Yoga Synergy Blog

Is it Correct to ‘Pull the Navel towards the Spine’? Answer: Yes and No!

Many people in the world of yoga, Pilates and fitness tell their clients and students to do something like ‘pull the navel to the spine’. If you google this expression you find articles that give a flurry of controversy on whether on not it is a good idea to ‘pull the navel to the spine’.


In this video, exercise-based physiotherapist and yoga teacher Simon-Borg Olivier, discusses core stability and different ways to interpret the instruction “pull the navel to the spine”. This can be a confusing instruction and is often misunderstood, depending on the experience and the body of the practitioner.

However, just what exactly does it mean to ‘pull the navel to the spine’. It turns out that when people are given this instruction they actually appear to move the navel towards the spine in 3 main ways. Neither of these ways can be said to be wrong or right as such, but they do have different effects.

Yoga Synergy Blog

Simon Borg-Olivier in Yoga Danda Urdhva San Calasana. In this posture it is the postural muscles that support the spine and help to achieve it.


The three ways for your trunk muscles to ‘pull the navel to the spine’ can be labelled as follows:


This method uses the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation. This is a great way to empty the lungs and massage the internal organs, but tends to immobilise the spine, and usually causes inhibition of the diaphragm and resultant increases in stress level. It also does not actually protect or strengthen the spine much and it does cause an increase in heart beat because it actually inhibits blood flow through the trunk.



This method uses postural muscles of the trunk that enable spinal movements such as flexion and extension, lateral flexion and rotation. This is a great way to strengthen the trunk, still allow you move freely and breathe naturally with your diaphragm but does not give the most complete exhalation and does not massage the internal organs that much.



This method uses a combination of the ‘forced exhalation and the postural methods. It uses both the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation as well as postural muscles of the trunk to move the navel closer to the spine. This method has some of the pros and cons of both of the previous methods.


Surveys have revealed generally about one third of people use each of these three methods to successfully interpret the instruction ‘pull the navel to the spine’. In each case if one starts with a relaxed abdomen  (as soft as a relaxed baby’s belly) each method will show that navel moving closer to the spine than it was relative to its resting state, but on closer examination the muscles used and the results are very different.



If you place your fingers deep into the relaxed abdomen then use the ‘forced exhalation muscles’ method of pulling the navel to the spine the abdomen does actually harden and move away from the fingers closer to the spine.



However, if you place your fingers deep into a relaxed abdomen and uses the ‘postural’ method of pulling the navel to the spine the abdomen hardens but actually pushes into the fingers and actually appears to move away from the spine.


It is important to state that none of these methods is wrong or right as such, it is just that they have different effects and can be used for different purposes. The ‘forced exhalation muscles’ method is great if you want to exhale fully or massage the internal organs, but the ‘postural muscles’ method engages your trunk muscles in a way that gives you much more physical power and also the ability to remain calm, while allowing natural diaphragmatic breathing.



In the ‘forced exhalation’ method the muscles used to exhale fully and draw the navel towards the spine relative to the position of navel in a relaxed belly may include the transverse abdominis, external oblique abdominis, and internal oblique abdominis.



In the ‘postural’ method the muscles used to exhale fully and draw the navel towards the spine relative to the position of navel in a relaxed belly may include external oblique abdominis, internal oblique abdominis and rectus abdominis. When the spine moves into a posture with its own volition (as opposed to moving due to an external force such a gravity), the trunk muscles can firm in the following manner:

* When flexing or extending the spine the rectus abdomens can be active.

* When rotating (twisting) the spine to the left, the left internal oblique and the right external oblique become active, while when rotating (twisting) the spine to the right, the right internal oblique and the left external oblique become active.


The apparent paradox is that in both these sets of movements an initially relaxed abdomen as well as the navel will appear to draw inward toward the spine as a twisting or bending movement take place but if you use your fingers to palpate deep into the abdomen during such a movement then the abdominal muscles appear to push the abdomen and the navel outwards away from the spine.


In Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga (and all physical yoga) and any sort of physical postures or exercises both of these methods can and are used, but for most people the best effect if the ‘postural muscles’ method is used as the primary way of creating firmness in the trunk and the ‘forced exhalation muscles’ method is used purely for exhaling fully (and massaging the internal organs) and not for trying to firm the trunk.


This material in this video is presented in more detail in the live courses taught by physiotherapist and Director of Yoga Synergy, Simon Borg-Olivier, throughout the world ( as well as part of the online courses Yoga Synergy ( and For further information see our blog site at



This is a ’must do’ course for anyone who wants to practice/teach safe and effective yoga. You will learn how to use 9 main joint complexes, 20 muscle goup pairs, muscles, 3 main nerve reflexes, 10 circulatory pumps, 18 bandhas, 9 mudras and 8 main pranayamas.




“It is very important, but not enough, to know where your muscles and bones are … You have to know what to do with them!”

This course is the public version of the award winning RMIT university course written and presented by physiotherapists and yoga teachers Simon Borg-Olivier and Bianca Machliss’. It is the culmination of the 30 years of teaching experience and the practical application of the ‘Yoga Anatomy and Physiology’ course.

Each course is 120 hours fully online and is CEP points credited.









Share this Post

Comments 3

  1. Hi Simon,
    Another perspective on this whole belly in abdominal strengthening issue is the cultural perspective or put another way, what you are doing with your body when abdominal instructions are given can make any instruction seem either wise or silly. To give three different physical cultural examples:

    1) Human Bipedal Stance With Straight Knees and an “S” Shaped ‘Neutral” Spine: If a person is standing upright with straight knees then the instruction pull your abdomen back towards the spine might decrease the load of the belly otherwise tending to pull the lower spine in to hyper-lordosis. So this would be a reasonably good instruction in this situation. It might prevent the bad consequences of hyper-lordosis.

    2) Tai Chi Master’s Bipedal stance: Standing with a long straight (really straight, not ‘neutral’ spine), which requires very bent knees and a backward rotation of the pelvis, as in the Chinese internal martial art, Tai Chi. In this scenario the instruction pull your abdomen back towards the spine would be unnecessary, unhelpful and would draw scorn from any experienced Tai Chi master. There is no need to draw the naval in this scenario. It would create unnecessary tension of just the sort Tai Chi does not want. There is no need to correct hyper lordosis in Tai Chi Master, their practice should involve no lumbar lordosis to begin with and their abdominal contents don’t hang forward because they are safe and sound above their pelvis.

    3) Ashtanga Vinyasa Master’s Quadrupedal stance: When performing the vinyasa component of an ashtanga vinyasa practice, which requires spinal flexion with rectus abdominis activation (with weight bearing on the hands, much like a simian quadriped)their is no need to pull your abdomen or naval backwards. It would be unnecessary and unhelpful. If people really follow the instruction of inhaling during lolasana, an essential feature of the practice, then it is unlikely they are pulling their naval back towards the spine. Perhaps because it happens relatively quickly underneath the body, this feature of practice goes unnoticed, which may be why many modern western ashtanga vinyasa practitioners still advocate pulling the belly in, although a careful examination of their own practice would reveal they don’t / can’t do it for much of their own practice.
    Namaste, ben

  2. This is an excellent article that I believe many fellow teachers need to read. There is a tremendous amount of information that can be highly beneficial in teaching students, particularly those new to yoga practice.

  3. Post

    Thank you so much
    Yes i am very passionate about this subject and not enough people understand the relation between postural muscles and muscles of breathing.

Leave a Reply