How to Get a Slimmer Waist
In the first installment of our series with structural integrative specialist, Lauren Roxburgh, we talked about what fascia is—and how you can manipulate it for longer and leaner legs thanks to its malleable nature. Luckily, there are ways to slim and streamline the waist, too—a particularly poignant fact for post-partum women who believe that giving up their hourglass shape is the price they paid to have kids. One of the reasons for the lingering thickness? The fascia builds up throughout the lower back to support the belly, and then decides to stay that way. It can be really tough to budge both the weight and the girth (from our personal experience, as well as Lauren’s). And for those who haven’t had a baby in the past few years, but who experience routine bloating or weight gain in their mid-sections, Lauren’s here to help, too. “There’s nothing more disheartening than the sight of love handles spilling over your pants, or a pooched belly,” she explains. “The good news is that while you will still need to do a bit of work, there really is a magic bullet that can help shrink your waist: All you need to do is create length and space in your core.” We asked her for a series of exercises to do exactly that. Her book (Ballantine) is due out in January, 2016.
“When the body begins to work appropriately, the force of gravity can flow through. Then, spontaneously, the body heals itself.”
—Ida P. Rolf, Ph.D; founder of the Structural Integration method and acknowledged as the first to understand the role of fascia in human health.
Why do we gain weight around our midsections?
Much like weight gain in general, there are myriad factors, including poor diet, stress, hormonal imbalances, emotional eating, lack of adequate rest, and not moving our bodies enough. Alternately, we sometimes over-train parts of our bodies—like with spinning, which can create thicker, heavier quads on some frames.
But why does weight tend to go to our midsection? All of these factors can come into play, but as a structural integration practitioner I tend to look at the role of gravity and the impact of posture on our connective tissue. Basically, over time, gravity and the weight of our upper body can cause the space between the ribs and the hips to get squished and compressed, which in turn leads to a shortening and thickening of the waist. When our waistlines shorten, all the muscles, tissues, organs, skin, and fat start to bulge out to the sides making us look and feel thicker than we really are. To make matters worse this can also negatively influence digestion, metabolism, circulation, oxygenation, and organ and gland efficiency, leading to bloating, density, and inflammation. When more space is available for movement, breath, and circulation in this vital area, not only does the entire waist shrink and the midsection lengthen, but your energy will also increase and you will stand taller.
The waist or sides of the body tend to be neglected in our everyday lives: We spend a lot of time sitting, slouching, driving, and working on computers (or texting). Essentially, we’re just holding onto tension, stress, and worry. During my structural integration training we analyzed the way people in different cultures walk. Not surprisingly, those of us in West tend to walk—excuse the term—as if we have a stick up our asses. We’re rigid, tight, anxious, and inflexible and carry the stresses of our daily lives in our gait. Conversely people in African and South-American cultures tend to walk with their heads held high and with a relaxed movement: Their hips swing, their torsos twist side to side, and they have a more graceful presence to them. What this style of walking also means is that they are effectively doing core work in the muscles and fascia of their torsos with every step, toning the core while also helping to flush toxins, unwind tension, and release stress. So in addition to the roller moves below, whenever you walk (we take on average 5,900 steps a day just getting around our lives—that’s without cardio), stride with movement and grace. It will help your body twist, ‘ringing out’ your organs, increasing the oxygenation throughout, and whittling your waist in the process.
How does fascia contribute to this thickness?
Fascia is critical because it actually helps to create the shape of our bodies. Basically, fascia is like a very thin wet suit just under the skin that wraps around each individual muscle and keeps everything in place (including our organs). It’s that thin white stringy layer that you see on a chicken breast when you’re cooking.
When it’s healthy, it’s like clear saran wrap. But injuries, stress, bad posture, emotional behavioral patterns, and poor body maintenance can cause fascia to get tight, dense, short, and plasticized. This further restricts movement and the alignment and efficiency of the body can be compromised, trapping toxins in the fascia and leading to thicker ‘pockets’ throughout the body—such as those that often form around the waist.
The good news is that fascia is malleable and can be repaired—and foam rolling and bodywork are both fantastic ways of releasing all those unhealthy toxins from the fascia and helping to reduce thickness in the body.
Is it possible to create a waistline if you’ve never had one before?
Anyone can have a waistline, although the optimal waistline differs for every woman depending on body type, genetics, and so on. These exercises are not about getting that idealized 34/24/34 figure. These are about finding your best waist and most elongated torso and creating the space in your body to stretch out a bit.
