If you have arrived at this page without having read Riding with Awareness, you might like to read that article first to see how this ties in.
The easiest way to describe how to find your TVA is to make a SHHHHH sound. Feel that movement down in your abdomen? That’s your TVA engaging!
Tranverse Abdominis side view and cross section.
You need to have this feeling all the time when you’re riding—yes, really! But over time it becomes almost unnoticable as your level of natural ‘tone’ becomes higher. Most riders that I see suffer from lack of tone, but occasionally someone may have too much tone and they have to learn to let some out. Incidentally, if you’re used to riding a more phlegmatic type of horse, it’s likely that your natural tone is quite high. Be careful if you get on to a horse that is considered light or sensitive as you may need to reduce that level of tone considerably if you’re not to find yourself in the next county before you know it! ‘Hot’ horses, on the other, hand may need quite a high level of tone to enable you to stay with them.
Some people find it very difficult is to activate the TVA and remember—or even be able—to breathe!
If your core muscles are particularly weak due to injury, pregnancy or just non-use, you will have to look out for the following as other muscles will attempt to step in to compensate for the dysfunctional core:
1. Tilting of the pelvis
2. Bulging of the abdomen
3. Depression of the rib cage
4. Breath holding
So, to get you thinking about this, get down on all fours (hands under shoulders, knees under hips), with your spine in neutral alignment, and then try to pull your belly button up off the floor and into your spine. You should have the sensation of the waist narrowing and the tummy tightening but not sucking in. No movement should occur in your hips, pelvis or spine; so be careful not to arch your back. If you place the fingers of one hand on your lower belly, the isolated contraction of transverse abdominis should feel like a light, deep tension under your fingertips, not a contraction that pushes the fingers out. Watch also that you’re not holding your breath. In the beginning, hold for 10 seconds, release and repeat, building up to holding the contraction for 30 sec to a minute. Again make sure you are not holding your breath. Can you talk or sing a song while you are activating the TVA? That’s the equivalent to what you’ll be doing when riding!
Once you’ve gotten the hang of this, you can move to an excellent core strengthener:
Activate the TVA
1. Lie face down on mat resting on your forearms, palms flat on the floor or hands cupped together. (Make a fist with one hand, wrap other hand around it.)
2. Push off the floor, raising up onto your toes and resting on the elbows.
3. Keep your back flat, in a straight line from head to heels.
4. Tilt your pelvis and contract your abdominals to prevent your rear end from sticking up in the air.
5. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, lower and repeat for 3-5 reps.
Watch that your hips and back don’t sag. If you feel your back arching, lift your hips slightly higher in the air. Keep your nose toward the floor, don’t try to look out in front of you. This exercise is only effective if you keep a flat line from your shoulders to your feet. You might want to start in front of a mirror to learn the technique.
When you are doing this exercise for the first few times, your body may start shaking. This is a result of muscle weakness and lack of co-ordination. After a little practice, the shaking will stop and you will be able to hold this exercise for 30 seconds or more.
The following is also a great way to find them: Press the outside of the knee with the hand and press the knee into the hand. Hold for 10 seconds x 3 reps for the TVA and abductors. Press inside of knee with the hand and press the knee into the hand for the internal obliques and adductors. hold for 10 secs x 3 reps.
And remember that SHHHH sound I told you to make? You can use that at any time to remind you how to activate the TVA. Instead of singing along to, or humming, your favourite song of the moment, make the SHHHH sound instead.
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Classical Dressage Notebook