A few weeks ago I listed cat cow pose as one of five great yoga poses for moms-to-be. If you missed the post, definitely check it out!
I also mentioned that you can enhance the core work in this pose by very consciously drawing your navel in towards your spine to engage your transversus abdominis (TVA) and by lifting your pelvic floor. Today I’m going to explain why the TVA and pelvic floor are so important and show you how to perform this exercise.
When you think of your “core,” what muscles do you imagine? Your “six pack,” perhaps? If you do, you’re not alone, but you’re also incorrect. When we talk about core strength, it’s the deep muscles to which we refer, including the diaphragm, TVA, multifidus (deep spinal muscles), and pelvic floor. These four muscles create a rectangular-shaped box inside our abdomen with the diaphragm on top, the TVA in the front, the pelvic floor on the bottom, and the multifidus in the back.
Maintenance of intra-abdominal pressure is the key to core strength. When the core is functioning properly, the diaphragm descends into the abdominal chamber when we inhale; this creates pressure in the abdomen, much like a we would pressurize a plunger cylinder by pressing on the top of the plunger (I find the image of a french press useful here). The TVA, multifidus, and pelvic floor work in concert with the diaphragm to help create and maintain that pressure, by naturally engaging as the diaphragm descends. Weakness in any one of these four muscles compromises the ability of the body to maintain this abdominal pressure and stabilize the joints. This leads to a variety of adverse consequences including lower back pain, muscular imbalances, and poor posture, as the body stabilizes the joints in less ideal ways.
Pregnancy and delivery make moms especially prone to core weakness. The TVA becomes overstretched and undertoned as the uterus expands. The growing weight of the uterus puts strain on the pelvic floor and weakens it. Depending on the mode of delivery, moms experience additional trauma either to the pelvic floor (in the case of vaginal birth) or the TVA (in the case of a C-section, which cuts through this muscle).
Moms-to-be can strengthen these important muscles by performing cat cows/pelvic rocking with TVA and pelvic floor activation. As you exhale into cat pose, very consciously draw your navel in towards your spine to engage the TVA and then perform a kegel at the very end of the exhale to engage the pelvic floor. The TVA work becomes increasingly challenging as you progress through your pregnancy because the weight of your uterus increases. You truly are using your TVA to lift your growing baby and other components of your uterus!
Here’s a video of me performing this exercise at 38 weeks. Look closely and you can really see my TVA working to lift the uterus as I exhale; you will also see my uterus descend on the inhale as I lower the weight of my belly back down. Unfortunately, the kegels you cannot see. We will have to save instruction on kegels for another day. 🙂