Yoga and Core
In hatha yoga, nearly all poses require some engagement in the core, so you keep the integrity and safely perform the asana. Some poses require more than others. We recommend practicing core yoga poses in order to progress and always include them in practice at some point.
This article will take an in-depth look at the anatomy of the core, its significance in yoga, and the best practices for making the most of your core conditioning.
What is the Core?
Contrary to popular belief, the core is a complex series of muscles that includes much more than your abs. Your core consists of every muscle in your body that is not part of your arms and legs. Here is one of the most widely accepted definitions of the core:
"The core is a 3-dimensional space with muscular boundaries: diaphragm (superior), abdominal and oblique muscles (anterior-lateral), paraspinal and gluteal muscles (posterior), and pelvic floor and hip girdle (inferior)." (Anderson & Huxel Bliven, 2013)
Almost every movement that you carry out involves your core. Your core muscles deliver the following functions:
- They act as an isometric or dynamic stabilizer when you move your body,
- They can initiate movement, and
- They can transfer force from one extremity to another.
Your core has three-dimensional functionality and is movable in all three planes of motion. While many typically only train the exterior muscles, the core also consists of the deeper muscles, including the transverse abdominals, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and multifidus.
To ensure that you train for optimal core functionality, strength gain, and active core movement, keep in mind that the core is primarily a stabilizer during movement and force transfer center and, to a lesser extent, a prime mover.
Instead of training your core in isolation as a prime mover by doing back extensions and crunches, you should focus on functional movements and closed-chain exercises like push-ups and deadlifts. Also, you should see core strength as the ability to exercise force while maintaining core stability so that, as a result, you can control the force that you carry out.
Core stability consists of five components, namely, strength, flexibility, motor control, functionality, and endurance. (Keil, 2018) The first two components that you should work on are control and function. Without these components, you will not be able to achieve strength, endurance, and flexibility.
Origins and History
It's not clear who first used the term "the core," despite being commonly referred to by athletes, dancers, yoga practitioners, and therapists.
There are, however, three influential 20th-century yoga practitioners who shed some light on the core concept. Considering their unique perspectives may help you understand why core strengthening is an integral element of yoga. The three people were Joseph Pilates, Ida Rolf, and Sri T. Krishnamacharya.
Pilates referred to the core as the "powerhouse" and developed a building method and increased flexibility to allow for natural functional movement. Pilates practitioners consider core muscles essential for optimal strength, spine stabilization, and graceful movement.
Ida Rolf created a primary integration method of bodywork that is often referred to as "Rolfing." This method is based on the idea that the body consists of a core and a sleeve. People studying and practicing Ida Rolf's method believe that the myofascial's abdominal muscles and other outer layers constitute the sleeve. In contrast, the iliopsoas and other more profound layers of the myofascial are the core.
According to Ida Rolf, the iliopsoas connect the spine to the pelvis. Strengthening the iliopsoas is crucial for adequate support to the body's optimal structure in gravity.
According to Krishnamacharya, there is a connection between the core muscles and the bandha. The bandha can be loosely defined as the energetic element within a human being. This approach focuses more on control over energy and concentration and not as much on toning and conditioning.
Krishnamacharya's mula bandha description involves using the same muscles that Ida Rolf implicated in the myofascial sleeve and core relationship and those included in Joseph Pilates' description of the "Powerhouse."
Core Yoga Poses
Core yoga poses are a great way to build strength and stability in your core muscles, which can help improve your balance and overall yoga practice. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned yogi, incorporating these poses into your regular routine can help you take your practice to the next level. Here are five core yoga poses to try.
- Plank Pose (Phalakasana) - This pose involves holding your body in a straight line, similar to a push-up position, while engaging your core muscles to maintain balance and stability
- Boat Pose (Navasana) - This pose involves sitting on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you. Your arms are extended by your sides while lifting your legs and upper body off the ground to create a "V" shape with your body.
- Reverse Plank Pose (Purvottanasana) - This pose involves sitting on the ground with your legs extended in front of you and your arms behind you while lifting your hips and chest off the ground and pressing your heels down towards the floor.
- Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana III) - This pose involves balancing on one leg while extending the other leg behind you and reaching both arms forward, creating a straight line with your body.
- Crow Pose (Bakasana) - This pose involves crouching down with your knees in your armpits or resting on your triceps and your hands on the ground in front of you while lifting your feet off the ground and balancing on your hands.
Core strengthening yoga pose: Plankasana - Plank pose
The Core Muscles
All three influencers offered three different perspectives on what we widely regarded as "the core," and all three of them viewed the pelvis and myofascial muscles as the essence of movement in the body. They also emphasized that the spine should be strong, flexible, and rooted in the pelvis to achieve dynamic movement.
When considering the areas of the body that Krishnamacharya, Joseph Pilates, and Ida Rolf describe, one can include the following muscles in the core:
- Erector spinae
- The internal and external obliques
- Transverse abdominus
- Rectus abdominus
- The small, deeper-lying multifidus muscles
- Psoas major
- Quadratus lumborum
- The pelvic floor muscles
- Serratus anterior
- Latissimus dorsi
Core strengthening yoga pose: Lolasana - Pendant pose
How to Engage Your Core in Yoga
Yoga for your core and back is one of the most effective ways to develop an established relationship with your core. With yoga, you can create a well-toned abdomen, even if, as someone starting, you can't find your abdominal muscles to do a basic pose.
Almost every yoga asana (body posture) requires core strength and stability. Inversions, twists, standing postures, and balancing yoga poses require abdominal strength. Still, they also enhance your core strength and condition the abdominal region for movement and stability, making them easier to carry out as you progress.
