Tag Archives: yoga for strength

Yoga Poses for the Core

It’s the beginning of a new week & a new theme! This week I’m focusing on the core in my classes. This is the fourth week in my Yoga from Head to Toe series this summer. Each week I’m zooming in on one section of the body, and exploring how it works in yoga, how we can strengthen it and stretch it, and how it works anatomically. In this post I’m going over a few yoga postures that use the core.

Hint: It’s almost all of them. From standing postures to balancing poses to belly-down spine strengtheners, the band of muscles wrapping around your midsection are used in almost every yoga pose. That makes sense since these muscles help us stabilize. Their position in between the legs and the torso makes them perfectly suited to coordinate what the top and bottom halves of the body are doing. Some core muscles help us twist; others lift the hip bones for an anterior tilt in the pelvis; still others help lift the tailbone for an anterior tilt.

Now obviously you’re not using your core much in a restorative-style class, when the point is to relax every muscle. But even then there are core muscles engaged in breathing. Here are a few more functions the core muscles serve for us:

  • Postural support (BTW a strong core is a good way to avoid sitting pain & injuries)
  • Protection for the internal organs
  • To facilitate coughing, waste release, singing, vomiting, and childbirth, as well as breathing.

How are these muscles situated in the body? Well, we’ll get more into the anatomy in an upcoming post, but for now I will say that the muscles are strong in the same way that plywood is strong. In plywood, the fibers of wood are situated facing multiple directions. This makes the whole structure stronger. Similarly, our core muscles run different directions for added strength. The external obliques run down and forward along the front of the body; the internal obliques are situated upward and forward; and the transverse abs run side-to-side. This gives us strength and grace no matter which direction we move.

I would also emphasize that the core muscles are not just on the front of the body. Think of them as a band of muscles running all the way around your middle, like a corset.

Here are a few yoga postures that can help build a strong core:

Boat pose
Plank / Side Plank / Reverse Plank
Arm Balances – crow, hurdler’s pose, etc.
Inversions – headstand, handstand, etc.
Reverse tabletop

Yoga breathing exercises such as Ujjayi breath can also improve abdominal strength and finesse. In my classes this week I will also be focusing on activating the bandhas (energetic locks) for protection & increased core strength.

Yoga student in plank posture

Bright Yoga student John M. showing off his plank pose

<Top photo: Beth Phillips
Second photo: John Mermin>
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Yoga to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Be your own guru! This is the message of many schools of yoga. This weekend I took a fantastic Kundalini yoga class, and the teacher reminded us to be our own Sat Gurus–our own truest teachers. What a refreshing way to approach New Year’s resolutions–not as something to feel guilty about, but something to absorb as an inquisitive student. Your resolution has something to teach you! But not if you can’t stick with it. So here are some yoga-based ways to “screw your courage to the sticking point” when striving to follow your new year’s resolutions.

1. Power Mudra: Apana Vayu Mudra.
Apana vayu mudra is known as a powerful mudra for digestion, particularly eliminating toxins. It is quite simple; just bring the tips of the middle and ring fingers to touch the tip of the thumb, while extending the index and pickie fingers. (Yes, this horns or “Rock on!” hand gesture is based on a yoga mudra!) One of my teachers recommended this mudra for moments in class when you’re not sure you can keep going–when you feel your strength lagging. I recommend placing your hands in this position when you feel your self-control lagging. It doesn’t have to be obvious–it can be a subtle way to remind yourself of your own personal power and determination.

2. Bandhas: The Energy Locks.
Tap into your core–the home of the 3rd Chakra, nexus of energy related to will and motivation–by activating the energy locks. Called Banhdas, these physical locks help you control the movement of energy through the body. They are frequently activated for this purpose in Kundalini Yoga classes. The three main bandhas are:
a) Mula Banhda  ~ Pulling the pelvic floor up and in),
b) Uddiana Bandha ~ Pulling the belly button back toward the spine, and
c) Jhalandara Bandha ~ Pulling the chin back and up (in Kundalini yoga), or constricting the base of the throat to make a whispering sound (in in Vinyasa yoga).
To activate your will and determination, activate the banhdas and breathe deeply and calmly. This makes a wonderful seated meditation, but it may also be done quite subtly in most circumstances–standing in line at the bank, waiting in traffic, working at a desk, etc.

3. Positive Affirmations.
Did you know that studies often find placebos (sugar pills) to be effective about half of the time? Think about that. By imagining that they are getting well, half of us can heal ourselves. What we think matters. It resonates on all levels of our being. If we continue to wallow in negative self-talk, our perfomance will follow. The mind believes what you tell it. If you think like a cheerleader, pepping yourself up from the inside out, your positive mindset will help you meet your resolutions. Saying affirmations is a way of practicing positive thinking.

To be effective, affirmations should be done in multiple perspectives (I am strong, you are strong,< __insert your name here__> is strong) and stated in the present (I am, rather than I will be). Put your resolution into a positive declarative sentence–that’s your affirmation. For instance, if your New Year’s resolution is to eat healthy, your affirmation could be “I now nourish myself with wholesome, natural foods.”
With these and other yoga techniques, you can motivate yourself throughout the day, with subtle hand gestures, uplifting thoughts, and core strength.

<photo: LadyDragonflyCC – >;<>
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