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 moms who believe that giving up their hourglass shape was 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 pregnant 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.