To Squeeze and Tense, or Not to Squeeze and Tense?

That is the question…🤔!

I am talking about muscles of course, and this is my perspective, based on my own yoga practise, years of exercise, study and experience.

I grew up in this modern world – a world where women (especially, but now it’s men too), have been informed they need to have a flat, (preferably) muscular stomach in order to be worthy. It’s the topic of many a gossip magazine (“Is she, or isn’t she…? Never mind that “she’s” 63 – or actually, still getting over the last one!). Anyway, I went through all that and came out the other side, thank goodness!

There are some specific physical yoga techniques where creating conscious firmness in and around the belly is used for a particular, esoteric physiological response. However, it’s not really something that would be executed for long periods of time or by novices because this stuff can be dangerous if not performed correctly (we are talking strokes, fainting, headaches…). The thing is, tensing muscles just creates tightness and tension. It won’t make muscles stronger. In fact, among many other things, it might make us feel edgy which is a nervous system response. It restricts blood flow, increases heart rate and blood pressure and may mean our organs cannot function at an optimal level.

Ditto tensing your bum and your pelvic floor. Unless you are trying to avoid having an accident, squeezing and tensing this area all day, every day, won’t make those muscles stronger. In fact it could cause serious problems including constipation, bladder weakness and painful sexual encounters. Plus, as stated above, apart from physical discomfort, consistently over-tensing inhibits and affects our breath and activates a sympathetic nervous system response. In other words, a complete chain reaction of symptomatic health problems over time with probably no obvious basis (including fertility issues).

Try this where you are right now; tense your bicep and notice how your throat suddenly restricts and your ability to breathe changes. Yes? That’s just your bicep, not your abdomen where all your important organs reside and your “feeling brain” (Enteric NS) is embedded. And honestly, would you walk around with a tense bicep all day? No, you wouldn’t, so why the tight belly? Oh, that’s right, vanity and buying in to bullshit 😒. But it a long way from natural and just like your bicep, you should be able to firm and soften all of your muscles at will. A muscle stuck in a short and tight position makes for a very uncomfortable body – ask any body builder how they really feel….

In this image, the nature of the pose I am doing (an active version of Ustrasana – Camel Pose) means that my abs are totally firm – like a brick! As I lean back and push my belly and hips forward, all those muscles NATURALLY and organically ACTIVATE. It’s strong, sure, but because I can breathe normally, there is no sense of panic.

So my answer to that question is this: Find the position, posture or movement that creates NATURAL muscle ACTIVATION and limit the tensing and squeezing for those times that it is absolutely necessary! 🙏🕉️😁🤪