I am reasonably new to yoga. I have had slight separation of my abdominals since the birth of my daughter two and a half years ago. Could you please advise me on some core-strengthening yoga exercises that won’t exacerbate the problem? Sarah, Melton VIC

The contents of the abdomen are covered by the abdominal muscles, the very top layer being the rectus abdominus muscles. A long, flat sheet of muscle fibre, they run vertically from the rib cage down to the pubic bone. The two halves of the rectus abdominus meet in a centre line, formed by a fibrous band of connective tissue. It is normal for these two halves to separate towards the end of the pregnancy, allowing the belly to accommodate the growing baby. Abdominal separation is felt, or seen, as a 1 to 5cm gap or a soft bulge. As the abdominal muscles strengthen, they gradually “knit” back together. This can take many weeks, months or longer. The main thing is to start gently and only progress gradually. It is also important to target the rectus abdominus by choosing correct asanas. Some suggestions include:

Pelvic tilts: Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet hip-width apart on the floor. Place your hands on the abdomen. Inhale, and slightly accentuate the arch in the lower back, rolling weight towards the floor of the buttocks. As you exhale, pull the abdomen smoothly in towards the spine—the lower back will flatten towards the floor. Repeat 10 times, on the last round holding the abdomen drawn in for a count of five.

Abdominal curls: Before you practise this variation of Navasana (Boat Pose), warm up with some pelvic tilts (see above). Draw the abdomen smoothly in and feel the lower back moving towards flat to the floor. Cross your arms over your belly to help support any muscle separation. Inhale, then on the exhale lift your head and shoulders slightly off the floor, chin tucked in. Hold this position for 2-5 seconds (however long feels comfortable). Repeat 4-10 times, depending on your comfort level. Don’t strain. To increase strength once these become easy, perform the abdominal curls with the calves resting on a chair or a sofa. The head can be supported by the hands if the neck becomes tense.

Flo Fenton teaches classes and leads retreats and teacher trainings in Suffolk Park near Byron Bay, NSW. Visit intouchyogabyronbay.com.

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