The importance of core strength in yoga cannot be underestimated. Over the years, especially as I have progressed into more advanced poses, I have come to the realization that your core is absolutely fundamental to a strong and fluid practice. Whether you are standing in Tadasana or in a handstand, our core is what holds us up, keeps us steady and helps us to maintain our postures and alignment.
Most people mistakenly believe that the “core” is the same as a six-pack. Not true! Your core is everything besides your arms, legs, and head, so it includes your side muscles, back, shoulders, and of course your abs. It is really important to have a balance of power in your core, and unfortunately many people ignore muscles in their back, which can lead to injury and weakness. All of these muscles work beautifully together in all sorts of different yoga postures, so it is important to keep them in their best shape. Having a strong core is fundamental to being able to do moves like jumping back into chatarunga or jumping forward from down dog to a forward fold. Same with being able to lift yourself into a head or handstand – if done correctly you should be using less momentum and more muscular strength, much of which comes right from your core.
In addition to practicing the postures you are trying to master, supplement your practice with some great yoga and conditioning exercises for general core strength. Just adding 20 minutes a day of a core-focused workout to your normal routine will put you on the fast track towards awesome strength and balance!
- Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose) - Works balance, abs and hip flexors. Take this down to Half Boat Pose, with your legs and torso closer to the floor, to use different muscle groups.
- Plank Pose - Like a push up, a great all-over core toner.
- Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose) – A great one that gets right into your arms and sides – with many variations for all levels.
- Utkatasana (Chair Pose) – Also known as powerful pose, it works all over core strength.
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) – Strengthens the lower back and stretches out those abs.
- Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose) – This fun pose zeroes in on your sides – you can practically feel the love handles melting away.
- Salabhasana (Locust Pose) – This pose tones your whole backside, from upper thighs and glutes to your lower and upper back.
- Bicycles – Remember doing these in 5th grade gym class? Try doing 100 of them, or building up to it. Guaranteed to light a fire in your belly!
Yogaglo.com, a site I am a huge fan of, also has core strengthening workouts ranging from a full 90 minute practice to a 20 minute quickie. With time ranges like that, now there are no excuses to ignore your abs!
You can practice the exercises I outlined above by sprinkling them throughout your yoga routine, or if you don’t have a ton of time, do each of these poses along with some sun salutations and you’ll have yourself a quick little core strengthening workout. Paying attention to your core will improve your yoga practice infinitely, not to mention give you greater balance and better posture throughout your daily life.