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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Trina Altman

Trina Altman E-RYT 500, is an Integrated Yoga Tune Up® teacher trainer, STOTT PILATES® certified instructor, and a graduate of YOGAspirit Studio's 500-Hour Yoga Therapy Program. While at Brown University, Trina took a Kripalu yoga class which ignited her passion for the practice. She teaches weekly Yoga Tune Up® and Pilates Tune Up™ classes throughout Los Angeles, and trains yoga teachers in anatomy and in Yoga Tune Up® across the country. She is an Rx Series teacher trainer for Equinox, is on the faculty of Kripalu, one of the nation's premiere yoga institutions, and is a regular presenter at yoga and fitness conferences such as ECA, Yoga Alliance, SYTAR and many others. Trina's teaching fosters body cognition and self-discovery, firmly grounded in anatomical awareness. She builds bridges between the mystical and the pragmatic, and specializes in helping others to access their body’s tissues and their heart’s purpose.

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Cindy Lou Kelley

Ive never really thought about how the cue “navel to spine” ignores the rest of the core muscles! But there is so much more to engage than just the navel to spine region. The spiral staircase of musculature that surrounds the spine is a beautiful articulation of our anatomy. Thanks!


Practicing tubular core has been so much more functional as a way to support myself in every day life. It’s also a lot easier to maintain or sustain without creating tension than something like navel to spine.

Liselotte Frandsen

Today I learned that breathing front to back and from side to side, also has a positive impact on my back!

Bonnie Bloom

Navel to spine always felt incomplete and a tension builder. The 360 degree whole torso contraction is so much more effective in turning on ALL the core muscles, and it feels a lot better than just grabbing your navel in.

Julie Rosier

Trina, Great Tubular core article. I love all your creative words “like a spiral staircase from the tip of your tailbone to the base of your spine”. And the valley girl lingo is right on target for this audience. Very clear instructions.

natalie greene

as someone who has been trying to tame “rib flare” this practice of tubular core breath is just another tool to help with core activation and trunk stabilization.

Lindsey Rockett

Man, I spent years pulling ‘navel to spine’ and in my body that often translated to including a tuck of the tail and flattening of the lumbar curve…in other words de-stabilizing the very core I was desperately trying to strengthen! Tubular core has been life-changing and I’m working on refining my descriptions for the benefit of my students.

I love the spiral staircase visualization you offered! Thank you! I’ve also heard it described like an apple core, supported by all the fruit and flesh around it.


Naval to spine is a cue I was taught and which I used for years in teaching. Then I took Yoga Tune Up Teacher Training Level 1 and had an epiphamy when I learned about Tubular Core. Tubular Core addresses the whole core – it literally “pulls it ALL together!” So much more effective! Loved your post!


Navel to the spine is one of those cues that is so ubiquitous, I’m not even sure where I originally picked it up from. I understand it has some value because it is often a cue used to help build awareness of the transverse abdominis, but now that I understand/feel how the core supports all of the spine I can see the extreme limitation of using it. Moreover, I think the term core is often overused as well. For many people core is the same thing as abs and often even after defining what the core is if I say… Read more »


I’m with you. I hate “belly button to spine!” Good core stabilization requires so many different systems and structures to be in synch. Tubular core is a great and simple approach to cueing proper abdominal stabilization. I’ve been using similar concepts for a long time, although I never called it tubular core! After seeing the YTU approach to teaching and cueing it, it’s just so simple!

Laurel Crane

Tubular core has change my movement practice! I love this action.

Jessie Dwiggins

I’m in Jill’s YTU Level One Training now and I’m absolutely amazed at how many gaps YTU fills in from “regular yoga.” Tubular core being one of them. What surprises me most is that I’m been taught to activate all of these muscles separately but not together and I had no idea of their stabilizing effect. Tubular!

Jill McCubbin-Clare

Thanks for this explanation. I am taking Todd’s Level 1 YTU and he has a great way of getting us to visualize it as well. This makes sense to me. We had discussion today about Ujayii breathing and it’s place in this or not. We also had discussion that what makes YTU so unique is the multi-disciplinary background of the YTU Teachers. Somehow, YTU has managed to put it all together and I am grateful.

Kimmi Ott

also moved away from the navel to spine cue….sometimes it slips in out of habit but try to cue more top to bottom and front to back 3 dimension-ally.

Sarah R

I was so glad to read this post about the problem with cuing naval to spine. It creates a depression or fold around the belly button area and doesn’t clearly explain how to engage the tubular core. I like your cues to pack in the tissues and to use your hands to feel for proper engagement.

Cathy Corkery

*this may show up twice

1.) I’m curious how this would effect someone with a hypertonic pelvic floor. Wouldn’t all this additional contracting be a problem?

2.) Would this be advisable for someone with incontinence? As in “locking and loading” like that before exertion?

Thanks! cathy

Michelle Officer

I love this article with my whole heart! As a dancer/choreographer as well as a yoga and fitness instructor, I couldn’t agree with you more! I see too many navel to spine cues not only NOT successfully engaging the core in a tubular way but more often, that cue simply creates more alignment issues. Tubular core is simply the way to go!

alexandra breault

le corset tibulaire!!! ca a changé mon enseignement du pilates !!!! Pour le mieux

Lulu Goodman

Tubular core has completely changed the sensation of abdominal work for me. Navel to spine has never made sense in my body. Today, as we worked on Bicycles in class, my abs felt true work and effort. I’m anxious to more fully integrate tubular core in my daily workout routine. Having birthed three children, I need it! It’s like totally!

Emiliya Zhivotovskaya

I love this exercise. Doing this brought up mild body image issue for me. As an overweight child I used to think I need to suck my stomach in to make it look thinner. As a fit, no longer overweight adult, poofing out my strong core felt weird. “I thought I needed to suck in?” It feels fantastic. The trick now is to remember to use it more often, in yoga poses, throughout the day.