Monday, January 2, 2012

Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part II - Strengthening Uddiyana Bandha

If you have read the previous post, Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part I - Finding Mula Bandha, and practiced the exercises, you should have an understanding of how the pelvic floor (the muscles between the tailbone and pubic bone and from sit bone to sit bone) and the transverse abdominus (the innermost of the flat muscles of the abdomen) engage and support you. In this post, we will continue our inner core work with a basic technique for strengthening the transverse abdominus.

Exercise 2: Strengthening the Transverse Abdominus

Setting up:
Start by laying on your back on the floor with your knees bent (See previous post for a picture). Find a neutral pelvis - hip points and top of pubic bone are on the same plane. Do a couple of pelvic tilts and tucks to find neutral. When your pelvis is in a neutral alignment you should have a slight curve in your lumbar spine, just as you would when standing.

Find a regular, steady breath and practice a few rounds of inner core engagement in conjunction with the breath (Exercise 1).

Working in the pose:
After establishing your breath and your inner core engagement, begin to add load by slowly lifting one heel off the ground, re-settling it, and then lifting the other. This is called heel lifts. Sounds easy, I know. But what is not always easy is maintaining your breath, your inner core engagement, soft jaw, soft shoulders, and a perfectly neutral pelvis while doing this.

Keep your hip points equidistant from your lower ribs, keep your lumbar slightly curved - not over tilted and not smooshed to the floor. Let your palms rest on your hip points and your finger tips point down toward your pubic bone. This will help you feel any movement in the pelvis as you try these heel lifts.

If you are perfectly steady doing heel lifts, you can add on by lifting your whole foot off the floor. First peel up the heel then let the toes lift off. Settle your first foot completely before you try your second foot. Now you are doing toe taps. Look for the same "tells" that you are overdoing it: you have forgotten your breath, you have let your pelvis stray from neutral, you have clenched your jaw or rounded your shoulders. If any of these things are happening, go back to heel lifts.

What I notice in my body when I do this exercise is that I am very stable on the left side but very wobbly on the right side. This is fairly common for folks who have SI joint dysfunction, back pain, or who have had an injury or surgery. If this is true for you, work to the level of the "weaker" side and don't over do it. This is slow, mindful work. It takes time and careful effort to build stability. And for some of us it will likely be a life-long pursuit.

Let yourself completely relax after your heel lifts and/or toe taps. Soften Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. Take any finishing movements that you like: a long stretch, a bundle roll hug, gentle twist, etc.

Homework: 1) Pelvic floor lifts: 10 each, 5 times a day from any position: sitting, standing or laying down. 2) Heel lifts or toe taps: 5-10 on each side making sure to keep the pelvis stable and neutral and maintain an easy breath.

Previously: Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part I - Finding Mula Bandha. Visit this post to read the benefits of pelvic floor and pelvic girdle work and to learn or review Exercise 1.

Up next: More exercises to improve your core.