The cue “navel to spine” is used ubiquitously in Pilates and yoga classes. I don’t like it. I don’t use it. It is impossible to sustain, and does not sleeve your spine with the muscular support needed to prevent injury.

Your core involves so much more than just the muscles around your belly button.  Your core is comprised of ALL the muscles that circle your spine with support, like a spiral staircase from the tip of your tailbone to the base of your skull.  Furthermore, these muscles must work together with ALL of the muscles of respiration! This inner tube has a “tutu” (so to speak) called your diaphragm (the primary muscle of respiration), that attaches to the ribcage in the transverse plane.  Therefore, the tensegrity and suppleness of the diaphragm affects the tensegrity and suppleness of the tubular core muscles: they are essentially married to each other, and hopefully in love!

So, how do you activate the totally tubular core with breath? You don’t have to be a valley girl or gag yourself with a spoon to do it, just follow the steps below:

  1. Inhale and deliberately swell the belly, inflate your ribs, and fill your lungs.
  2. Hold the breath.
  3. Pack in all the tissues that you just “poofed” out, as though you have a blood pressure cuff of support around your spine.
  4. Touch yourself! Palpate the entire surface of your tubular core: belly, sides of the waist, low back, and intercostals (the muscles between your ribs). Underneath the superficial fascia/layer of adipose tissue, it should be FIRM to the touch.
  5. Exhale.
  6. Relax the tension and let it all go.
  7. Repeat steps 1-4, and exhale while still maintaining a sense of the layers of tautness in your tubular core, rather than letting it all go slack. You continue breathing into the full range of the ribs as you maintain the tension in the tissues that brace the spine with support.

By practicing the tubular core exercise, you will gain an embodied understanding of what it feels like to stabilize your spine in a cylindrical fashion: from front to back AND from side to side. And by the way, did you know that you can tubularize your core with the spine in ANY direction of movement? Yes, that includes flexion, extension, rotation, and lateral flexion/extension.  The tubular core can be your new best “valley girl” friend in static positions like Warrior poses or during dynamic movement like putting your suitcase in the overhead compartment on the airplane. Try it, and let me know how it goes…

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