Anatomically, your core is a reference to both your superficial abdominal wall and the deeper muscles of the abdomen and pelvic region. Core strength is important for spinal health, organ tone, digestive comfort and generally living life. If your core is not strong, you are far more likely to become injured in your daily life.
What We Mean When We Talking About 'Core' in Yoga
In yoga when we talk about “core”, we are often referencing the bandhas, or locks, as well. The bandhas are a little different in that they are not just limited to your torso. There is a bandha lock under your chin, in the palms of your hands, and at the soles of your feet.
However, the two bandhas that are in your torso directly correlate with the muscular anatomy of the “core muscles,” so that is usually what we are trying to strengthen when we say “activate your core.”
One of these bandhas, or locks, is in your pelvic floor and the other is just below your navel. When they are activated, your superficial and deep abdominal and pelvic muscles begin to contract in specific ways. On the surface, you notice your tail bone naturally tucks under and your ribs lift up as your belly sucks in.
Almost every shape requires the activation of your core in yoga (unless you are practicing Restorative or Yin yoga), however here are few shapes that target it more directly and as a result, actually strengthen your core.
Boat Pose & Raft Pose
If done in proper alignment, these two shapes targets the upper abdominal wall mostly. They also strengthen the back muscles and hip flexors for an added bonus! Hold each for 5 breaths to get the most out of them, then try switching between the two with bent or straight knees.
When Plank is held with the tailbone slightly tucked and the back of your heart pressing up to the sky (shoulder protraction) it is an overall core kind of pose. Long plank holds engage the entire core from the ribs down through the pelvic floor. Learn how to do Plank pose here.
Side Plank on your forearms, hands, or even with one knee on the mat, engages the oblique muscles that run along the outer edges of your abdominal wall. Add in some elbow-to-knee taps to really contract those muscles and to add in a moving while balancing proponent that will inevitably step your core engagement up a notch.
Crow Pose/ Reclined Crow
Balancing poses are all wonderful for controlling the core because we use the same muscles to help us balance. In Crow pose specifically, we draw the abdomen up and in to round the spine and create more strength and height. Try finding Crow on your back if arm balancing is hard for you.
Attempt to pulse your knees to the place between your elbows and shoulders (tricep muscle area). You should find your inner most core muscles VERY quickly!
A type of breathing technique that not only massages the digestive organs, but also creates a lot of contraction in the entire abdominal wall and pelvic floor- all of which encourages a lot of core strength.
“Suck in your belly” is a common cue used by fitness coaches to activate the core. While this works, in yoga we activate and strengthen the core muscles with long holds that encourage more pelvic floor activity. We use conditioning movements and specific yoga pose transitions to aid this process, and in turn, our balance improves which helps see us through daily activities.
Yoga works on engaging the mind to listen to the tiniest details in these muscle groups so we can become hyper aware of bone alignment—and therefore, soft tissue health as we activate, strengthen and work.
Image credit: Heather Gjerde