Why I don’t like ‘Belly button to spine’ as an instruction to engage the core

Is ‘belly button to spine’ really a useful instruction when it comes to engaging the core?

Part of restoring function to the pelvic floor is to create a reflexive core – that is abdominal muscles that switch on when they are needed to help with movement or an activity. (lifting, carrying, twisting etc)

During exercises classes you very often hear the instruction to ‘pull your belly button towards your spine’ to describe engaging your core muscles. But as with everything it is such a simplified idea of engaging the muscles it can actually cause more tension rather than function.

Let’s have a look at what happens when we pull our belly button to our spine. Try it now – imagine pulling your belly button towards your spine – feel what happens to your breathing, to your shoulders, to your buttocks. There is a tension that happens, your breath slows and becomes shallow and your shoulders inch up towards your ears, buttocks clench and your spine becomes stiff.

Now try this inhale and now exhale long and slow – really exhale allow all the air to come out of your lungs until you feel your abdominal muscles gently closing together. This is creating a reflexive engagement. Feel the difference to your breathing – you can still breath deeply like this, your shoulders drop away from your ears and your body feels gentle and still flowing.

Your breathing, core and pelvic floor are all connected – on an exhale your abdominals and pelvic floor engages. As these parts engage they support your back – meaning less chance of strain and wear and tear here. The aim is to make these actions reflexive – that is that it happens subconsciously – you don’t want to spend every exhale initiating your abdominals – they should do that automatically. But to do this you do need to take time to practice – especially as you go about your day – if you lift something practice this breath before you lift

Something else that is important is for you to start connecting to your body. it is very easy to detach from your body, especially parts that are not functioning as they should or causing pain, or maybe the disconnection causes the issue. Whichever way it is, spending time acknowledging and celebrating your body goes a long way in creating a state for healing to happen. By bringing awareness to your abdominal muscles you may find that you are tensing these muscles a lot – maybe while you are washing up for example – tensing your abdominals leads to a pushing down of your organs onto your pelvic floor which can eventually cause symptoms such as bladder weakness. By releasing this tension habit you can reduce pressure on your pelvic floor, breathe better and allow your digestive system function better too.

So, you can see that restoring function to your pelvic floor needs a whole-body and lifestyle approach to get the best results.

Rosie Dhoopun is an Alignment and Movement Teacher, Pregnancy & Postpartum Exercise Specialist specialising in women’s health – pregnancy, pelvic floor restore and diastasis recti rehabilitation.
12 Week Pelvic Floor Restore Programme
Move for Birth Pregnancy Exercise and Birth Preparation classes



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