What’s with the Naval to Spine Hollowing?

by Jeannie Di Bon, July 7th, 2016

What’s with the Naval to Spine Hollowing?

I love to move – I take every opportunity to move my body on a daily basis. I try to attend classes whenever I can; so when I was on holiday in May, I took a Pilates class in the resort I was staying at. I never say I’m a movement therapist – I just like to go and enjoy moving as an anonymous client.

During this particular class, the teacher said before every exercise ‘bring your naval to spine and hold it there’. Sometimes she would come round the class and point at someone’s stomach and say ‘tighter, tighter, tighter’ until the person looked like they were going to explode.

I was curious. After the class I asked the teacher why she kept telling us to draw naval to spine and hollow. She told me because it’s very important. I asked why. She said “because it protects your spine”. I left it there but it got me thinking. Because let’s be honest, there are many teachers instructing the naval to spine, zip and hollow and draw your tummy muscles in tightly. But why? If there is a logical reason why I should be doing this myself, I am very open to hear it. Because, I now have a problem. If it protects my spine as I have been told (as an unassuming client in a class), what is it protecting me from?

From movement? From moving my spine like I do when I get out of bed in the morning, climb stairs, walk to work or pick up my shopping bags out of the car? That sort of movement? Because I don’t do that in real life. Should I? When I get out of bed, I don’t zip and hollow. So, am I not protecting my spine? Are you telling me I should spend every minute or every day with my naval to spine? That’s a rough 12 hours a day, 720 minutes of holding my belly in. Sounds like hard work to me. Is my spine so delicate that it needs protecting? I didn’t think so, but now as an unassuming client in a class I am having doubts. If I’m delicate, then surely there are many things in life I shouldn’t be doing. Maybe should I stop?

But, if that’s what you are telling me I should do, how can I eat, breathe, laugh? Believe me, I’ve tried this naval to spine idea and I find it stressful after 5 minutes. How am I going to get to 720 minutes?

Do you see my issue? Many people are told cues like this during a one or two hours a week Pilates class. The teacher has been told by someone that that’s what they should say. But no one seems to know why! We are left with all kinds of preconceptions that our brains start to think about and then we are entering some territory you really do not want to go in. If we start believing our spine is delicate and needs protecting, then get the cotton wool out now. We won’t do anything. It cannot be protection unless you are seriously expecting people to do this all day. People are likely going to be doing more things like gardening, moving heavy flower pots around, picking up grandchildren. If they are like my 80 year old mum, they will be in the allotment digging up potatoes! Is this a dangerous activity without sucking in the tummy? I must ask her if she zips and hollows with spade in hand.

The real bugbear I have with this type of cue is that it is not how we move! It’s not natural, it’s not normal. It causes stress and tension in the abdominal cavity. Research by Lederman in his paper ‘The Myth of Core Stability’ states how this does more harm than good and could “be a source of potential damage for spinal or pelvic pain conditions”. He states, in conclusion, that abdominal hollowing or bracing should be discouraged. And yet it continues to be thrown around as a cue with no real scientific or anatomical awareness of the way the body really works. The abdominal cavity is a fluid filled sac that should respond to the movement and pressure put through it. It wants to connect with your body through breath rather than be treated as a section of your body that is put under extreme pressure and isolated from the whole.

I will leave you with one exercise to try – fill a balloon with water, tie it up, squeeze the balloon in the middle really tightly and have a towel nearby! It’s going to blow! Now do that for 720 minutes. Get my point? Let’s be clear about what we say and why we say it. It makes everyone’s life so much easier and less stressful!

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