In my yoga classes I like to focus on a concept or body part and we will work that “idea” for the entire week. I will lead them through different flows, but the concept remains the same.
This last week, I focused a lot on core stability. I realized I say “tighten your core” a lot, but never really explained what it is I want students to engage. When you think of the word “core” what do you think of? A good portion of people automatically think of the “six-pack” abs. While those do play a role, they are a very small piece of a much bigger puzzle. Your core is responsible for keeping you upright. Thanks to your core, you don’t tip over every time you stand up. It keeps your hips/pelvis aligned, helps you go to the bathroom, and supports your spine.
To activate your core, go ahead and stand up.
Spread your feet until they are hip-width apart. Place a block, pilates/small playground ball, or even a rolled towel between your inner thighs. Make sure your feet are straight out in front of you, heels should line up directly behind your toes. Press down through the soles of your feet, firm your thighs, and pull your knee-caps up toward your quads. Gently squeeze that block between your legs until you feel your inner thighs and outer hips begin to engage.
Now place your hands on your waist. Cough a little. Did you feel that muscle deep within your trunk activate? That your transverse abdominis. It runs horizontally right underneath your rectus abdominis (the six pack) and the obliques. With your hands on your waist, activate your traverse abdominis. Imagine it like a belt or Spanx, but instead of pulling everything in for your little black dress, it cinches in your waist and supports your spine.
Next, place your hands on your two hip points. Imagine hugging them in toward one another. Decrease the space between your two hip bones.
The last thing is to engage your pelvic floor. Imagine you have to pee really, really badly, but the closest bathroom is 10 minutes away. What do you do? You engage your pelvic floor! Do that. I’ll spare you a picture of what that looks like… Ahem.
Go through your checklist. Make sure your are legs engaged, pelvic floor is activated, hips are compacted, and your transverse abdominis is cinched around your spine.
Voila! Engaged core. An engaged core will not only help protect and support your back and pelvis, but will help with balance, strength, and that handstand you’ve been wanting to hold. Practice these tips in inversions, standing poses, balancing postures, or waiting in line at Starbucks!
Here are a couple of my favorite core strengthening exercises:
Table Top with Spinal Extension:
Come down on your hands and knees. Align your hands under your shoulders, knees underneath hips. Engage everything as discussed above. Draw your tail bone back toward the wall behind you, and pull your shoulders down and back.
Extend your right leg straight back behind you. Keep your hips square and level.
Pull your knee and elbow toward your chest, as you round your back, then extend your arm and leg away from each other. Coming back into that long (core activated) position. Do 10 reps on one side, and then repeat on the other.
Engage everything we discussed above. Step one foot back, then the other. Try to hold for 30 seconds, and release. Perform 3-5x times. Of course you can increase your holds for as long as you are physically able, without losing your form.
While six-pack abs look nice, a strong foundational core (transverse abdominis, multifidi, erector spinae, etc.) is a lot more useful. Add some deep core stabilizer exercises to your workout regimen to keep yourself strong, supported, and protected.
Come practice with me! My schedule can be found on the Yoga/Fitness tab.