What is a perfect body image?
Well it tends to have toned hips and legs with a pert bottom, a strong stomach and an open chest. Only the genetically gifted or determined fitness freaks seem to embody this ideal, and yet this is in fact how everyone is designed. We all have bigger muscles in our legs than our arms because nature intended us to use our legs as our means of transport. Around our middles are muscles in a similar shape to a girdle that hold our internal organs in the right place. Along our spines are muscles similar to struts that can hold the spine long. In the middle of our body we have a big hinge, the hips, surrounded and protected by big muscles (thighs, buttocks, hamstrings), which help us move around it.
So if we move using our hips as a hinge and our legs as support they will be fitter and toned. If we then hold ourselves upright using our “girdle” and maintain a long spine with our “struts” we will then not tend to let our stomachs bulge and our shoulders collapse.
Exercises to redefine an ideal body
Most of the stomach exercises we are used to performing seem to make the abdomen bulge out, but the core muscles of the body are made active by pulling in. Therefore, begin by lying flat on the floor on your front.
- Rest your forehead on your hands and feel the weight of your body on the floor. Feel the front ribs and pelvis pressing into it. You are going to try to pull your stomach up off the floor, keeping your ribs and pelvis down.
- Begin by simply pulling the tummy up and lowering it down. How high can you pull your stomach up from the floor? Can you feel the lower spine lengthen? Have you created a gap underneath your body? When you feel confident with this, move on.
- Keep the lower ribs firmly grounded on the floor and your hip bones and pubic bone flat on the floor. Now pull your tummy in as high as you can. Feel the lower spine lengthen and push your legs straight – so straight that you feel your toes spread.
- Push your left hip and upper thigh up by squeezing the buttock and lifting your left foot off the floor. Is your tummy still in? Repeat, inhaling alternate legs up, exhaling them down. Can you begin to feel that the tummy can remain in, while the lower spine is kept long, even when you move your legs? Try to gain control of those pulling-in muscles as your limbs are moving.
Lengthen the raised leg from the thigh, as opposed to lifting by squeezing the buttocks. This exercise has the advantages of pulling your tummy in and of relieving tension from the front of your hips – a major cause of lower back pain. It can also lift the buttocks and add shape in quite a short time.
The pubic lift starts in the stomach. It is very easy just to squeeze your bottom to tuck in your tailbone, which provides the same action. Pay attention to the feeling of the correct action – allowing pressure to be equally distributed throughout the body will relieve problems.
- Sit with the soles of your feet on the floor and your knees in the air. Sit up as high as you can, pushing your sitting bones down into the floor. Cup your hands on your knees, so as not to use your arm strength to interfere with the exercise.
- As you roll back, point your toes into the floor and feel your thighs work and lengthen and your knees push down towards the floor. As you come up, pull your heels towards your buttocks. The hamstrings and deep abdomen will engage to pull you up.
- Look down at your stomach and pubic bone so you can see how you are moving. Using both hands, grab hold of your lower ribs and lift them up. Now suck in your stomach and all the muscles that connect from the pubic bone all the way up the front of the body.
- As you roll backwards, keep lifting your ribs. You will find that your stomach will pull in as before, but now also up into your rib cage, making it possible to feel a lift in the body as you roll down. Try to detect the origin of the movement in the groin. The fact that the tummy pulls in so hard gives a feeling that the pubic bone is lifted, which is turn tucks the spine between the buttocks and rolls you down.
Incorrect: If you simply lean back, rather than roll back, the tummy will bulge. If the arms lengthen before the pubic bone has rolled up, you will know that you have simply leaned back from your chest. This will most probably be accompanied by your abdomen pushing out. The pressure here is in your lower back, not spread evenly in the body, and will cause you problems and pain eventually.
In this exercise extend through your legs to your feet, feeling the work in the thighs. Push your chest high off the floor so you can feel the space between your shoulder blades. This will strengthen your stomach muscles, and train them to hold your insides in.
- Lie on your front and tuck your toes under your heels. Place your hands together, thumbs on your sternum, tucking your elbows in towards your ribs and then push yourself up to balance on your elbows and toes.
- Lift your pubic bone into your stomach, as in the stomach curl. Practice pulling your abdomen in and up without sticking your bottom out, as that will disengage the stomach muscles, which is the part of you that this exercise is designed for.
Alternative: if you find this too tricky, rest your knees on the floor, but make sure you really pull your pubic bone up into your stomach and lengthen the lower spine, or the hip flexors will get a good workout and nothing more.
Incorrect: This shows the classic collapse that usually happens when people try this exercise for the first time. The extremities, especially the toes, take the weight of the body and the lower spine collapses and will soon begin to feel the strain.
Through rediscovering how our body is meant to move by feeling it from inside, the perfect body is achievable, and your own ideal body will emerge. You have to put time and intelligence into regular practice of course, but this can include walking, bending playing games, entertaining and household chores, for they all involve you moving, and it is in this moving you can exercise, and enjoy discovering your body. Discovery does not have to be limited to set practice times for it is in the moments off the mat, sitting at your desk or doing the washing-up that you understand the satisfaction of living correctly through your body.
Perhaps most interestingly, when you do start to move as you are meant to, your preconceptions of what you should look like fall away. An infinitely more satisfying feeling replaces them, that of a feeling of being at home within your own skin.