You are only as strong as your core
This statement is especially true in yoga. A strong abdominal core is needed to protect your lower back from injury and it stabilises you in every pose. The stronger your core then the stronger, more controlled and safer your asana practice will be.
In yoga, when you lock your abdominals it is called uddiyana bandha. This is one of the 5 foundations of a strong and healthy yoga practice. Engaging your uddiyana bandha in every pose is extremely important. You do this by drawing you belly in and upwards. Contracting your abdominal muscles so you have a strong core.
There are 5 exercises that I find really engage your abs and help to tone and strengthen them. Remember the stronger your core the stronger your practice, so doing these exercises everyday will have a massive impact on your yoga and life.
This exercise has many names but I like to call it bicycle taps.
Start by lying on your back with your legs stretched out lifted a few inches off your mat and your hands behind your head. Bring your left knee into your chest until your knee is directly above your hip and forming a 90degree angle. Keep your foot active.
Engage your core and lift your head and shoulders off your mat. Now lift higher and twist so you tap your left knee with your right elbow. Exhale as you do this.
Swap legs so your right knee is bent as you lower your torso back to neutral but keeping your shoulders off the mat. Exhale to twist and tap your right knee with your left elbow.
Repeat this bicycle taps in a slow and controlled manner for 10 exhales. Engage your core to really strengthen the muscle.
The next exercise I call leg lifts.
Lie on your back and, keeping your legs straight and feet together, lift them to the ceiling. Exhale and lower your legs halfway. Inhale here.
Exhale and lower your legs half way again. Inhale and hold.
Exhale for a final time and lower your legs to 3 inches off the mat. Now for 10 breathes pulse your feet a few inches up and down. Keeping the movement very slow and subtle is more strengthening. Keep your legs straight and feet together and active.
Bring your feet back to the sky and repeat the whole sequence 2 more times.
This exercise is the ‘upward reach’ and probably the one I find hardest on my abs.
Lie on your back and raise your feet into the air. Legs straight and feet together and active. Engage your core to lift your shoulders off the floor. Reach your arms to your feet.
Now pulse up and down. Exhale to reach your arms up further and tap your toes. Then release to hovering your shoulders above your mat.
Try 10 toe taps before bringing your knees into your chest and having a well deserved rest.
The fourth exercise is boat pose or navasana. This is a great balancing pose as well as core work out!
From a seated position lower your chest to about 60degrees off the mat, keeping your torso long and straight. Raise your legs off the mat to about 60degrees as well, they should be together and straight. Have your arms stretched in front of you. Imagine yourself in a ‘V’ position.
Hold in navasana for 5 full breaths and then lower into ardha navasana (low boat).
For ardha navasana, your legs should be 3 inches off the ground and your torso hovering 5inches above your mat. Hold here for 5 breaths and back into full boat pose, navasana.
Repeat the boat to low boat sequence 5 times, holding for 5 breaths in each pose.
The final exercise is plank, or chaturanga.
Come into plank position and check your alignment. Shoulders, elbows and wrists should all be in a vertical line. Your back should be straight and feet slightly apart.
Hold in plank for 10 breaths and then lift your right foot off the ground whilst keeping everything else in position, hold for 5 breaths. Lower and hold plank for another 10 breaths, then lift your left foot and hold for 5. Lower and finally hold plank for 10 breaths before lowering yourself down to the mat.
STRETCH IT OUT.
After exercising your abdominals it is very important to stretch them out. Come into sphinx pose or cobra. Hold here and breath into your core. Enjoy this juicy stretch and reconnect to your breath.
Once you feel you have stretched enough come into upward facing dog and hold here for a few breaths. Then move into downward facing dog or child’s pose on your exhale.
Enjoy this juicy stretch and the well deserved rest!