The first time I went to a yoga class and heard core, I remember thinking to myself that “I have no six-pack. What the heck do I do now?” The core is almost always heard in a yoga class but if you’re new to the concept, you have a vague idea about what that actually means. Yes, the six-pack is part of the core, but there’s so much more to it. Let’s explore some other parts of this so-called core and see how it relates to you and your practice.
Your core is a complex series of muscles, so it’s not just the front abs, as it extends your whole mid-section, front, back and even inside. Muscles are there to move bones, for example, the biceps are used to bend your arm at the elbow. While the core muscles move your spine moves in a few directions, (into flexion, extension, side bending and twisting) as a whole the core stabilizes the upper body and the pelvis during dynamic movement, e.g. twisting, side-bending, etc. This also means that it would be better to work the core functionally with the other parts of the body rather than just isolating it. This is where your yoga practice comes in. Holding different poses while being aware of how your core works will greatly improve how you approach your body on the mat and outside during everyday life.
For this article, let’s focus on two muscles of the core:
- Transverse Abdominus
The transverse abdominus (TVA) muscles are what we can call the corset muscles. They are the deepest layer of muscles which wrap around the belly horizontally and are most effective in drawing the lower abdomen in or when you’re exhaling. When in use, the TVA takes some weight off the upper body of the spine and transfer the lifting to the core. Thus, they’re very good in stabilizing and supporting the spine when you’re carrying something heavy or doing dynamic movement such as running and twisting.
To feel the TVA, you can do some leg lowers. Lie flat on your back and then bend your knees so that they are right on top of your hips. Lift the upper back and head off the floor. Work on keeping the lower back going down towards the floor. As you keep the lower back from arching too much, you’ll feel your TVA start to fire. To really feel it, you can start to straighten your legs out.
Here are a couple of poses to feel the TVA
Place the forearms on the floor parallel to each other with the elbows underneath the shoulders. Straighten the legs back with the toes curled in. Engage the quads to feel the legs active. Continue to push the floor away with your forearms until the upper back slightly rounds. At the same time pull the chest forward. Keep the hips at the level of the shoulders. Zip the front part of your belly to feel the TVA. The TVA is resisting the ribs from splaying out towards the floor.
From standing, step one leg back up until the front leg bends. The longer you step back, the bigger the bend and work for the front leg. Bend the back knee to start and then go towards straight. If the front of your thighs are tight, you may need to keep the back knee bent. Start to zip the belly in order to lift the front part of your pelvis up towards your chest. This helps in stabilizing the lower back. Reach the arms up and only as far as the ribs don’t splay.
The obliques are the muscles that run diagonally across the trunk of each side to form the waist. There are internal and external obliques and there are one of each on each side. If both obliques are fired, they can flex the torso as when you forward fold. While if only one side of the obliques are recruited, they help in side bending and in twisting.
Forearm Side Plank
From forearm plank, bring the feet together and roll outside the right foot. Bring the top hand to your hip or reach it up for more of a challenge.
As gravity pulls the hips down, firing your obliques will help you find equal length on both sides of your waist. As this kind of prevents you from going to the side bend, this helps in creating stability for your spine.
Twisted Crescent Lunge
From crescent lunge, reach both arms forward in line with your shoulders. Brace the belly in and then start to twist towards the side of the front leg. Avoid twisting from the shoulders by keeping the arms in line. Stabilize the hips and avoid moving them as you twist. One side of the obliques are activating in order for you to move and hold pose.
We use the core in most things that we do in life. Getting that awareness helps us engage the muscles in a more efficient way which can help us move better especially as we grow older.
Jc Ty works in the IT department of Coke Philippines by day, teaches yoga, coaches his Ultimate Frisbee team and is a father of one. He teaches FNR, FNR Athletics and Vinyasa Flow classes at Urban Ashram Yoga.