Increase Your Inner Physical, Mental and Emotional Strength: An Introduction to Developing the Deepest Layer of Abdominals–the TvA
“Core” is a current fitness buzzword and is very misunderstood. Most people think of the core as those six pack abdominal muscles just under the skin. Most people think core strength is developed through a complex series of sit-ups and leg lifts and that it is integral to spinal health. As Brian Aganad of the asanaacademy.com says below, there’s much more to the core than most people realize.
The “core” consists not just of abdominal muscles, but muscles in the lower back, pelvic floor, and the hips. And this is still an over simplification of it… Your pelvic floor muscles and TvA are a part of the core, not all of it. –Brian Aganad, www.theasanaacademy.com
In yoga the abdomen is not meant to be rock hard. Although these surface abdominals, the rectus abdominis, do assist us to breathe, very tight abdominal muscles actually increase tension in the diaphragm and will prevent proper breathing. Yoga strives for a balance between softness and strength. In yoga, the goal is to develop the transversus abdominis, the deepest layers of abdominals muscles, far more than the rectus abdominis so that the belly is soft and supple thereby allowing the flow of breath and energy throughout the body.
Many healthcare providers advise their patients to strengthen their core but offer few guidelines on how to accomplish this. As a result, their patients go home to start practicing sit-ups or other abdominal exercises they’ve seen or practiced in the past without an adequate level of awareness. Unfortunately, they often harm their spine more than help it.
“We often jump towards strengthening before actually realigning the body. It does not help us to be strong if we continue to experience compression in the spine… Would [you] fortify and paint the walls of a house whose foundation is falling apart? If the foundation is crooked, all the ‘external’ work will go to waste, as the structure will eventually collapse from within.” –Rachel Krentzman, Yoga for a Happy Back A Teacher's Guide to Spinal Health through Yoga Therapy
Krentman goes on to say that once the spine has been aligned and all structures are free from compression or impingement, then it is time to focus on strengthening the core.
What is responsible for compression in the spine?
One school of thought views multiple biological, psychological and social factors as responsible for compression in the spine. This more complex view is contrary to the opposing reductionist view that the simple practice of strengthening the deepest layer of the abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominis, may be responsible for compression in the spine.
When in doubt, it’s best to consult with your chiropractor.
The superficial six pack abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis) mentioned at the outset of this blog post are least beneficial to the spine. The deeper transversus abdominis are barely visible on the outside but provide a tremendous amount of stability from within.
The rectus abdominis muscles are important stabilizers but one of their primary functions is to flex the spine thereby increasing lumbar flexion or a forward bending movement which is the one movement not recommended for people with bulging discs and herniations because it places more pressure on the exiting spinal nerves. In this case, sit-ups which are rectus abdominis strengtheners are contraindicated for back pain resulting from a bulging disc or pinched nerve.
Abdominal exercises are best kept simple and consistent and preferably under the guidance of a well-trained certified yoga instructor.
Always aim to maintain the natural curve of the spine with yogic exercises which target the abdominal region. Strive for the ability to hold the pose and consciously feel the abdominals for several seconds. Going too far is not more advanced or better. Less may just be more.
Mentally focus on the concept of developing inner strength rather than developing washboard abs. With intention, we can focus on our inner resilience and integrity during our abdominal exercise routine for a well developed core strength that enables us to float effortlessly through some of the most difficult physical tasks. Don’t push it. Instead, surrender to the practice to remain soft and supple for true strength.
Check out Brian Aganad’s site page on the TvA. He gets the point across about the potential power of well developed TvA in his discourse below in “Learn How to Engage Your TVA, Float Lightly and Land Effortlessly:”
Ever wonder how your instagram heroes float lightly and land effortlessly?
They must have some kind of unfair advantage right?
It’s troubling that not one single yoga teacher has spilled the beans.
And kept you in the dark.
A little frustrating to say the least.
Let’s undo the confusion.
A perfectly toned girl wearing the perfectly coordinated yoga outfit effortlessly lifting herself off the ground.
Elegantly hovering in some foreign-cool arm balance…
And as quiet as a mouse pitter-pattering across the floor, she jumps up to handstand, repeatedly, holding it for 20 seconds at a time, effortlessly.
All this without even breaking a sweat.
The One that Really Matters
The Transverse Abdominis (TvA).
The transverse abdominis sits behind the six-pack muscle. It’s the highly functional muscle. This is the one that helps you float…
Krentzman, Rachel, and Aadil Palkhivala. Yoga for a Happy Back A Teacher's Guide to Spinal Health through Yoga Therapy. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2016.