For the longest time, I have associated core muscles only with rectus abdominis, otherwise known as ~abs~. We live in a society that glorifies the possession of the so-called ~6-pack~, making it the ultimate goal for any workout, a social trophy that could mean you have strength, endurance, and overall attractiveness. On our 2nd week of YTT, I have learned that it is in fact, only one of the three muscles that make up our core. The other two are transverse abdominis and oblique muscles.
Of the three, the most overlooked is the Transverse Abdominis (TVA). This muscle runs between the ribs and the pelvis, horizontally from front to back, acting as a corset. It’s extremely important as it’s the deepest core muscle, and acts as a support for the entire lower back, stabilizing the trunk while maintaining internal abdominal pressure. Additionally, it increases pressure on the thoracic spine (where the lungs are) to aid in breathing and heart stimulation.
TVA is also responsible in getting yogis to gracefully jump and float into inversion asanas.
TLDR version: the stronger the TVA, the less likely one will experience lower back pain.
Are you someone who, despite doing several crunches and push-ups or other rectus abdominis-defining exercises, still have the abdominal wall bulging forward?
In other words, does your belly pooch seem to not disappear despite doing 1 minute of chaturanga and 100 curl-ups each day? That is a sign of a weak TVA.
When you feel tension in your lower back and hip flexors when you cycle, perform leg lifts, or bridge, it also means you have weak TVA.
Luckily, our ignored and forgotten yet very precious TVA works very efficiently which means you don’t have to put that much physical effort to activate it. In other words, no crunches and push-ups needed.
So, how exactly can you work this muscle?
First things first. Locate your TVA by following these steps:
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, internally rotate your shoulders. Relax your belly completely.
- Place your fingertips on the boney part of your hips, then move them an inch inwards towards your navel.
- Feign a cough. Feel that muscle pressing on your fingers? That’s your TVA.
Now, here are a few simple ways to strengthen it. While doing these drills, make sure to consciously feel your TVA being engaged.
- Uddiyana Bandha (Upward binding; navel lock)
Uddiyana bandha is the abdominal lock. It is the second of the three interior body locks used in asana and pranayama practice to control the flow of energy (prana) in the body.
Uddiyana Bandha is best practiced first thing in the morning when the stomach is completely empty.
Inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale quickly through your nose.
Push as much air as possible out of your lungs by contracting your TVA and two other abdominal muscles.
Perform what’s called a “mock inhalation” by expanding your rib cage as if you were inhaling, but without actually doing so. The expansion of the rib cage creates a hollowing sensation and appearance in the belly.
Read more about its benefits and proper ways of doing it here.
- Abdominal Bracing (Breathing technique).
Take a deep breath in.
Expand your rib cage.
Pull your rib cage down.
Think about tightening your midsection as if you were just about to be punched in the gut.
- Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana (Bridge Pose)
Lie with your back flat on the floor.
Bend your knees and set your feet parallel on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible.
Pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your TVA upward toward the ceiling, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Thighs and feet must be parallel.
Clasp the hands below your pelvis.
Lie down on your back. Keep your spine straight.
Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle and slowly bring one leg down.
Repeat on the other side. Repeat for as many times as you can.
- Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Lie on your mat.
Draw your right knee into the chest.
Slowly straighten and extend the right leg up.
Make sure that your arms are straight and shoulders are pressing down.
Repeat on the other side.
- Bitilasana Marjaryasana (Cat and Cow Pose)
Cow- round your back, lift your lower back up, open your chest, look towards the ceiling
Cat- curve your spine, drop your head, push the floor away, contract your TVA, look towards your navel
Position your wrists and elbows directly under your shoulders.
Maintain a straight body line from head to heels.
Contract your TVA.
Lightly squeeze your butt and the fronts of your thighs.
Practice doing these asanas everyday and you’ll surely enjoy a more stabilized lower back, and feel better when performing inversion asanas!