What do you think of when you hear the words core work? Crunches? Sit-ups? 6 pack abs? When I hear the words core work I think “yes!”. Having a strong core is essential if you want to advance into more difficult asanas and, I believe, even more important to being safe in your own body.
Why Core Work?
When we see someone standing on their hands or twisting themselves into odd shapes upside down we don’t immediately zone in on the core and think of how strong it has to be to safely and accurately execute such difficult poses. Instead, many of us focus on upper body strength. While it’s true that upper body strength is also essential to arm balancing, proper core awareness and strength is what is creating integrity in the pose.
If you’re thinking, “I have no plans to ever stand on my hands”, this post is still for you. Strong core muscles don’t just look good, they feel good too. And I happen to think feeling good is way more important than looking good, but if you feel the opposite that’s ok too! Both are valid reasons to work on your core. When the muscles within the core of the body are strong it sets up the entire body to move with more grace, ease, and functionality. It’s called “core” for a reason – it’s the core of our bodies!
Many people think of a flat stomach with a 6 or 8 pack on display upon hearing the words strong core. However, those muscles are actually very superficial (closest to the surface) in regards to the rest of the core muscles. In yoga, when we think of strengthening the core, those muscles are only a small part of the whole. We also must focus on the deeper transversus abdominus if we really want to provide support for the organs that reside within the abdomen. The internal and external obliques, psoas complex, and quadratus lumborum all deserve recognition too.
Are you still reading?! For the sake of keeping this flowing without giving too much unwanted anatomy information, the bottom line is that the core is much, much more than just having a 6 pack. All the muscles of the core work synergistically to provide support so it is important to have a well rounded core practice to enjoy all the benefits a strong core has to offer.
The Core & Life
Do you run? Hike? Bike? Swim? Play sports? Ski? A strong core can help anyone of any age be safer in their bodies. I was in a bad fall last year where I fell 6 feet into a basement below and I know that I was not more seriously injured because of my yoga practice. My left arm was pulled up and over and I landed on my left side, breaking the 5th metacarpal in my left hand. While I did have fairly significant pain in my SI joints from the impact of the fall, my back was safe and so were my hips and internal organs. My left shoulder happened to be my “open” one and the natural flexibility I had in that shoulder, I believe, also protected me from further injury. Was I planning to fall through the floor into a basement? Of course not! Just like skiers, hikers, runners, and everyone else everywhere, never plan to get hurt, but accidents happen.
Another reason for working on core strength is balance. As we age we naturally lose muscle tone and lose our sense of balance, leading to increased falls. The number 1 question I have from students 65 and up is about regaining their lost balance. My answer (after asking them if they have inner ear issues) is always a suggestion that they work on their core. Balancing poses are also helpful as they build awareness in the feet and ankles and build up the stabilizer muscles too, BUT without a strong core holding together the significant weight of our organs, we will all still waver and lose balance.
Now, with all this being said, I would like to invite you to join me over the next 3 weeks as I share 5 very different core videos.
The first 2 will be for beginners. If you are returning to exercise after an injury or pregnancy, coming to yoga or to exercise for the first time, especially if you sit most of the day, these beginner videos will be for you. I will offer modifications during the videos, which last about 10 minutes each.
The additional 3 videos will be intermediate to advanced core work using body weight and a block, if you have one. These exercises are perfect to add on to the end of your at-home yoga practice. I taught these exercises in power yoga for about 2 years and they, in addition to your regular yoga practice, will have you feeling stronger and lighter. (Ladies, if you want to have a smaller waistline, consider targeted core work! Strong transverse abdominus and oblique muscles will shrink your waistline, holding in organs and surrounding protective adipose tissue.)
I hope you’ll join me! The first beginner core video goes live on Thursday 2/4 and will be available right here on the blog.