Yoga has so many benefits for every human in their physical wellness journey. Collectively, I believe that every single person can gain core strength through practicing yoga.
You see yogi's doing crazy inversions, planks, and strong arm balances. All of these poses are only possible after developing a strong core, then progressing and building upon this solid foundation. Your core is the center of your body mass; it supports your body in moving, posture, pivoting, twisting, houses our vital organs, and is the center of where our digestion occurs. Your core, needless to say, is one of the most important areas to train and strengthen.
Before we dive into this beautiful yoga flow centered around core strength, there are questions I get asked frequently that need answered:
Q: When should I train core?
A: Anytime! The best core exercises to train before your workout are anti-flexion, anti-rotation core exercises. Simply put, isometric holds (planks, side planks, palloff presses, chaturangas) are all exercises that do not flex or rotate. These exercises engage your core muscles by creating tension to hold your solid foundation.
Q: I always "feel it" in my hip flexors; is this normal?
A: Yes and No. It is normal to feel it in your hip flexors if you have a weak core. This does not make it right. To use more core and less hip flexors, first try to create tension between your ribs and your hips. I like to describe it as, you are trying to bring them closer together. This might feel like a crunch. It is a crunch! But the difference here is you're holding this tension, not flexing and extending like a typical crunch. Another way to engage your core a bit more is to pull the lower abs and ribs in like your pulling tight jeans on. This doesn't mean "suck in and hold your breath"; this means, engage your core by pulling your belly up and in. Lastly, some of my clients benefit from tucking their chin in. Sometimes, this is just the tension they need to create more core work and less lower back strain.
Q: I am not a runner but I'd love to try this yoga flow. Would this benefit me?
A: Absolutely! You don't need to be a runner to strengthen your core with this yoga series. I highlight runners in this blog post because core strength is at the upmost importance for posture, form, growing faster and staying injury free.
Core Yoga Flow:
Plank Pose: Starting on your mat on both hands and knees, step your feet back to come to a "tall" plank. Your hands should be underneath your shoulders, feet flexed, and hips in line with your spine. From head to toe, we build tension here:
draw the shoulders away from your ears
pull the lower abdominals up and in, like you're putting on those tight jeans!
press your rib cage closer to your hips, mimicking a "crunch" feeling. You will notice your hips press a little higher. This is good, but maintain your hip alignment with your back. You can see, my gluten are pressed up in this picture. I am trying to engage my core, and this will naturally happen when you "bring your ribs closer to your hips" (crunch).
squeeze the glutes
lift the knee caps to feel your quads tense up
press forward on your toes so your calves turn on
Now, tell me you aren't dying! ;)
Exercise Prescription: Hold a tall plank for as long as you can with absolute perfect form. Once your form goes, move on to the next exercise or rest. When I practice plank pose, I usually aim to hold this for 45 seconds.
Cheetah Pose: If you came out of your tall plank, reposition to your plank. Begin to shift slightly forward on the toes and take your right knee into your chest. Your back will round slightly as you pull the knee in as close as possible without dropping the hips. Step the foot back and repeat on the left side. Pull the core in the entire time especially as the knee drives in.
Exercise Prescription: After holding your plank, begin cheetah knee drives. Complete ten knee drives each leg, holding the tension while pulling the knee in to your chest. Do not preform these fast; they are meant to be slow and controlled to feel your core more and use your hip flexors less.
Chaturanga: After stepping your foot back and completing 20 cheetah knee tucks, place both feet on the ground and bend your elbows so that you lower your entire body half way. You palms should be near your rib cage and bend to a 90 degree angle. If you notice your hands are too far up (over your shoulders) walk them back and repeat chaturanga. Notice how much core is involved to complete this advanced move!
Exercise Prescription: Lower down half way and hold a solid plank with bent elbows for 5-10 seconds. This is not long, but will be extremely challenging to hold with perfect form. Then, lower all the way down to your stomach.
Modified Side Plank + Side Plank
Modified Side Plank: Reposition to table pose, hands and knees. Shift all of your weight to your right side and float your left hand to the sky and step your left foot to the back of the mat. This will create a lot of length in your left side. Push the hips up and feel a slight crunch on the right side of your core. Hold this modified side plank for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side starting from table pose.
Side Plank: If you have found modified side plank to be a bit easy, try to lift the bottom knee up and keep it in line with your left leg. You can have some fun and lift the top leg while still working your left hip to the sky (pictured).
Exercise Prescription: After repositioning to table pose, shift your weight to one side and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. Do one round of holds, then move on to crow pose.
Crow Pose: Time to have some fun! You core has been fired this entire workout, so you're primed to hold a - core focused - arm balance! Crow is one of my favorites; its very accessible with the use of props and adjustments. To keep things simple, I will describe crow in the most basic format:
Begin in a "yogi squat" and place your hands inside your legs on the mat. Lift your hips high so that you can make contact with your knees to your triceps. Crouch super deep as you begin to shift your weight into your hands. You may be able to come to your tip toes. From here, it's extremely important to pull your core in as you begin to shift all the weight forward into your hands. Try lifting your toes off the mat. Your entire body will be supported by your core and the weight in your hands (pictured). Always look forward to your finger tips to evenly distribute your body weight. By looking down, you will fall down!
Exercise Prescription: Have fun practicing this pose but remember, practice makes perfect! Allow yourself to fall and tumble and be okay with trying again. Your core should always be pulled in with this pose. Without core strength, you will not be able to hold this challenging arm balance.
Now, begin again..
Practice makes perfect! Although we already went through both sides, keep this core-flow for your normal workout routine. The more you practice isometric holds, the stronger your core will become!
Below, I have listed the yoga poses and exercise prescriptions to save! Take the chart to the gym or pull it up at home anytime to practice and get stronger.