I came across a clip I took of a dancer sucking in her abdominals to bring herself into alignment and thought it might be interesting to talk about what’s really happening when she does this… Let’s watch a couple for a couple of rounds.
Let’s dissect what’s happening as she does this. It is a pretty common pattern. A student lifts up their ribs and lengthens the spine almost like they put an invisible belt around their waist. At first glance it looks like they are in proper alignment, albeit with some tension. Notice how tension comes into the neck and throat muscles. It’s as if she is holding her breath… which is pretty much what she’s doing! It’s then a challenge to get a deep breath if you maintain this position. You would need to release the abdominals in order to allow the diaphragm to move downwards to inhale deeply. Remember the role of the abdominals is to create the front of pelvic bowl and keep the organs in place. The abdominals are important to efficient breathing and of course come into play flexing the spine forward like in a sit-up.
So what to do?
I think the trick is to get them to become familiar with the feeling of how the abdominals stabilize the pelvis. Have them find that feeling first lying on their back and lacing the abdominals together while sliding one leg at a time out to straight. They will feel the engagement of the abdominals primarily below the belly button. They should still be able to breath fully and there will be movement of the abdominals during the inhale and exhale – not held. Point out to the students how the abdominal muscles naturally contract during the exhale. (which is why we encourage lifting, etc. on an exhale, to get that extra abdominal support)
Now stand up and draw the front of the pelvis upwards towards the breast bone without lifting or dropping the ribs. They will again feel the effort below the belly button more than above and they still have to breathe! Walk around for 2 minutes keeping the pelvis level and spine elongated.
That’s a more accurate feeling for engaging the abdominals to maintain anatomical alignment! Plus… the goal is to always stand with our pelvis in neutral, instead of just at the barre or in dance class!
To your success,