Having a strong core enables us to stand tall, sit straight, be centered, and walk our talk with purpose.
Often, when we think of “core strength,” we think exclusively of the abs. But core strengthening is about much more than attaining a toned six-pack. We must also pay attention to the back of the core, as well as the oblique abdominals—the muscles on the sides of the lower torso.
Did you know that yoga not only improves muscular flexibility, it can also improve our internal systems? Certain poses massage our internal organs and intestines and help improve digestion, as well as circulation and coordination.
As we practice, it’s important to maintain deep, conscious breathing—moving mindfully and gradually, flowing with grace and inner peace. We can invite our muscles to stretch and contract in a gentle and caring way. We never want to push ourselves into pain or try to go too far into a pose before the body is ready.
Cat/Cow spinal flexion. On the hands and knees, move the spine back and forth gently. Inhaling deeply, lift the tailbone, drop the abdomen, and lift the gaze—arching the back in Cow pose. On the exhale, starting from the base of the spine, tuck the tailbone under, lift the abdomen, and lower the gaze—rounding the back like a Halloween cat. Move at the pace of your breath.
Fire Hydrant asana. Begin on the hands and knees, spreading the fingers wide and placing the wrists directly under the shoulders and knees directly under the hips. First, extend the right leg back and the left arm forward, growing as long as possible. Hold four breaths. Then, reach the arm out to the left and the leg out to the right. Bend the right leg at the knee, if needed. Hold this core strengthening variation for another four to five breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
Squat. Separate your feet and allow the toes to turn out as needed, while knowing the pose is eventually executed with the toes forward. Bend both knees, lowering the hips as close to the floor as is comfortable. Press the palms together in front of the chest and use your elbows to gently open the knees and hips.
Tree variation. Starting from Mountain pose, shift your weight to the right leg. Turn the left knee out as far as it goes, opening the hip. Bring the sole of the left foot to your inner ankle, calf, or thigh. Once you feel a good foundation in the foot and legs, reach the arms up like branches or bring the palms together. Keep breathing deeply. Focus your eyes on a still point to assist with the balance.
Lift up the corners of your mouth and smile. Be lighthearted. After several breaths in Tree pose, move the foot away from the leg and keep the knee lifted and opening out to the side for a core strengthening variation. Spend another five long, deep breaths in this position. Release, shake out the legs, and switch to the opposite side.
Balancing pose with leg extended. Feel your feet on the ground and stand up tall. Lift up one leg, holding on to either the knee or foot with the hand. Alternatively, place the hands on the hips and hold the knee or extended leg out in front of you, using just the strength of your core. Hold for five deep breaths, then switch sides, and repeat.
Triangle. Standing with the legs wide and the toes pointed forward, lift your arms out to the sides, parallel to the ground with the palms facing down. Keeping a straight line in the arms, tilt the torso to the right, and touch your right knee or shin lightly. Hold for 10 breaths. Then switch and practice on the other side.
Cobra. Lying down on the belly, place your palms on the ground next to your chest. Point your toes, pressing into the tops of the feet. Keep your elbows close to the body as you press into your hands and feet to lift the head and torso up. Lift your heart and gaze toward the sky. If you have any lower back issues or soreness, widen your feet in order to release pressure from the lower back in this pose.
Half Bow and Full Bow pose. Lying on the stomach, reach your right hand back to hold your right foot. Pressing the hand into the foot, lift the head and chest. Take a few breaths in this pose, then switch to the opposite side. For full Bow, reach the hands back to grasp both ankles or feet. Lift the chest and gaze upward. Breathe deeply, allowing yourself to rock on the abdomen.
Child’s pose. From hands and knees, press the hips back and down toward the heels, relaxing the chest and arms. Separate the knees to give space for the abdomen. Enjoy a rest in this restorative counterpose, letting the forehead press into the ground, a blanket, or your hands.
Wind Relieving pose. This aptly named position involves lying on the back and pulling each knee, separately, toward the chest or armpit on the same side of the body. Deepen the internal massage by reaching for the sole of the foot while pulling the knee in. Hold for several breaths on each side, allowing the lower intestines to relax with each exhalation. Hold both knees and rock from side to side for a couple moments in order to relax the lower back.
Seated twist. Twisting postures are a great way to “wring out” the inner organs, spurring the release of toxins from the physical body. (Be sure to drink plenty of water and herbal tea after yoga.) To do a simple seated twist, sit with both legs extended in front of the body, bend the right knee, and place the sole of the foot outside the left knee. Place the right palm behind the pelvis.
Inhaling, lift the left arm up. On the exhale, bend the left elbow and bring it to the outside of the right knee, twisting the spine and neck as you look back. Slowly untwist and switch sides.
Reclining twist. Lying down on the back, pull the right knee in toward the chest. With an exhale, cross that knee over to the left side of the body. Open the arms out to the side. Bring Yin qualities into the twist; let gravity do the work rather than trying to force your way into a deeper twist. Practice for a few minutes on each side.
Take a few moments to lie on your back or stomach in stillness for a final relaxation, allowing the benefits of the yoga practice to integrate into your body.
Do these exercises daily or as often as possible, and soon you’ll notice your core is stronger and more toned and your digestion more regular, helping you move more productively through your days.
We are as powerful as our core—own it.