If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I'm really into using visualization in my dance practice. I practice more in my head and in small increments than I do in the studio. (I don't recommend that for everyone, but I need to work with the time that I have!)
Several of my students have asked me about identifying and isolating the lower abdominals. For various reasons, the lower abdominals are very hard for many people isolate. Maybe it's because, as women, we're often told to "suck it in" and that our female parts are a source of shame or pain. Many women mentally and emotionally separate themselves from their lower abdominals, and any attention they pay the oft-neglected muscles is usually negative.
Regardless of why someone might have trouble accessing the lower abdominals, being able to access and isolate them is imperative in bellydance for clean pelvic locks, undulations, interior hip squares and circles, and plain old good posture.
Here are some tricks to help you connect your brain with your lower abs. Remember - your brain controls your body. Yes, that's sort of a "well, DUH" statement, but it's amazing how out of control our body feels when learning a new movement.
A bit about the abdominal muscles.
The rectus abdominis muscles are actually eight separate muscles. Their primary function is to protect the inner organs and to pull the torso forward. The human body is not normally expected to isolate the upper set of rectus abdominis from the lower set, so naturally, doing so is pretty difficult.
- Start small. I can't emphasize this one enough, and it doesn't apply only to lower abdominal contractions. When trying to isolate a muscle or muscle group, make your first attempts tiny. With lower abdominals, put one hand on your upper abdominals. Contract the lower ones a little bit, making sure you feel no movement in the upper abdominals. Then, contract the lower ones even more. The second you feel your upper abdominals engaging, release everything, reset, and try again. The more you do this, the larger and more distinct your lower abdominal isolation will become. But you have to start small.
- Aim low. The lower set of the rectus abdominis are also the longest. When I ask my students to isolate their lower abdominals, I ask them to think about contracting right above the public bone. The lower in the muscle you aim your mental focus, the more separated from the other muscles that movement will become.
- Visualize. As you can see in the illustration above, I've added a small red dot. Focus your mental energy in one specific point in your lower abs, right above the pubic bone. The smaller your point of focus, the more you will be able to isolate the muscle. One of my students came up with an absolutely brilliant visual to help with lower ab isolations. She said that it's like there's a string attached to the little red dot, and it's pulling your lower abdominals backward, towards your lower back. I also like to tell students that it's like pulling your low belly into your low intestines. It's a gross image, but gross images stick in people's heads.