Years ago, when I was having back pain, I decided to study privately with a fabulous movement instructor. I’ll never forget our first session- instead of jumping into movement, we began with several minutes of belly relaxation and breath awareness.

As my belly relaxed, I noticed my breathing became easier and my back calmed down. I also started to sense a deeper connection to my core.

Whether we are aware of it or not…

Many of us carry excess tension in our abdominals. 

This can be caused by stress, posture, or tight clothing, Holding our belly in, to either “engage our core” or achieve the look of a flat tummy, also creates tension.

Here’s the thing….

A tense tummy is not only inefficient, but can actually inhibit the core from functioning well.

Just like any other muscle in our body, our abdominals and core system should be able to contract and release.

Imagine if you held your arm in a bicep curl all day long. In this place your arm is in its’ maximum contraction. Not only would it be exhausting, but you wouldn’t be able to generate any more force.

Your core system should be reflexive and able to respond efficiently to the task ahead.

If you lift a handbag, as if you lifting a heavy piece of furniture you will exhaust yourself quickly!

Here’s a simple awareness exercise that will show you if you are gripping your belly:

Set up: Lie down on your back and make yourself comfortable. (You may need to bend your knees or grab a pillow for underneath your head.)

Place your hands on your lower belly and pull your belly in and away from your hands. (You should feel your abdominal wall become rigid.)

Notice what happens to your shoulders, neck, and jaw. Do you feel any clenching in those areas?

What about your breath? Does it feel shallow or restricted?

Now relax your tummy. Take a couple deep breaths and imagine your belly softening like butter.

What happens to your shoulders, neck and jaw? Do they feel more relaxed?

What about your breath? Does it feel more easeful?

While there’s a time and a place for strongly engaging your belly, it’s also important to know how to relax it. Awareness and changing habits takes time, so please be patient with yourself and enjoy the process!