What are these roller exercises actually doing to your underlying structure?
The foam roller acts as a tool for myo-fascial release, lubricating your tissues and joints, melting away stress, and boosting circulation tremendously. The roller gets into the fascia in much the same way that a deep-tissue massage does, working out the toxins and scar tissue and helping to reformulate the structure of the muscles into a sleeker, leaner, more flexible form.
The roller also helps us tap into our intrinsic and core muscles—or, as I like to call them, the “skinny-buff muscles.” When incorporated with Pilates-inspired movements, the foam roller essentially destabilizes us. In order to balance, we have to “turn on” those core and intrinsic muscles that can be difficult to activate in most gym exercises or cardio workouts. What I’ve seen in my own body and the bodies of my clients is that when we focus on accessing these muscles mindfully we notice that they keep us slim, strong, long, and youthful, so activating and using them is essential to maintaining the improved alignment and sculpting the healthy, youthful body we all crave. The great thing about this program is that it can be an add-on to other workouts you love. You can take it on the road or do it at night before bed. It takes just a few minutes, allowing you to work smarter and not necessarily harder.
The Waist Slimming Sequence
#1: Standing Side Bends
Benefit: This opens the ribcage, intercostal muscles, and lungs, which creates more balance through the core and improves our capacity to breathe. This move relieves anxiety, and even asthma and allergies.
- Stand up tall with your feet hipbone width apart.
- Reach your arms up, shoulder width apart.
- Inhale to reach up and over to the right.
- Exhale to reach up and over to the left.
Repeat five times on each side.
#2: Windmill Twist
Benefit: This warms up the spine and waist while freeing up the fascia in the torso.
- Stand with your feet hip width apart.
- Place the roller behind your shoulders, wrapping your biceps around the roller.
- Inhale to twist your body to one side, and exhale to twist to the other.
Repeat 5 times on each side.
#1: Upper Back Roll
Benefit: This reduces tension and density in the upper back, while building tone in the neck and decompressing the upper thoracic vertebra. It also improves posture, and will help you stand up taller and calmer.
- Lying on the floor, place the roller under your back at your bra line and lean your middle back over the roller.
- Take your hands behind your head to support your head and neck. Using your feet to drive the move, inhale as you roll and massage up the upper back and shoulder blades.
- Exhale as you roll and massage down the spine to the bottom of your ribs (be careful NOT to roll back and fourth on the lower back because it can create too much pressure/force on your discs and vertebra).
Repeat 8 times.
#2: Under-Armpit/Lymph Massage
Benefit: Increases lymphatic drainage and reduces lateral body tension and compression.
- Lie down on the foam roller—it should be perpendicular to your body. You should be slightly twisted toward the right side of your upper back, right armpit, and ribs. Bend your knees 90-degrees, and place your feet flat on the floor.
- From this position, roll from your armpit about four inches down towards your waist and back again—drive the roller by pressing your feet, for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch sides; repeat, using the same deep breathing as you do so.
Repeat 8 times on each side.
#3: Diaphragm Roller Release
Benefit: Increases oxygen intake, helps burn fat, slow the aging process, and increase metabolism. This move simultaneously alleviates the weight of the world from your shoulders along with all those pains in your neck.
- Lying on your back, bring the roller to the bottom of your shoulder blades at your bra line with your hands behind your head, fingers gently interlaced to support your neck. Place your feet parallel and hip width distance apart and keep your tush down on the mat.
- Inhale as you arch your thoracic (or mid- to upper-) back over the roller. Keep you hands behind your head while stretching the front of your neck to release any tension.
- Exhale and curl back up, squeezing and flattening all the air out of your stomach, organs, and lungs to clear out the carbon dioxide, making room for fresh oxygen to fill the lungs. This also helps clear any tension and stress in the gut by ringing out the organs like a wet towel, while flattening the abdominal muscles.
Repeat 8 to 10 times.
#4: Diaphragm Release with Organ Twist
Benefit: The twisting in this move helps to ring out organs and flush toxins. It also creates space between the ribs and hips.
- Do the same as Step #3, just add a twist of the knees and head in opposition to lengthen and lean out the waist.
Repeat 3 times on each side.
#5: Snow Angel Shoulder Massage
Benefit: This brings oxygenated blood and lubrication to the head, neck, shoulders, and thoracic spine. It encourages the shoulders to go back more effortlessly, which will make you look and feel taller and calmer.
