A strong core offers so much more than an attempt to show off your abdominal muscles….. In fact, that tight, rigid 6-pack isn’t so healthy for us. It limits our mobility and doesn’t do much for our over all strength since many of us simply isolate this one part of the body to work on. A strong core protects us from injury (especially back pain), it allows the physical yoga practice to become more fluid and ‘easier’ because we’re stronger on the outside, and it allows challenges we’re faced with in our lives to become more manageable because we feel strong and powerful on the inside.
Strength means different things to different people; for some it’s being able to lift heavier weights in the gym, for others it’s pressing up in to a handstand, and for others still, it’s having the strength and willpower to be themselves and meet any challenges life provides for them.
The thing about becoming stronger though, is that is doesn’t just happen by doing one particular thing…. Our muscles generally adapt to strengthening in the part we work them at; so you could be lifting weights at the gym or carrying heavy objects at work and still not find it easy to hold yourself in Bakasana, side plank or Utpluthi. To become stronger all over, we have to work all over, and the good news is that it takes no equipment whatsoever. In a physical yoga practice, you’re lifting your own body weight frequently, so depending upon the amount of practice you do, you’re likely to become stronger all over in a surprisingly short amount of time. At the same time as strengthening ourselves physically, we also need to be generating a sense of inner strength; the strength that allows us to listen to what we really want out of life rather than following the crowd, the strength to say ‘no’ when we know what’s best for us, the strength to let go of worrying about the outcome of a situation and doing things because you know it’s the right thing to do, no matter what happens.
For most people, delving in to the mind straight away isn’t an easy task, which is why we start with the most external part of ourselves first; the body. Let the rest follow!
*It could be a good idea to warm up with a few sun salutations just to bring a bit of heat and energy in to the body before practicing these poses.
A little more difficult than it first appears to be; Navasana is especially brilliant for strengthening the abdominal and hip flexor muscles.
When you’ve been practicing with the knees bent for a while or you already feel very strong in this pose, only then straighten the legs – strength needs to be built up in this pose, otherwise you risk straining the lower back muscles.
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent to your chest.
- Find the balancing point between your ‘sit bones’ and your tailbone.
- Holding the thighs, extend the legs out a little so the shins are parallel with the floor and pull the navel in firmly.
- Make sure your back is kept straight and the chest is open.
- If you feel ok here, extend the arms out along side the legs, and if you’re still finding this easy, extend the legs fully, staying here for 5-10 breaths of however many you can manage.
- When you come out, gently bend the legs and pull the knees back in to the chest, feet to the floor.
- Practice this pose regularly to really improve your core strength and notice how much it effects your own yoga practice
Don’t forget that the ‘core’ isn’t just at the front of our bodies – we need to be strong throughout the whole mid – section to protect ourselves from injury, increase mobility, and really feel the benefits.
One of the lower back strengthening poses, Salabhasana requires focus and willpower to stay in the pose for any length of time. It is brilliant for strengthening the lower back, which is often a weak area that people feel discomfort in – mostly due to straining these muscles when lifting, or siting in cars or office chairs for long periods of time.
- Lie on the floor face down, with your legs and arms extended behind you.
- For the first couple of times, it may help to interlace the hands and let this action help with some of the work, but in time you can keep the hands apart.
- On an inhale – using the back and abdominal muscles, lift the upper body, and when you’re feeling good here, lift the legs too, reaching out through the balls of the feet.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths or however many you can manage and on an exhale gently lower down to the floor.
To counter pose these strengthening actions, take a nice gentle Bridge pose (which also works on leg strength) and lie in Supta Baddha Konasana with the hands at the navel, breathing deep and feeling the strength and energy you’ve created in this area.
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