Have you been told to keep your core engaged? Maintain some activation? Pull your naval to your spine? Maybe for spinal stability or to build abdominal strength?
Almost two years ago I wrote a post about the problem with sucking in the belly and I explore how its roots are egoic. The post had traction everywhere - it's my most viewed post and was really my launchpad into the world of alignment and natural movement. You can read it here.
One of the things I teach is a belly release exercise (something to be done occasionally), but I also teach a relaxed belly for everyday life, which is a little different.
In the belly release, you are focusing on letting it all hang out with the primary purpose of getting your stomach out from up in your diaphragm and exploring the tension we hold in our bellies. In a relaxed belly, we're letting the core behave reflexively. Instead of telling it what to do, we let it respond to the loads we give it.
This week, a student in Launch Your Resilient Life asked how this compares with advice she's been given in yoga to keep some slight engagement and to draw the naval to the spine.
Here's my response:
I think a lot about what it means to that we don't often KNOW what we are doing with our bodies and even when we DO know what we are doing, we don't know WHY.
We've are naturally indoctrinated by our culture (look thinner, dammit!) and we are given watered-down fitness/exercise/movement advice (naval-to-spine always) and we end up forgetting to think critically about what we're doing or haven't been taught how to think critically.
I know this is hard with the belly. We have SO many feelings about our bellies and what happens, or doesn't happen, inside them.
Does this resonate?
Are you willing to explore changing your mindset about what your belly should look like and should be doing in order to allow a more functional, healthy process to exist?
No matter what, I encourage you to play around with NOT sucking in (really - can you let the upper belly go? the lower? the right? and the left?) and seeing how the core responds to movement without you consciously deciding how much effort is required.
If you want true, reflexive, functional core strength, that's your place to start.