My first introduction to this concept was from a yoga teacher named Donna Farhi. Like many women, she was originally told that holding your belly in was paramount to exhibiting a fit physic. As a dancer, I was taught the same and can relate. Many men and women believe that a tight, sucked in stomach is the hallmark of fitness and what you need to do to “look thin”. The deeper practice of yoga does not support this claim. Yogis believe that you should allow the belly to move with the breath.
The belly should be permitted to lift and expand with the inhalations.
In The Breathing Book, Donna Farhi explains that if the belly is not allowed to move with the breath “the organs in the abdominals are cut off from circulation due to constant abdominal contraction. This can negatively impact digestion, assimilation, and elimination (think digestive disorders).” When the belly learns to move, these functions improve and weight is actually lost.
Pulling the abdominals in all the time can lead to back pain.
The expansion of the front body directly affects the back body. The only way that your spine can receive healthy blood flow is through movement of its joints. The mobility of the spine is triggered by the movement of the chest, diaphragm and belly muscles.
Focus on your core.
Employing the internal postural muscles along with the external musculature provides the abdominal length, strength and support that your body needs.
In the words of Tom Seabourne, an exercise scientist, martial artist, and coauthor of Athletic Abs (Human Kinetics, 2003), “The key is flexible strength, and that’s what yoga develops,” he explains. “Too many people still think ab training is doing crunches, which does nothing for flexibility. If you just train for strength, your muscles can actually shorten. And if you train in only one direction, you’re limiting your range of motion.”
So, while a rock solid rectus abdominus is not exactly conducive to a strong yoga practice, a sturdy core is. Practicing Phalakasana, Vasisthasana (left), Chaturanga Dandasana and Navasana will give you the strength you need to support the entire body and keep it healthy.