I recently wrote an article about the psoas muscle (http://www.leticiapadmasri.com/blog-feed/2018/8/30/the-seat-of-the-soul), a crucial muscle in core awareness. Now it is time to write about another important muscle: transverse abdominis - our deepest abdominal layer.
I like to call the psoas the “queen of the core” because to me it has a very yin or feminine function. The transversus, I call the “king of the core” because to me it has a more yang or masculine role. While the psoas senses and sends us messages about the integrity of our center, the transverse is a key stabilizer! It provides protection and stability to the spine so when we move through our asanas and daily activities, we do so more safely and more effectively. It also allows the psoas to ungrip and to do its job more skillfully, and it plays a fundamental role in breathing!
Where is it? As I said - deep in the abdomen, below the internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis. Its fibers run horizontally, originating with the fascia of our lumbar spine, at the back of the pelvis and the lower ribs. Then it wraps around to the front of the torso, like a corset. It goes from the pubic bone connecting up to the xiphoid process - the lower end of the sternum. In short, it encircles our abdomen from the back to the front and up and down!
Even with knowing where it is and what it does, it can still be challenging to engage and connect with it because it is so deeply located in our abdomen that it is sometimes outside our daily awareness. Perhaps the easiest way to work with the transverse abdominis is to work with the pelvic points - the interior superior iliac spines (see picture). You can start working with this simple exercise:
Start on your back and place your feet flat on the floor in constructive rest position (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcxKvMJw0S8).
Rest the hands on the pelvic points and then engage between the pelvic points (don’t expect a large movement, this is a subtle action). You can even use your hands here to draw them closer to each other. It is not a hard pushing, just a gentle press. Engage between the pelvic points as though you were cinching the drawstring of a bow.
See if you can keep that engagement and keep the breath nice and full. Every exhale supports the engagement of the transverse abdominis.
Even just the action of visualizing drawing the pelvic points closer towards each other can help to establish a neurological connection and pave the way to really connect with this muscle.
It is easy to move and neglect the use of the transverse abdominis because we are so unaware of its presence. It is often the most underutilized of the four abdominal muscles. Moving our body without proper engagement of the transverse abdominis puts us at high risk of injuring our back. Hatha yogis could benefit from paying particular attention to the building awareness and strength of the transverse abdominis throughout their practice and also during everyday activities.
If you would like to learn more, join me on October 4 at Yogaville for the “Yoga for the Core” workshop. We will explore and understand the roles of the transverse abdominis and psoas muscles and more, enabling you to enhance joint integrity, muscular tone, breathing, and healthy organ functioning. Sign up here!