Your core works hard when you lift and lower your legs while doing inverted poses like head, shoulder, and handstands. In a seated twist, you give your oblique muscles a workout as they lift and rotate your torso. Standing postures are also excellent for strengthening your internal and external obliques and transverse abdominis, as these muscles contribute toward stabilizing the torso and spine.
Folding positions are equally effective in strengthening the core. When you draw your chest and thighs together or carry out sit-up movements or arm balances, you put your rectus abdominus muscle to work, which is the muscle that plays a crucial role in how your abdominal area looks.
Yoga for core strength and flexibility, as well as motor control, functionality, and endurance are not limited to body postures and movements. With traditional breathwork called Pranayama, you can do exercises that will strengthen your transverse abdominus and diaphragm. Although the diaphragm is not an abdominal muscle, it is a critical component of your core as it interacts dynamically with your heart, lungs, and other organs as you breathe.
To optimize core strengthening from yoga and to give your core muscles a workout from every angle, you should include inverted poses, yoga for obliques, standing postures, and folding positions in your yoga sequences. If you are a novice, you should master core strengthening yoga poses for beginners.
Core strengthening pose: Purvottanasana
Benefits of Core Strengthening with Yoga
With traditional breathwork and core warmup in yoga, you will not only firm up your belly but also enable your abdominal muscles to support the natural curve of your spine, improving your posture and eliminating back pain.
There are countless benefits to building core strength. If the abdominal walls holding abdominal organs are vital, it will improve digestion and elimination. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles that are located at the base of your core can also increase sexual fulfillment.
Enhanced core strength will also allow you to access your third chakra, the power center above your navel, resulting in increased muscular strength and higher energy levels throughout the day.
Yoga strengthening pose: Paripurna navasana - Full boat pose
Does Yoga Give You Six-pack Abs?
Many people associate core strengthening and abdominal conditioning with six-pack abs. In reality, only one muscle gives your abdominal area the washboard look, and that is the rectus abdominis.
Apart from being the most visible muscle and responsible for flexing the spine, the rectus abdominis doesn't have the same contribution to your health as the deeper-lying abdominal muscles and is, therefore, not as essential to put to work.
One of the essential core muscles to concentrate on while doing yoga is the transversus abdominis, which is necessary as a support muscle. The transversus abdominis also helps you breathe. This muscle supports your internal organs and stabilizes your torso with your oblique muscles.
The short answer, then, is yes. Including all the asanas in your practice can give you six-pack abs, but you should prioritize your deeper abdominal muscles. It would be best if you also twisted your obliques to stretch your back muscles, eliminating chronic tightness and alleviating back pain.
Yoga strengthening pose: Virabhadrasana iii - Warrior 3
Why is the Core so Important?
There is a lot of emphasis on building a relationship with the core, especially in yoga practice. This is primarily because your core muscles stabilize your entire body.
Also, your abdomen is a pretty specialized area of your body. It's the only part of your body that receives no protection or support from your skeleton. Your abdominal muscles keep you upright, provide enough space for your organs to work, and counteract your back muscles.
Therefore, your core muscles are pivotal in posture, balance, and spinal stability. Another reason your core is essential is that it harmonizes the upper and lower body movements, allowing you to carry out the different yoga poses with steadiness and grace.
Core strengthening yoga pose: Chaturanga dandasana - Four-limbed staff pose
Should You Focus on Core Strengthening?
Core strengthening is crucial for enhancing your posture, spinal stability, and balance. Strength should not be your only objective, however. You should also work towards improving motor control over your core as well as enhancing its functionality. Then, you can start building core strength, flexibility, and stamina.
Too much core strength can be suboptimal, as it can inhibit other vital elements such as flexibility and control. Your goal should be to develop all core aspects instead of reaching hardness and rigidity.
Many yoga teachers are aware of this yoga anatomy today and are planning their yoga sequences that will work the entire core so you will develop both strength and stability.
Core strengthening yoga pose: Bakasana - Crow pose
Many yoga practitioners may be forgiven for believing that since yoga is their primary form of exercise, they don't have to engage and improve their core muscles. This is not the case, however.
If you start incorporating core muscle training into your yoga routine, your yoga practice and poses will improve significantly – along with your body. The most significant difference, however, will be the way you feel. Not only will your yoga practice be more fluid, but you will also get in touch with your inner strength and experience a profound connection with your body.
With yoga, you can improve your core stability by incorporating inverted poses, seated twists, standing postures, folding positions, and traditional breathwork into your yoga practice to work your core from every angle.
While many people focus on core training to develop six-pack abs, your objective should be to improve your spinal stability, balance, and posture by working on your deeper-lying abdominal muscles, Your inner core. This does not mean that you can't develop six-pack abs by incorporating core training in your yoga practice, however, as long as you train your transverse abdominus.
You should not only train your core to enhance muscle strength. You should also do core training to improve flexibility, control, endurance, and functionality.
Your core is a comprehensive and multi-functional part of your anatomy. Incorporating core training in your yoga practice will improve your poses and transitioning between body postures, alleviate back pain, increase your inner strength, improve your posture, allow for better flexibility, and ensure that you stay balanced while carrying out complicated yoga poses.
What's your relationship with your core? Being aware of your core muscles while doing yoga poses can be nothing short of life-changing.
Here at Yogateket, you can practice Pilates and yoga classes for a strong core and make your daily life a little bit easier. Try one of our online yoga courses.