Let’s talk about your belly and what it is doing when you move and when you sing.
To start, I want to revisit the concept of core stability: When we have good core stability, we have a balance of strong muscles that live in close to the midline of the body combined with freedom of movement in the joints of the hips, shoulders, vertebrae as well as the knee, ankle, elbow and wrist. Put another way, our axial skeleton (skull, spine and ribs) relates well to our appendicular skeleton (shoulder blades, arms, pelvis and leg bones).
When we have a dynamic sense of coordination and ease of movement in the core we are employing versatility, agility, stability and awareness to get there.
So, what are we doing when we don’t have those elements?
We have compensations. There are three primary ways I see bodies compensate and they all relate to breathing and core function.
Bracing, or sucking it in, is the most common one I see. This can be a vanity issue (ahem), a part of breath holding or even an extension of butt clenching or jaw clenching. It can be an unconscious habit. Like, stop right now and notice if you’re gripping in your belly. Were you? We can also brace as a result of some mis-guided cuing in movement classes. Bracing is something we need to do when we are engaging in a high load activity – like lifting a really, really heavy weight. It’s a less useful strategy when we are walking up the stairs.
The cue of ‘navel to spine’ or even the ‘imprint’ cue that is sometimes given in pilates classes can create a sort of sucking in and bracing that we don’t want. Are they terrible cues that should never be used? No. There’s some value there, especially when you have someone who is needing to either re-connect to their core or connect for the first time. We all know where the navel is and can usually find a way to draw it towards the spine. BUT, this isn’t a long term, viable way of engaging that body to build core stability.
Try moving slllooowwllllyy from down dog to plank – do you grip and brace in your core to get there? If yes, back up and see if you can identify the point where you can go just before you brace.
Bearing Down is another issue. Your core is like a tube of toothpaste. When we squeeze a tube of toothpaste we want the toothpaste to come out the opening, not push down to the bottom of the tube. When we engage muscles in the core we want there to be an in and up motion of everything from the pelvic floor north.
If you are engaging and pushing down, you’ve got load headed in the wrong direction. This can create a drag down effect on the larynx and open up a whole host of problems for the pelvic floor from prolapse to hernias.
It isn’t easy to see bearing down, so you might need to ask someone if they feel any downward motion when they are moving or singing.
I have worked with more than one singer who was suffering from prolapse and it was a lightbulb moment for them to connect that downward motion with why their prolapse felt worse after rehearsals.
NB: Here’s a helpful little hint: we don’t really want to be pushing down hard to get poop out either. So, if that’s you sitting there for 20 minutes and you’re not there because you are escaping your children for 20 minutes, you might need to rethink your poop strategy.
Bulging is the third way we can see that core stability isn’t optimal. I define bulging as an abdomen that moves outward when we are moving or singing. This is very common in folx who have a diastasis recti (this is a widening and thinning of the linea alba that connects the two halves of the rectus abdominus). But even without a diastasis, bulging can happen.
The abdomen does have some outward motion when we breathe in – as the diaphragm descends it pushes on the contents of our abdomen and they will move forward in response. Bulging is not this motion. It is an extension of this motion. It is that tube of toothpaste not moving up or down, but moving out. And it is a moving out that increases when we move or sing.
Ironically, when someone has a habit of bracing, the larger volume breath they take in to sing (primarily in a classical singer), will result in a bulge in the belly that goes beyond what you would expect to see. A refinement of ribcage mobility and core engagement will help remedy that.
Once you’ve identified that one of these patterns is going on, what’s the exit strategy to start building new patterns?
We want to connect with the very local area of the abdomen, then move in ways that we add arms and legs and then start to vary the planes of movement we are using and then start to add load progressively.
Got questions, or want to explore more? Schedule a consult and let’s get you on the road to better function!