Freeing My Belly From 6-Pack Bondage

Bond Up By the 6-Pack (Armor by IronWoodShop

Yoga Teacher Training 2011–12 — Nauli Kriya, a yoga move where a vacuum is created in the abdomen region so that the ab muscles draw in and up— as hard as I tried to suck the muscles of my belly in and up, I could not get them to budge. How could this be?

My core was strong. As a personal trainer, dancer and martial arts student, I trained and sculpted my abs into near 6-pack shape. I could do all kinds of ab exercises without any problem, but this simple move seemed impossible.

Well, my ab muscles were too tight and tense.

To do Nauli, a practitioner has to actually relax the ab muscles. The move comes through engaging bandhas — locks at the throat, pelvic floor and lower abdomen — and exhaling fully to move the diaphragm up toward the lungs. This creates a vacuum in the trunk that draws the ab muscles in without any effort. If muscles are tense, they restrict that vacuum from occurring.

That taught me that the ability to do many core exercises does not necessary indicate a strong core. Nor does the appearance of “in-shape” abs.

Real strength involves both contraction and stretch, tension and relaxation that allow full range of motion of the muscles and tissues. Strength is not bound up tightness.

Nauli Kriya

Though it took some time for me to “get” Nauli Kriya, I found the journey so freeing.

Like most of us in the US, I had “held in” my belly since hearing the message to do so since childhood. As an adult, I spent countless hours striving for a strong core through contracting my ab muscles over and over again with crunches and leg lifts.

At various points in my adult life, I achieved the envious 6-pack. Little did I know what I sacrificed for it.

Yoga and Nauli, in particular, taught me how bound and restricted I was at the very core of my body and power.

I realized how much anxiety this holding pattern created in my nervous system. By restricting the belly, I restricted the relaxation response in the body that tells me I’m safe. I was perpetually on high alert without awareness of it. All my energy was drawn up into my shoulders and head.

Relaxing the belly and letting it become its natural round self freed me from the bondage of unnecessary anxiety and tension. I could breathe more deeply. I could feel more grounded and centered. I could feel what I was really feeling.

The greatest gift was release from the bondage of “working out” to match an artificial notion of the perfect body. Constantly striving for the perfect 6-pack brought so much self-doubt, self-criticism and feelings of unworthiness.

Now, I can love the round, open, feminine lushness of my belly and feel even stronger and more empowered at the center of my core.


Jen Young

Hi, I’m Jen Young. Human expression through movement is my native language and my passion. From natural movement to sports conditioning, from yoga to martial arts, from physical theatre to dance — I see all movement as a vehicle to bring healing, connection and spiritual evolution.

The Belly Love practice came to me through yoga, self-love practices and connection to Nature.

My work is about personal growth through physical movement, creativity, imagination and connection to the natural world.

I believe that when people have the tools they need to heal and express who they authentically are, the world also heals.