What is Core Strength?
Core strength plays an integral role in determining stamina, control, balance and energy in everyday life, yoga practice and pretty much any other workout. A strong core also supports the back, ensuring safety in activities from walking to sports, to sitting postures. The core doesn’t mean abs or 6-packs but includes it. It is a network of muscles that includes the obliques, transverse abdominis, erector spinae, hip flexors, and more. The stronger this network of muscles, the better and easier are everyday functions.
The core muscles act like a link between the upper body and lower body. Every movement you make either comes from the core or passes through the core. Even if the motion starts in the legs, it moves upward through the core muscles. Weak and inflexible core muscles can impair the functioning of this movement. Building up core strength, improves power and ability to control the movement. This enhances balance and stability, preventing falls or injuries. In yoga, it improves the ability to do many asanas that require core strength and power.
Using Inner Body Power
Core strength comes within the body. It is when the deep frontal line, known as the deep core line, is activated. Normally, most of us tend to use only outer body power, that is, limbs and superficial muscles, to move. This is true when moving into specific yoga poses. However, this adds unnecessary tension onto the body. Being strong in the outer body and weak in the core may also lead to back problems and other injuries. By using the inner, deep core line and keeping the outer body soft and flexible, we can access inner strength. Drawing the core in and up, while not collapsing the back, will allow us to access and exert the necessary power.
The deep frontal line is connected by a facial unit along the skeleton. It is a continuous network that begins at the toes, moves through the inner arch, inside the shin, through the back and sides of the knees, through the inner thighs, psoas, quadriceps, inside the ribcage, through the heart and lungs, and the tongue. It is critical to body stability. When we press the foundation down and pull the core in and up in whatever we do, we activate the deep core line and work from inner strength rather than outer strength. All this while allowing the outer body to stay soft. This creates a strong, healthy alignment in yoga poses too.
Why does Core Strength Matter?
The core is used throughout the day, whether you are cooking a meal, walking down the Subway stairs, sitting down, standing up, etc. It is used in simple, everyday movements. A strong core makes all these everyday activities easier and safer. It helps move with ease, stability and balance, avoiding injuries and mishaps. Back pain and back injuries are common in cases where the core is weak or not used properly. This is because of strain, over exertion and unsafe movements. This holds true in yoga practice where there are movements of all kinds, from squats and lunges to twists, pushes, pulls and presses. When the core is strong, the strength used comes from inside which protects and stabilizes movements, especially in the spine.
Core Strength and Posture
The weaker your core muscles, the more likely you are to slouch or hunch when sitting, standing or walking. And, the better your posture the lesser the chances of back pain or injuries, better breathing patterns and a boost to confidence. Thus, a weak core will immediately affect all these aspects of health. By strengthening the core, your posture will improve, which will support the back better and keep the chest open ensuring healthy respiration. There are many yoga poses for better posture and core strength that one can practice regularly.
Precautions when Building Core Strength
When working on the core ensure you are not focusing on only abs. Overstraining the abdominal muscles will harm the back muscles and hip region, leading to injuries and wear and tear. Instead, focus on strengthening the abdominal muscles, hip muscles, back, and upper back as well in a sustained and healthy way. In each workout, you can focus efforts on exercises in one specific region or a few drills for each region so there is a well-maintained balance. The way to do this is under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.
Core Strength and Yoga
In yoga core strength is important to build stamina, stability and strength to do intermediate to advanced poses. Core strength helps you practice yoga poses safely, avoiding injuries or overstraining. When you use the inner core, your ability to do a posture with proper alignment is also better. Moreover, core strength helps you build resistance and a strong foundation.
Yoga Poses that Build Core Strength
Postures such as plank pose drills and variations (high plank to low plank and back a few times), downward-facing dog pose to plank pose, plank to low plank, boat pose, warrior series, triangle pose, extended side-angle pose and camel pose are a few examples of yoga asanas that help you build a strong core.
Yoga Poses that Require Core Strength
Many poses require core strength to practice safely. Even doing the warrior series requires you to use a certain amount of core strength. Intermediate and advanced postures such as the shoulder stand, headstand, scorpion pose, wheel pose, crow pose and firefly pose, among many others require core strength to not only get into the posture, but also practice safely and with the proper alignment.
Develop a routine of including core strengthening poses in your everyday workouts. With regular practice you will slowly improve strength and learn to use the core the right way. The best way to seamlessly do this is to train under an experienced yoga teacher who will regularly include such workouts in your classes. Remember to practice slowly, with awareness.