The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be - Bruce Lee
From Patanjali’s yoga sutras, we receive the concepts of sthira (effort) and sukha (surrender). Sutra 2.46, sthira sukham asanam, can be translated as “posture (asana) should be steady (sthira) and comfortable (sukha).” Originally transcribed in reference to a formal seated meditation, the theory can be expanded to all contemporary asana. Distilled, the hope is to cultivate a physical practice that is free of aches, pains, and restlessness so that the practitioner can focus on the mind and breath.
There are countless paths and methods that will aid each of us uniquely in dealing with and releasing our aches, pains, and anxieties. As the central part of your body, the physical core is one area of focus that may help many of us become stronger and thus alleviate our aches, pains, and anxieties. Core strength can help boost your confidence (sthira) and ease (sukha) especially working on what you find challenging yoga poses.
What is the physical core?
While there is a general consensus that a strong core is preferable to a weak core, the exact definition of what constitutes the physical core is unclear. In some definitions, the core is comprised of the muscles in the front of the body, which include the rectus abdominis, internal obliques, and external obliques. Other definitions expand to include muscles in the front, back, and sides of the midsection of the body; these muscles include the pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, and latissimus dorsi. In asana practice, cultivating a strong physical core improves posture and balance which assists in boosting a practitioners confidence and ease into whatever pose they may find challenging.
How would you go about strengthening your core?
Luckily, every asana requires you to work your “core” because every asana invites full body awareness and engagement. However, some asana require more physical core strength to perform. For instance, vasisthasana (side plank pose) is best performed with a strong core to lift the body up and lengthen the spine. Otherwise in side plank pose, weight will be dumped into the supporting should, arm, and wrist, which is painful and can lead to injury. In addition, a strong core is associated with easier breathing and decreased lower back pain.
What are specific asana that are “core strengtheners?”
Core focused asana include navasana (boat pose), chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff pose), and bakasana (crane pose). While this article focused on the physical core, it is important to remember that yoga is a practice of the mind and body. And having a strong mental core is also essential for boosting confidence and easing into challenging yoga poses. For instance, it may feel more sensational in the physical core to practice utkatasana (chair pose), but be more mental work to sit still in sukhasana (easy pose).
Fostering a strong core contributes to ease in every single asana. In time, building the strength to find stillness and comfort throughout your practice on and off the mat will revolutionize the way you can practice yoga. Wishing you all the core strength as you work to focus on your mind and breath.
Photo Credit: Odette Hughes