- Lying on your back, place the roller under you in parallel, supporting your entire spine from head to tailbone.
- Place your arms out to the side, with the palms of your hands up to open and expand the chest.
- Do “Snow Angels” with your arms and shoulder blades reaching your arms out to the side and up toward your ears while expanding the chest, arms, and neck. This will massage your shoulder blades as you move.
Repeat 8 to 10 times on each side.
To Tone, Strengthen, Re-Shape and Lengthen
#1: Slinky Spine
Benefit: Helps create space between the ribs and the hips while decompressing your entire spine.
- Inhale as you reach your arms up, then exhale while you curl your chin to your chest and round your spine down and pull your belly in. Place your fingertips down to the roller while in a rounded spine.
- Inhale as you start rolling the roller away from you. It will roll up your forearms, and then lengthen into an extended or arched spine (going from flexion to extension). Reach your sit bones up wide to lengthen and decompress the spine, shoulders, neck, and waist.
- Exhale to start curling your tailbone under, rounding your spine, and scooping your belly as you roll the roller back towards you until you are in an upside down letter U shape.
Repeat 8 times.
#2: Inverted Waist Shrinker
Benefit: This inversion stimulates the lymphatic system, and helps tone and lift your core muscles and organs. This move also gives your lower back a soft tissue fascia release and lubricates your lower back and hips.
- Place the roller under your sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine).
- Place your upper back and shoulders to the mat, keeping your waist elevated in a bridge position. Lift your legs to about a 90-degree angle so they’re pointing up to the ceiling.
- Place your hands on either side of the outer edge of the roller to make sure it doesn’t slip. The roller should remain stable throughout this exercise.
- Inhale as you begin lowering your legs down in front of you. Bring them down as low as you can without sensation or arching in your lower back and/or shoulders.
- As you exhale, use your deep lower belly to draw your legs back up toward the sky about 90 degrees. Your spine should remain stable and neutral for the duration of this exercise.
Repeat 8 to 10 times.
#3: Rolling Swan
Benefit: This tones, strengthens, and lengthens your neck, shoulders, backs of the arms, the upper back, and the lower butt. This move also decompresses the spine and helps create space between your ribs and hips. This helps you stand taller, and has been known to aid digestion and elimination.
- Lay face down on the mat and place the roller right below your elbow joints with your thumbs up.
- Reach your heels away from your heart to feel oppositional energy and decompress your spine.
- Make sure your glutes are relaxed so you don’t jam your low back while you roll up.
- With the roller under your forearms, inhale to start rolling the roller towards you, extending the spine while pulling your belly in and UP. Roll the shoulders back to tone the arms and help realign your posture.
- Be sure to pull your abs up and in to support your back and elongate the front of your body.
- Exhale as you slowly resist on the way down.
Repeat 8 times.
Benefit: This builds longer, leaner, and stronger muscles along the sides of the body, which helps the core stay tall and counteract the negative effects of gravity and stress.
- Lie down on your side with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Place the roller under your bottom leg, just above the anklebone.
- Place your bottom elbow directly under your shoulder, with your forearm flat on the ground.
- Press down into your lower leg and forearm, lifting your side body (or “hourglass”) off the ground, taking care to keep the roller stable. You will want to continue to keep the roller stable throughout this entire exercise.
- Inhale and sweep your top arm up toward the sky. With this motion, you should feel the entire lateral line of your body engage to hold you up/defy gravity.
- As you exhale, rotate your torso and top arm down toward the ground, while keeping your body propped up in space.
Repeat 8 to 10 times on each side.
#5: Shell Curl
Benefit: Scooping the belly flat flushes toxins and gives the body an internal shower, while toning and shrinking the waist.
- Place the roller just below the knee joints.
- Place your hands shoulder width apart and make sure your shoulders are directly over your wrists. Stabilize your shoulders, and imagine there is a skewer through your shoulder joints: You will skewer around the joint but you will not rock back and forth.
- Place your spine into a slight extension to elongate your belly muscles, inhale, and then start rolling the roller toward you while rounding your spine into flexion in the shape of a nautilus shell. Take a full exhale to pull the roller all the way in while your hips lift, your belly is scooped, and your tummy is sucking in.
- Squeeze all the CO2 out at the very end to release toxins and draw the waist in like a vacuum seal suction to tone and shrink the belly.
- Exhale and slowly resist the roller as your legs back down into the full extension position.
Repeat 8 times.