the abdominal vacuum [herbs & spices]

The ‘abdominal vacuum’ is an intriguing ‘spice’  [posture modifier] that can be used in a number of different ways.  It has a yogic heritage – and is used in both bandha [बंध] and shatkarma [षटकर्म].  It was used by early physical culturalists – and later by bodybuilders to emphasize their poses and train their muscular control of the abdominal musculature. 

Usually performed as an isometric contraction, it utilizes the transversus abdominis for much of its base functionality; though, as you can see in some of the photographs, the obliques and rectus abdominus can also become ‘heavily involved’.

I used to do this movement a lot as a very young boy.   I have no idea how I came about doing it –  as there was very little in the way of yogic knowledge in West Belconnen in the 1980s.  Nevertheless, I somehow became aware that my body could do this and would play around with it incessantly.

I also had an aversion to eating much as a kid, too.  My Nana had a proclivity for the overfeeding of children and would always be harassing me to eat. I would lift up my t-shirt,  perform a strong abdominal vacuum – making my already very skinny frame look like a skeleton –  then move about to her scolding of: ‘you horrible, horrible boy!’  Hahaha.  Later, I considered that she may have been overfeeding kids because of experiences in the Depression or WW2. So, wherever you are – sorry about that one, Nana!

[ 🙏 ]

The yogic uses have to do with the purification of the body and nadis with intention of coaxing of the kundalini force up the central channel of Sushumna. The text ‘Roots of Yoga’, by Mallinson and Singleton, traces some of these techniques [and their associate metaphysics] as they migrated and exchanged between different communities of practitioners in ancient India.  It is a fantastic text and I heartily recommend reading it, if one is so inclined. 

The bodybuilding and physical culture uses were more along the lines of ‘health’ and ‘aesthetics’, to contrast the spiritual, energetic and health-cleansing benefits of its use within the yogic traditions. The vacuum, properly executed, gives a benevolent opticks to the muscularity and size of the rib cage. Many of the older physical culturalists [esp Maxick] had ‘muscle control’ as a third virtue linked and associated with health and aesthetics.

The yogic uses are largely executed from one of the seated asana, as used in pranayama and further contemplation. Bodybuilders and physical culturalists would often use the vacuum in different standing poses; but they also trained it in various seated, quadruped and supine postures.

The way I utilize it within Physical Alchemy incorporates some of these aspects – and adds a few more uses. One can combine the vacuum with different stretching postures in unusual and auspicious ways. One can also utilize different degrees of modulation of the vacuum tonus whilst doing motion exercises to get at tissues that are very difficult to get to; this especially includes use of circles, waves and figure 8’s in different planes, in isolation and combination – using prone and supine laying postures; quadruped; seated and sitting; standing; leaning on objects and hanging from rings and chinning bars.

It is a ‘moderately strong fire’ – meaning you can fuck yourself up with it if you are foolish. For those on a path towards physical mastery, you need to get familiar with it. It has been useful in ‘mundane’ ways: like helping with the ability to vomit/not vomit and ease indigestion sensations; scaring grandmas; and impressing classmates.

It is worth considering that there are strong postural forces existing within the ribcage and abdominal cavity that distort the skeleton via an ‘implosion of hypertonicity’.
Also, that the sensory aspects in these areas are largely dormant in most people; and that there are sensory, motor and visceral amnesia patterns in this terrain that are quite literally ‘life changing’ if you can repattern them.


title image:  some unknown [to me] gentleman of the early era of physical culture, possible from the subcontinent.

top image:  the great Krisnamacharya.

bottom image:  the ‘Austrian Oak’ himself.. looks reasonably early on in his bodybuilding career.  Unsure of the source or event.