I call it the butt clench. Tldr: a few months ago, I realized that I clench my butt pretty much all the time. Like all day, for no reason. So I’m learning, slowly and rep by rep, how to relax my butt muscles…yup.
Oh and it’s not my outer butt muscles, the glutes. It’s actually the inside, the sphincter muscles. What you use when you gotta poop. But I feel more comfortable just calling it the butt clench :)
It’s partly amusing, kinda frustrating, and mostly weird. I don’t know when I started to do this. I might not be alone in this habit but it feels that way. The behavior can’t be healthy or helpful. It’s simply a bad and stuck habit.
Singing lessons helped me spot the clench. In everyday life, when you exhale, your body likes to squeeze your breathing muscles to get that last bit of oxygen goodness. When you sing, this squeezing and contracting is bad. It wastes air. One way to fight this tendency is to push outward, slightly, as you breathe out. Fight the contracting muscles. This is known as support. Some people say when you’re doing it right, it should feel like taking a poop. Others suggest expanding your stomach like a balloon – in a full circle, and then to maintain that expansion.
The more I practiced support, the more I noticed that my inner butt muscle, my sphincters, would relax. It’s like a tight knot that would unravel when I focused on it. And when the muscles relaxed, it felt good. Like noticeable good – relaxed, less tension, a kinda looseness around my pelvis.
I began to try and spot check throughout the day. I’d think about that inner spot and invariably I’d notice it was clenched. So I’d make a conscious effort to relax and release. But only moments after doing so, if I spot checked again, I’d notice that it tightened up again, like a slinky returning to its default form.
Through practice, it got easier to unclench. Less concentration was required. Occasionally – rarely – I’d do a mental check and notice that the muscle was naturally relaxed. But 98% of the time, it’d be tight and balled up.
How did this start? Why? No clue. Certainly doesn’t feel like a healthy habit, not in the least bit. Imagine flexing your bicep and walking around all day. Your bicep would get exhausted, and you put a lot of strain on your body, and over time your arm might forget what it felt like to really relax.
In addition to the conscious unclenching practice, I should probably do more relaxing stretches and physical activities – like yoga and massage and sauna.
Why am I writing about this? Also no clue. Just wanted to. This experience made me appreciate anew the enormous cumulative effect of tiny habits. If you walk up two flights of stairs every day, 300 days a year, that’s 5-10K steps you’ll take in a year. That’s meaningful exercise. If you write a page of your novel every morning, no matter how bad, you’ll have 300 pages – a full book! – in a year.
But life has a balance to it, and whatever applies to good habits also applies to the harmful ones. Sleep one hour less than you need every night, and your body will crave hundreds of hours of rest and recovery by year’s end. Daily damage to a body that is already fighting an unbeatable battle against father time. When we sleep 10 hours a day over the holidays, it’s because we badly need it. Hibernation isn’t just for bears.
In my case this butt clench. Bit by bit, day by day, it felt better or safer to tighten up, and now I do it all day every day and can’t even feel it! I began to wonder: What other muscles do I unnecessarily tighten? What effort am I exerting that is unhelpful and stressful? How can I relax more? What are the figurative and literal butt clenches in my life?
It all sounds a bit funny and I share it in part because it’s amusing, in a smh kinda way. For years now – maybe for most of my life – I’ve walked around with a clenched butt. Such is life.