Core muscles are much more complex than the commonly thought of “6-pack” muscles.
They include several layers of muscle fibers over your abdominal cavity, the diaphragm, the pelvic floor muscles, erector spinae (muscles that support the lower back), and the glutes!
And on top of that, they hold in your bag of guts. Nice.
Here’s the key to core work: it’s all core work.
Yes, it’s ALL core work. Everything is attached to your core, so every movement we make really originates from the core (shoutout to Mr. Joseph Pilates). If you bring your awareness and attention to your core when you are moving through your yoga practice, you will build core strength and improve all other aspects of your practice.
Ok, so you’re thinking about engaging your core. What does that mean? Don’t flex your abs and push them out… instead, think about engaging your core by:
- taking an exhale and pressing all the air out of your belly
- knitting your rib cage together, as if you are wearing a corset
- slightly tucking your tailbone to engage your lower abs (while maintaining the natural curve in your spine)
15-Minute Yoga Sequence for Your Core
Here's a 15-minute yoga sequence you can practice this holiday season (and beyond) to get your body all warmed up as you fire up your core.
1. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
With feet touching, press your hips back as if you are sitting in a chair. Squeeze your inner thighs together to activate your lower core. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
2. Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
From Chair, cross your right leg over top of your left and bring your right arm over the top of your left.
Draw everything in towards your center, feeling a single channel of energy running down your midline. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
3. Virabhadrasana III with Eagle Arms (Warrior 3 Variation)
From Eagle, uncross your right leg and extend it long. Maintaining a solid line from head to heel, tip forward until you are parallel with your mat.
Re-focus on engaging your core. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
4. Cat-Cow Lunge
From Warrior III, plant your foot and hands on the mat. On your inhale, drop your belly button towards the floor for Cow back. On your exhale, draw your belly button up and arch your spine for Cat back. Repeat for 5-10 breath cycles.
5. Bird Dog
From your lunge, transition through Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) to find your hands and knees. Extend and lengthen your left arm and right leg on your inhale. Contract in, bringing your elbow toward your knee on the exhale. Repeat for 5-10 breaths.
6. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
From your hands and knees, press up to your Plank pose. Bring your right hand underneath your face, rotate onto the outer blade of your right foot, and lift your left arm towards the sky. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
We’ve got two sides, y’all. REPEAT it all on the other side (Replacing left’s with right’s and vice versa)! After you finish the second side, take a few deep breaths in Child’s Pose.
7. Forearm Crow
From Child’s, bring your forearms onto the mat. Come up onto your toes and walk your feet in as far as you can (it won’t be far, don’t worry). Snuggle your knees up into your armpits.
Yes, it’s awkward and you will feel like there is no space - you’re doing it right! Slightly shift your weight forward and LIFT from your CORE! Play around with it for a minute or two. For more instructions, check out this post.
8. Navasana (Boat Pose) to Canoe Twist
From seated, plant your feet and lengthen through your spine. Tilt backwards into a diagonal, and feel your core engage. Lift your feet and squeeze your inner thighs towards one another.
From here, lengthen out your body and lower to Canoe, twisting to the right. Inhale back up to Boat. Exhale lower to Canoe, this time twisting to the left. Repeat for 10 breath cycles.
9. Eagle Crunches
Laying down, wrap up into Eagle Pose like before, except this time from your back. Crunch up, drawing your elbows to your knees. Repeat for 10 breath cycles and then repeat on the opposite side.
Now, for an advanced bonus pose, try this one next...
10. Headstand Hover
From your forearms, walk your feet in, keeping your legs straight until your hips are over your shoulders.
Keeping your legs straight, lift both feet off the mat and use your core strength to lift your legs and hover them at hip height. For an extra challenge, you can also try lifting both legs from hip height and bringing them straight up, and then use your core muscles to slowly bring your legs back down to hip height and straight up again.
Some of these poses can be really challenging for a lot of yogis, so remember to respect your body's limits and abilities. I hope you enjoy your practice! Have questions or comments about this sequence? Share them in the comments below!