As a yoga instructor, I see a lot of bodies every week and thus, a lot of postures. Of course, I'm looking at the alignment in the poses but, I'm also noticing how my students are carrying their bodies when they are sitting before and after class and, when they are entering and leaving the classroom. Trust me, I see the good, bad and the ugly (not the bodies, just the postures).
The class I teach is progressive in nature and therefore, I'm able to spend an entire class each semester focusing on alignment and an entire class focusing on the "core".
The biggest issue I'm met with those first few days, if not weeks, is similar to what I see with my prenatal and postpartum clients- a rounded spine and tucked under booty.
When we're addressing and trying to heal or correct or avoid the issues that can be exacerbated or brought on by pregnancy (diastasis recti, incontinence, lower back pain, strength losses) we begin by correcting and focusing on alignment. We do so because, when we practice proper alignment, our muscles are better able to create and distribute force which enables us to build a better foundation for strength.
The Interplay Between Alignment, Breath, and Core
Although the core consists of several muscles (depending on who you talk to), for our purposes we'll focus on three of the four deep core muscles- the pelvic floor (PF-muscles that support the contents of the pelvis), transverse abdominis (TA- deepest abdominal muscle), and diaphragm (a primary muscle of respiration). While the diaphragm lives in the ribs and the PF lives in the pelvis, the TA maintains the relationship between the two structures by connecting to both the ribs and the pelvis.
These muscles work together as a machine- constantly interacting and responding to each other. As we inhale, the diaphragm descends, the belly expands and the pelvic floor moves down to accept contents of the belly (increasing intra-abdominal pressure). As we exhale, the pelvic floor and TA return back to help stabilize the spine and pelvis.
When one piece of the machine ceases to work optimally, the machine as a whole ceases to work optimally.
It is therefore easy to see the tremendous interplay our alignment and breath have with one another; when we are able to breathe well, or, the diaphragm is sitting neutrally in the ribs, it is better able to respond to the pelvic floor. And, when the pelvic floor is in neutral alignment (bum untucked) it, and the TA are in a more ready state to respond to the diaphragm as we breathe.
Lastly, postural stability is controlled by our ability to maintain intra-abdominal pressure, which is controlled by the dynamic relationship between the muscles of the core (the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and transverse abdominus). When our machine is not functioning properly, we aren't able to handle intra-abdominal pressure and it is shifted elsewhere- often down, causing leakage or out, causing abdominal pooch.
The Importance of Breath- Finding Neutral
I use the next breathing cue in all of my yoga classes- it is from Julie Wiebe, a Physical Therapist specializing in Women's Health, who provides awesome information and education to trainers such as myself:
Imagine the ribcage as being a bell ringing off the shoulders- when the bell is rung forward, the ribs are pressed forward and flaring up, the breath feels tied into the chest. If the bell is rung down, the ribs are pressed backward and the back is rounded- the breath feeling tied into the belly. Both situations cause a "noisy" bell where the diaphragm is not functioning optimally.
When the bell is neutral the ribs are stacked over the pelvis and we are able to optimize the action of the diaphragm.
Below is an example of me "ringing my bell" up and down. You should be able to see just how it is affecting my posture. Although these are exaggerated, don't the pictures on the left and right just look painful?
What does this Have to do With the Bum?
When we move into a more neutral position, not only do we put the pelvic floor and diaphragm in optimal functional alignment but we also effectively untuck the bum allowing for optimal gluteal function. By allowing more opportunity to use the full range of motion in the hips we have the availability to create more strength in the glutes.
Or, more simply, untucking the bum allows us to work the booty better.
I challenge you to check in often. Find a mirror and see what it feels like to be in neutral and breathe in neutral. And then- practice, practice, practice until you no longer need the mirror. After a while you will be able to feel neutral and be able to correct yourself when you are moving through your day with a "noisy bell".
Remember: untuck those bums and stack those ribs over your pelvis and check yo'self before you wreck yo'self. Or, just check yourself regularly!
Be well, Lauren