I used to believe that, because yoga was my primary form of exercise, I didn’t need to pay attention to my core muscles.
Abs? Those were for fitness fanatics and bodybuilders.
Core Yoga? Practically an oxymoron.
I was convinced that “core yoga” was only relevant for people interested in advanced postures like fancy arm balances and inversions.
I was wrong!
About two years ago I started integrating more strength training into my routine, with particular focus on the core muscles…
…and my yoga practice (and body) changed dramatically.
This wasn’t necessarily the type of change an outsider would notice. My waistline didn’t shrink. My abs didn’t miraculously turn into steel.
The transformation was mostly in how I felt:
I felt more integrated and connected throughout my body (they call it the “core” for a reason).
I felt more fluid and graceful in my yoga practice.
I felt more confident: I could stand taller and felt proud of the inner and outer strength I was building.
The lesson: your core matters…. A LOT.
No matter what kind of yoga you’re practicing (hot, vinyasa, gentle, et. al.) or your level of experience (uber-beginner, born-again-beginner, advanced, et. al.) your core matters.
Why Your Core Matters
The core abdominal muscles provide stability for your entire body. Think about this: your abdomen is the only part of your body that is not protected by your skeleton. It relies on the strength of the muscles there to keep you upright, provide adequate space for organs to function, and counterbalance the muscles of your back-body. So it’s no surprise that your core muscles contribute immensely to your overall posture, spinal stability, and balance.
The core is also important in yoga because it is the “switching point” between the upper and lower body. The core muscles integrate the movement of the upper and lower body, which allows you to glide fluidly and steadily into and between poses. Your ability to activate and bring awareness to your core will help you to feel a sense of wholeness in your physical yoga practice.
Not convinced? Here’s some proof.
Can you see how my hips actually lift a little higher with core engagement in Down Dog? That’s because I’m balancing my weight and lifting out of the shoulders, which helps to lengthen the spine.
Here in Prepare Pose (ardha uttanasana) I’m engaging the core to help lengthen the whole spine, integrate between upper and lower body, and protect the low back!
Speaking of protecting the low back, core engagement is crucial in backbends like camel pose (ustrasana). On the right, you can actually see the crunch starting to happen in my low back. (Ouch.) On the left, my engaging my core I’m able to get a longer spine and find the opening in the upper back and chest.
It’s subtle, but core engagement in high lunge (or any lunge) helps me lift out of my low back and feel strong integration between upper and lower body. This is super important in lunges since they tend to be transition poses — keeping your core awareness here will help you transition fluidly and gracefully.
Your turn: what’s your relationship with your core? Can you feel the difference in your poses when you bring awareness to your abdomen?
Love and healthy low backs,
P.S. If you’re looking for ways to strengthen and support your core, stay tuned for a related post and announcement next week!