If you follow the latest weight loss 'miracle cures' on social media, you might have seen it: the so-called Fukutsuji exercise, where you just lie on a rolled-up towel for 5 minutes a day and... lose weight! The same message is repeated on hundreds of websites. So who is the 'famous doctor' Fukutsuji, and does the towel work?
All articles on the ‘towel exercise’ repeat the same thing – that Toshiki Fukutsuji is a ‘famous doctor and medical pioneer’ and the author of a book that has sold 6 million copies in Asia. Now, Toshiki Fukutsuji is a specialist in acupuncture, and his little book on the towel exercise is available on Amazon in Japanese, together with his books in Japanese on acupressure. A specialist in reflexology and shiatsu massage is definitely not the same thing as ‘famous doctor and medical pioneer’ (in fact, the status of reflexology as part of medical science is still hotly debated), but it is a story for another day.
So how do you do the ‘famous doctor”s towel exercise?
Roll up a big towel (the roll should be about 10 cm in diameter, or use a rolled-up yoga mat) and lie on the floor, putting the towel under the curve of your back, right under the belly button; place your feet a shoulderwidth apart and touch your big toes. Stretch your arms behind your back, turn the palms down and touch your pinkies, and wait for 5 minutes; do this 3 times a day. Most articles claim that it’s painful, but it actually isn’t… unless you have lower back issues, in which case you should definitely consult a doctor: back exercises should not cause pain!
So is there any science behind the magic towel exercise?
Well… sort of. Dr Fukutsuji seems to claim that people with pelvic misalignment tend to accumulate more fat around the waist and that by aligning the hip bones you can shed that fat. But it’s more complicated than that.
All our organs and limbs, including the intestine and stomach, connect to the brain via the vertebral column. It is true that misalignment of the bones, reflected in bad posture, can mean that nerve pathways are constricted. The part of the spine between the ribs and the small of your back is where the intestine nerves are connected: thus, if you slouch or push your pelvis too far back, it may result in digestion issues, such as constipation, bloating, gas, and acid reflux.
In fact, one study recently linked bad posture to gas transit. The IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) also seems to get worse in people with bad posture. However, while constipation and bloating make your belly appear bigger, it is not fat, just the waste that is not being eliminated. Correcting the posture, you release the nerves and realign your organs; once extra gas and fecal masses are flushed out, you will indeed appear slimmer and lose a few pounds. You do not lose actual weight this way – it is impossible to burn fat by simply lying down – but you appear thinner due to decreased bloating.
Apart from digestion, correcting the posture can help prevent neck pain and headache, breathing issues, and varicose veins (more details here.)
Yoga, callanetics, when done regularly, will realign your back, hips, legs, and even feet; as for the towel exercise, try it… but as always, do not expect miracles from sensational cures found on social media. Proper realignment may take months, but it will do you a world of good.