Transcript below of: How can I relax my abdomen in forward bending?
Hey everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. If you’ve got a question that you want to submit, go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and we’ll answer it for you. So this month’s question comes from Andres and it’s about relaxing the abdomen in forward bending.
“When forward bending, my abdomen hardens — which obviously makes forward bending (both sitting and standing) difficult. What can I do to relax the muscle(s)?”
That’s a good question, Andres. There are a few things to unpack here. You’re not alone, number one. I definitely have found many people over-engaging the abdomen, which is what we’re really talking about here. There’s nothing necessarily wrong if your abdomen engages a little bit while you’re doing a forward bend.
There are two main reasons for over-engaging the abdomen. One part of it is that a lot of people are “abs-centric” in their movement. That’s a made up word, “abs-centric”. What I mean by that is they’ve trained their body to utilize their abdominal muscles for movement. And it’s not like your abdominal muscles shouldn’t work when you do certain movements. They should. It’s part of creating stability and core strength. It’s mixed in with all of that, which is good. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, sometimes using the abdominals is so overdone that they do what they are doing in your case, which is turning on and then blocking movement. That’s one aspect of it.
The second thing, and I see this very commonly, is the tighter somebody’s hamstrings are, the more their abdominal muscles end up contracting in their forward bends. I think part of this is that the body is trying to create this forward bending movement and it’s trying to get it from wherever it can. Now, technically speaking, your abdominal muscles — and I always say this to students — your abdominal muscles do not cross your hip joints. Increasing the tension of your abdominal muscles does not deepen your forward bend. Those two things are separate.
But what happens is your body senses “the goal”, which is to get your chin or your head or whatever down to your knees or to your shins. So, it starts to create that from anywhere. So what happens is the abdominal muscles contract and that starts to round your spine, which does bring your head closer to your knees or shins or whatever it is you’re aiming for.
There’s another possibility with the tight hamstrings and the abdominals, particularly in standing. And that is stability. The abdominal muscles start to contract to help stabilize you and act as part of the whole balancing mechanism in your body. It’s often difficult for people with tight hamstrings to let the abdomen go while being in a forward bend.
You could easily argue that forward bending requires zero contraction of the abdominal muscles, unless there’s some stability that’s required in the spine or torso in an individual case. You have to figure that part out for yourself.
If you’re in the camp where you think your abdominals are just trained to fire and turn on, then there’s nothing else you can do except to consciously control when your abdominal muscles turn on. As you’re doing your forward bends, let your body do it. Pay attention to how it’s turning on your abdominals, and when in particular it’s turning on those muscles. And then settle in and try to get your abdomen to relax as much as you can.
If you can do that, you’ll find that there are deeper muscles. This is the other really important part of retraining this pattern, if that’s the case for you, which is that there are deeper muscles that are way more effective at creating a forward bend for you. For instance, there are the iliopsoas (iliacus and psoas major), the quadriceps (rectus femoris), and the adductors. It’s almost as if the abdominals turning on block you from finding and utilizing those muscles, which is a much more efficient and proper way to do your forward bending, and a better place to do the forward bending from.
So, I hope that triggers some ideas for you and gives you some food for thought. Maybe you can distinguish how that pattern is working in your body and then retrain it.
Anybody else, if you’ve got a question, no problem. Go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and we’ll get it answered.