We all hear how important it is to engage the core when you are moving through various Yoga positions, but exactly how do you know if you are engaging those deep lower belly muscles of support? Our lower belly, or transverse abdominals are imperative muscles of support that help stabilize the lower back, illicit a "lifting-up" sensation out of our joints, relieve neck and shoulder tension as well as help to center and ground us in our movements.
One of the most effective teaching tools for learning where these muscles are, as well as feeling what it feels like when they are turned on (contracted and supporting us), is to make a hissing sound. When you hiss you can feel the band of lower belly muscles below the belly button immediately contract. That contraction not only tells you where they are but what it feels like when they are on. Now see if you can replicate this feeling at the bottom of your ujjayi exhale, without making that hissing sound, but making that velvety rich ha sound of the sealed lip breath. This is how you know your exhale is complete is if you can feel the lower belly turn on like it did when you were hissing. As you inhale see if you can also keep a piece of this lower belly holding you sensation as your breath climbs up and out. And the next exhale take it all the way down till the lower belly generously contracts.
The beauty about this work is that you can use it as feedback. If you are in a pose that you cannot find this lower belly complete exhale contraction sensation, then you might be too deep into the pose, or the alignment of the pose might be off. The goal is to be able to go into a pose with the supportive mechanisms of feedback like your lower belly. If you cannot feel this, back of and explore where you can find it and move from there. Not only will you have your center of gravity and support on your side, but you will also be guided by your complete and expansive breaths.
The idea with our Yoga practice is that every exhale becomes an exercise back to our center, our root, our grounding. Every inhale becomes an expansion from our center. If with every breath, in every posture we can create this lower belly work we will not only be utilizing our core in an effective and healing way, but we will be taking our practice to a very dynamic, active and profoundly stabilizing level.