In almost each yoga class, I teach about 5 minutes of core work. Not your typical 6-pack-gym-class-grunting core, but slow-deep-360-degrees-of-the-trunk core work.
The core is very integral to how we carry ourselves physically. Runners, for instance, who have a strong trunk, have less side to side swivel and rotation while jogging and therefore save more energy on their runs, and are able to go longer distances. Danny Dryer from ChiRunning even proposes runners visualize like Tai Chi principles a long guiding string coming out of your belly button and drawing you forward, that the entire strength and endurance for your run comes from the steady core guiding and leading the way down the trail. In all athletics, evening out the back strength with the front abdominal strength creates great posture and more balance. Cyclists with strong cores and low backs especially can stay lower in the handlebar drops for longer with more comfort.
Yoga instructor Ana Forrest teaches the core is “from crotch to crown” and deeply tied to how we feel emotionally and spiritually. If you’ve got time to read, I thought this was a really awesome post by JC Peters: “We swallow down experiences we can’t fully process and hide them in our bellies…Above or right at the navel is…our willpower, sense of identity, our ability to manifest the desires and dreams…. This is our ego, our sense of who we are in the world, our ability to stand up for ourselves, but also our insecurities and feelings of powerlessness against a world that mostly controls us, not the other way around. Stimulating this…can get us fired up to take care of business…”
Try incorporating some of these deep core pieces into your next workout. Each is good to do for about 30 seconds:
- Heels to Heavens: Lay on gound with arms by sides, legs straight up into air, feet flexed. On each exhale, curl the tailbone up off the ground and push the heels to the cieling. Inhale and lower tailbone back to ground. Highest priority during this pose is to not let the feet or knees rock towards your face- lift them straight up into the air like there were strings tied to the heels pulling them to ceiling. Let go of the ego and be ok with the tailbone only moving an inch or two. Making this pose more effective, as the tailbone is curling up, simultaneously pull the belly button down towards the spine.
- Static Leg Press: Lay on back, legs at 90 degrees, feet flexed, calves parallel to ground. Place palms on tops of thighs. Push the hands into the thighs, and pull the thighs into the hands. Do this as strongly as you can- shaking is ok. Highest priority for this pose is to keep the low back pressed firmly flat to the ground, and even chin slightly tucked so the back of the neck is flat to the ground.
- Leg Lowering: Set up the body like in Heels to Heavens, but slow motion lower one flexed leg at a time down to hover a foot or two above the mat. Highest priority is to keep the low back completely flat against the ground- do not let it arch up. Only lower the leg as low as you can go with the back completely sealed to mat. Alternate- take first leg back to ceiling and lower the second leg. Then can move a little quicker with the breath if you want, exhaling to lower, and inhaling to switch or scissor the legs.
- Boat: Come to a v-sit on your hips, straighten back, hover legs, and lift heart to the ceiling. Highest priority here is a flat back. Can take it deeper by slowly lowering the boat, so long as your back can stay flat, maybe even legs totally straight and arms over the head in line with spine. You’ll feel this most effectively in 360 degrees of the trunk the more that you lift your heart.
- High Plank: Come to palms and toes to the ground, align the wrist creases directly under the shoulders, and keep feet hip-width distance apart. Push through the fingertips (especially thumb and forefinger) to distribute weight and protect wrists, and have a small puff of air under the center of the palms. Be safest on your shoulders by spiraling your triceps towards the feet so the soft parts of the elbows are towards your thumbs, then lift the back of the heart so high to the ceiling that the back of the shoulders looks flat or like a hill instead of a valley. Push back through the heels, and extend the crown of the head forward so the neck matches the straight line of the spine. I’ve learned I’ve got to put my tailbone lower and belly button higher than what feels like plank in order to really get in a strong, straight line (try a mirror along your side view to help you find what is best alignment sensations for you). Hug belly up to spine. Tons of variations- my favorite is keeping the trunk parallel to the ground, but lifting the right hand and putting palm against bottom right rib, not allowing any trunk rotation, then putting it back down and doing the same on the other side (can move quicker with the breath if you want, inhaling hand up and exhaling to plant palm back down on mat).
- Side Plank: From High Plank, slide the feet together to touch and roll one hand up into the air. You can modify and rest the lower knee on the ground if you need. Push the ribcage and hips as high up into the air as you can. Lift up and out of the lower shoulder socket. Stack the lifted arm directly above the lower arm. Push through the lower fingertips to protect the lower wrist. Take the hips into an arc. To feel this the best, really tuck the tailbone in so the body is in one plane.
- Locust: Be sure to balance out the low back strength with the front of the core strength. Lay on belly, extend arms to side and a little behind you. Lift the arms, chest, and legs up of the ground, balancing on the hip bones. Extend the crown of the head forward and extend the feet back, which really activates the mid-back strength. Lengthen the neck and keep shoulders away from ears. Let the heart burst forward and arc the edges of the collarbone towards the back wall. Overtime, lift so much you get the low ribs and thighs up off the mat.