“Strengthen your core.” “Pull in your core.” “Engage your core.”

We hear these cues often in yoga classes, but the term ‘core’ is vague. If you were to ask any given yoga student where their core was you’d be given a multitude of answers. Many would assume it means to suck their belly in, but is that all there is to it?

Our core generally refers to all abdominal groups, hip flexors, the stabilizing muscles that protect the lumbar spine. Our core protects our vital organs. Our core also refers to the energy centre of our solar plexus. Manipura, the third chakra found at the centre of our being that helps regulate our self-power, confidence, and gut instincts. When we have a strong core we are able to protect and stand up for ourselves, on the physical, spiritual and energetic level.Teachers are reminding us to engage our core for good reason. From a physical standpoint, having a strong core helps remedy lower back pain and also helps to prevent it from forming in the future. Practicing yoga without engaging the core could lead to injury, and keeping your lower abdominals engaged should be practiced in most yoga postures.

There is a reason plank comes up in my class a lot. This is full-body work and when practiced mindfully it’s medicine for your body. Plank can be modified by bringing the knees to the ground, and intensified by lifting one foot at a time. When practicing plank be sure to protect your lower back by drawing in the lower abdominal muscles. Be sure not to let your lower back arch like a hammock. Keep your fingers relaxed, soften your face, lift the corners of your mouth and BREATHE.

A fun way to strengthen your core and work on facing a few fears at the same time. Bakasana, or crow pose, is an arm balance that takes a lot of abdominal strength. Come into a low squat and place your palms on the floor shoulder width apart. Spread your fingers wide. Lift your hips high into the air and spread your knees apart, brining them to rest high up on your arms, as close to your armpits as you can get. You can leave both feet on the ground and work on bringing your weight forward into the fingertips. If you feel comfortable lift one foot at a time. To get both feet up, suck your belly button up towards your spine and work on reaching your heart forward, finding the tipping point where your toes begin to float up off the floor. Most important, have fun. This is not the be-all-and-end-all of your yoga practice.

A take on traditional abdominal crunches. We take the arm and leg cross found in garudasana (eagle pose) and add a sweet squeeze of the belly. Lying on the back cross your right leg up and over the left, perhaps trying to tuck your right toes behind the left calf. Cross your right arm under your left and either bring your palms together or reach for opposite shoulders. On the inhale reach long, your hands and feet pulling away from each other, on your exhale life your head and shoulders up and bring your elbows and knees to touch. Working with the breath, inhale to extend and reach out long, exhale to compress in. Take 5 on one side, pause for a few breaths, and then repeat on the other side.

After plank, navasana (boat pose) one gets the most groans in class. But man oh man, is it ever effective. If you’re just learning boat, come to sit on your butt, lean back, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. You’ll be creating a V-shape between your torso and thighs. Extend your arms out parallel to the floor. Extend the crown of your head up to the ceiling and engage your lower abdominals. Be careful not to let your lower back round. This pose can be dangerous for your lower back if you let the lower back collapse. Stay long in the torso and lift your chest. The next stage would be to lift your feet off the floor, brining the shins parallel to the floor. The full expression is extending the legs out long, creating a full V (or boat shape) between your torso and legs. But I’m serious, if you let your back collapse in this pose it goes quickly from being medicine to poison for your body. So leave your ego at the curb and explore this posture in a safe way. You’ll build strength safely and will progress in a way that is acceptable to your body. 

As a teacher I have often been asked by students for lots of core work in class. With a laugh I like to remind them that when practiced properly, many of the poses in class can help build strength at our centre. Take warrior one. We often get lazy in this pose, letting our lower ribcage and belly all hang out. A healthy warrior one keeps containment at our centre, engaging abdominal strength and protecting our lower back, but students often get too caught up in lunging deeper into the pose in their legs, while forgetting about their centre. And, of course, engaging the core in warrior one makes the pose a heck of a lot harder.Here are some poses you can practice to help you get stronger at your centre.

Clancy Sullivan hails from beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia and currently lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Teaching yoga has allowed Clancy to follow her bliss and do what she loves. This includes, but is not limited to, cracking jokes, dancing like a fool, seeing the world and teaching/practicing/living yoga!


Popular Posts