.
What’s the point of looking great in a bikini if every time you laugh you wee? The curvy lower belly so many women try so hard to eliminate is the normal home of our bladder and uterus. By chronically pulling the belly in, the bladder and uterus have nowhere to go but backward and down into the vaginal space – this called “pelvic organ prolapse” and it is a lot more common than we may realise (if you are concerned this may apply to you please check out the resources at www.wholewoman.com).
Do you really want a six-pack? Short, bunchy abdominal muscles might look strong but actually, when a muscle is continually contracted, it loses its strength (and this weak, contracted muscle may negatively impact your pelvic alignment and spinal curvature).
Scrap the sit-ups Steer well clear of sit-ups that shorten your abdominal muscles, might worsen diastasis recti (the abdominal split many women experience postnatally) and could also strain your neck.
What if your children were your best teachers? Watching your kids learn to lift their head, roll over, sit up, crawl, stand and walk contains many clues to developing healthy core muscles. Stick with abdominal exercises that keep the muscles elongated. Even just lying down and breathing deeply and fully into a relaxed belly, we allow the abdominal muscles to elongate and contract, developing real core strength and, more importantly, stability. Start with that, lying comfortably on your back with your knees bent up and feet flat on the floor – and just breathe! Continue with some single leg lifts – can you lift one leg at a time without your pelvis lurching from side to side? Now how about rolling over onto all fours and trying a kneeling plank pose or a “tiger stretch” – now start crawling round the room. Can you keep your hips level as you move your legs? Perhaps you are ready to try a full plank pose, and a downward dog – let your kids join you and have fun.
Postnatal & Family Yoga Classes – in Shilbottle, Northumberland with Lucy Maresh
Yoga Abs – a great little book from the wonderful Judith Hanson Lasater.
Womb Yoga – a truly feminine approach to yoga with Uma Dinsmore Tuli and a directory of teachers specialising in yoga for women.