I used to think that, submitting to gravity’s relentless pull, all of us were doomed to a drooping belly sometime after the 40 mark. Studying Pilates in the 1990s, I adjusted this estimate: Pilates permitted you to stave it off perhaps 15 years longer, I reasoned. Later on came yoga and other body therapies such as rolfing. In spite of an influx of these therapies and a lot of information, I was mostly in the dark on posture. Nor did I consider that posture is the key matter when it comes to the drooping belly.
One day, in an anusara yoga class in New York, came a revelation. Anusara is a yoga style, the brainchild of yoga genius John Friend. I took a posture workshop from one of Friend’s protégés, and the light finally came on. With it, my belief in the inevitability of the drooping belly faded into oblivion.
It is easier to demonstrate than communicate through writing, yet if you are willing to take a moment, it should be possible for you follow. Here’s what you do:
Stand with your feet about 6-8 inches apart. Your feet should point directly forward. Now, gripping your heels into the ground, so that they don’t swirl outward, inwardly rotate your thighs. As you do this you will notice a tendency for your butt to move backward and your torso to lean slightly forward: this is good.
Now, leaving your butt back, lean your torso more forward, make fists with your hands and hit the top of your thighs with your fists, saying “Femurs (thighbones) back.” This is the critical rule: thighbones are always set as far back in their sockets as possible. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing yoga or standing at the kitchen sink: Thighbones are back.
Now, imagine there is a movie camera in your pelvis, but it is tilted downward, taking pictures of the floor. As you move your torso back to vertical (leaving the thighbones back!) imagine that the camera in your pelvis is moving upward so that it is pointing at the wall in front of you instead of at the floor you are standing on. As you imagine this, you will feel your lower, deep abdominal muscles engage to pull the pelvis level. Call this the anti-pot belly action. Notice when you keep your thighbones back, your abdomen must scoop in. Welcome to the realm of good posture—perhaps for the first time in your life. Make this a habit and your body will love you for it.
Notice how, moving your thighbones forward again, you automatically start to develop a pot belly, because the abdominal muscles go slack and start to sag. When you are younger, you can get away with this and still keep a flat belly…but not as you get older. Moving the thighbones back and doing the camera action causes the abdominals to scoop in again.
Of course, you have to maintain a reasonable weight, or all bets are off. Nevertheless, even with a bit more weight than what you need, this anti-pot belly action will counteract your tendency to a drooping belly.
One last thing: when you stand, stand equally on both feet at once. Do not put your weight onto one foot, throwing out your hip and sinking weight into your hip joint. Loading your weight into your hip joint like this cannot help but wear it out over time. It is OK, to stagger one foot in front of the other, but keep thighs inwardly rotated slightly and toes pointing forward. Like changing any habit, changing your postural habit to thighbones back will take some work, but it will pay you off handsomely in the long-run.