When we think of our core the first thing we typically think of is our abs, and I am asked all the time in my classes if we can ‘do abs’ next week. This drive to push the core, however, can be counter to yogic teachings. So we’ll look at the benefits of core work, but first, let’s explore the concerns about doing too much.
Cultural pressures to have a flat tummy and ‘six-pack’ abs lead to this misconnection with our centers, our cores. Yoga is about connecting with yourself, specifically your core being, so you should bring awareness to your core, but working the core to follow these pressures could separate you from your true self. So in essence, focusing so much on your core to achieve cultural standards can actually take you further from your true self and exploring where you are.
In addition, from a physical standpoint, working the abdominals excessively can lead to a flattening of the lumbar curve, which weakens the spinal structure and impacts posture.
We’ll now turn to the many reasons to spend time with your core, but consider why you are trying to strengthen it and whether you are pushing yourself too far and hard.
We need to have strong cores to stay balanced and stable, assist with breathing, rotate the upper body, support the lumbar spine, align the pelvis and light the digestive fire. Yoga helps to improve the core’s function in all of these areas. Twists, for example, help with digestion and body rotation.
While mindfully developing your physical core strength yoga also strengthens your emotional and spiritual core.
Emotional and Spiritual Benefits
Strengthening and exploring your true emotional core makes you more resilient to life’s ups and downs. Your physical center is linked to your emotional and spiritual center. The center of vitality lies in the abdomen and the belly is seen as a center of consciousness and energy both in Indian and Chinese philosophy.
You can experience the emotional connection any time you’re scared or nervous, for example. You feel ‘butterflies’ in your stomach. This shows how your thoughts and emotions can reside in your gut. And your gut can influence your emotions as well.
Having a strong core physically can influence how strong you are emotional. The phrase ‘you’ve got guts’ demonstrates that what is inside your abdomen gives you overall strength and power to stand up for what you believe in.
How to Find this Strength
Your core gives you stability and balance, but if your abs and other muscles of the core are tight (like the psoas) you won’t demonstrate balance but tightness, which is something we work against in yoga, just like tight hamstrings. Finding suppleness and awareness is key.
There are several ways to explore this balance and inner strength through yoga:
1) Find your center of gravity. This awareness is helpful for knowing where your physical center is and where your body is in space. It also helps you locate your emotional center, which lets you work from the inside out.
2) Stability. Having stability in the core and spine allows you to move through poses safely.
3) Supple Strength. Having a suppleness allows you to breathe fluidly through the diaphragm and is very important in yoga. Tenseness will detract you from meditation. The abdominals can be engaged without being tense.
Top Three Yoga Poses to Strengthen the Core
Many yoga poses work the core because they rely on spinal stability and they work balance. You can see the core working as you enter Trikonasana(Triangle Pose), for example. However, the following three really target the core and are great for those times you want to reconnect with your inner strength.
1) Navasana(Boat Pose) strengthens the abdominals, back and hip flexors, all while developing balance.
2) UttithaChaturangaDandasana(High Plank Pose) works your entire body, from your toes to your hands, as it requires you to stabilize everything. Use this pose to find your center and a sense of calm in the middle of a storm.
3) SetuBandhasana(Bridge Pose) is a great counter to the previous two poses because it stretches and releases the front of the body, namely the abs and psoas (hip flexors).
Yoga is a great way to explore and develop your core strength, both physical and mental. The key is to find a balance between them and to find awareness in your center. This will give you the ‘guts’ to stand up for what you believe in, to flow through your yoga asanas and find calm in your breath.
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur, and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes, and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga.
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