How often do you smile?
Hopefully you can take a second to smile right now because a simple smile will
- lengthen your life,
- make you appear more attractive,
- make you smarter,
- help you destress.
I believe that it is important to smile during a Pilates session because we do Pilates to have fun and enjoy the freedom of movement. Of course, you might not be in a smiling mood when you are holding a Teaser or going into a Snake/Twist on the Reformer but you definitely have to smile once you are done.
Now take a second to smile right now. How does it feel?
Now think about your stomach smiling.
I can literally hear you wondering what I am talking about.
If you’ve been taking Pilates, teaching Pilates or have just heard about Pilates at least a little bit you know about the importance of the Transversus Abdominis (TA) muscle. It’s one of the 5 major core elements that is essential for good posture, proper body mechanics, support of your internal organs and a flatter-looking stomach. Any abdominal work that bypasses the TA muscle uses only superficial abdominal muscles and can do more harm than good.
The Importance of Tranversus Abdominis During a Pilates Session
Most of the instructors teaching Pilates will cue the TA muscle. When you are first introduced to Pilates it is hard to find this muscle by simply tightening your abs or feeling the contraction of this muscle. People who have undergone any abdominal surgery as well as women after deliveries find connecting to the TA rather challenging. However, going through a workout without engaging this deep abdominal muscle is a faulty technique that won’t bring you the results you are looking for.
When we engage only external abdominal muscles Rectus Abdominis (the “6-pack”) and External Obliques we put inadequate pressure on our abdominal organs and especially the pelvic floor organs. You can check whether you are engaging the external abdominal muscles by doing a simple crunch. Put your hands on your stomach and lift up. Do you feel your abdominal muscles bulging up under your fingertips? If you do then you are using your external obliques and letting your TA muscle relax somewhere on the beach with a big Pina-Colada.
Even if you have been taking Pilates for a while you might have heard some instructors use the cues like “pull you navel to your spine” or “scoop your tummy in” which again makes you activate your external abdominals.
The other day I read an article by Sydney Craig of PilatesTonic in Chattanooga, TN about the damage that poor ab work can cause to the pelvic floor (read the full article here.) She compared poor abdominal activation to squeezing a toothpaste tube from the middle.
To visualize what’s happening when you activate your abdominals incorrectly, think about what happens when you squeeze a tube of toothpaste from the middle instead of squeezing from the bottom up.
Squeezing from the middle not only makes a mess, but eventually, if you were to squeeze it hard enough, would cause the toothpaste to squirt out the bottom.
The toothpaste represents your internal organs and the bottom of the toothpaste tube is your pelvic floor.
Your pelvic floor muscles are located at the bottom of your pelvis and both men and women have them. They close up the hole at the bottom of your pelvic bones and prevent your internal organs from falling out through the bottom of your pelvis.
The loss of the TA connection can be particularly damaging to women who’ve been through pregnancies as it puts extreme pressure on the already weakened muscles of the pelvic floor. It’s also bad news for those experiencing Diastasis Recti (separation of Rectus Abdominis.)
How to Engage Your TA Muscle
Do you remember that smile that we were talking about at the beginning? Let’s get back to it.
As I’ve mentioned before, engaging your TA muscle can be a little tricky at fist but thankfully it responds really well to visualizations. Imagining a big smile across your hip bones is a great way to wake up your TA. Let’s see how Sydney Craig cues this technique:
In order to get the benefits of Pilates you don’t need to spend hours at the studio. What really makes a difference are the small changes that you can do to your alignment and the deeper connection that you can develop with your body.
Take 5 minutes today to practice the Stomach Smile. As you are working on your tummy smile don’t forget to let your face smile too. You’ll be doing two great things at one time while working on the ultimate mind-body connection.
Through the Pilates Method of Body Conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained.