TIPS ON TUESDAYS: Build a Stronger Core

January 31, 2017 | by Michelle Meier

TIPS ON TUESDAYS are weekly tips offering you therapeutic yoga poses to help you improve your health, combat stress or recover from an injury and/or mindfulness techniques to give you that extra boost you need.

I love a good core workout.  The kind that makes you burn because then you know it's working.  I used to teach a bootcamp for pole fitness classes (my other love...sorry, yoga!) and my students would hate me through those intense core sessions.  They mostly moaned and glared at me with dagger eyes.  Of course they loved me afterwards.  But during was another story.

There's still my beloved pole, on which I love to choreograph dance, right up in my living room.  Interestingly most people don't even notice it when they come over; some have said they thought it was just a structural abutment.  Seriously.  Little did they know!!

For the past couple of months, with the holidays and some unexpected life challenges, my working out, whether at the gym, through yoga or pole dance, had almost come to a complete halt.  And now that yoga itch has got me scratching.  Time for me to get back into the flow.

Vasistasana, or Side Plank Pose, is a great way to start.  This simple pose is incredibly effective at targeting key core stabilizing mucles, like the rectus abdominus (aka, those 6-pack abs, which for some of us are 2 and, for others, it's 10 but who's really counting?), the obliques (running along the sides of the torso), the transverse abdominus (deeper below the obliques) and the quadratus lumborum (a deep muscle connecting the lower ribs to the pelvic crest).

What does all this mean?  Well, a strong core is our foundation for good posture, which in turn helps protect our abdominal organs for optimal functioning and, ultimately, helps prevent injuries.  Lower back injuries, for instance, are often due to a weakened core.

So let's begin, shall we?

HOW TO DO IT: 

  • From Tabletop position (on hands & knees), with shoulders directly over the wrist creases and fingers spread and rooting down evenly through the palms, lift your left hand and swivel your left knee and hip up and away from the ground (we're going to be stacking the left hip on top of the right)
  • Keep your right hand as it is with the right shoulder stacked right above the wrist crease as you extend your left leg (top leg) straight, connecting the inside of the foot to the ground
  • If you're new to this you might want to stay here with your right knee down and focus on just lifting both hips up and drawing the navel into the spine**
  • If you're feeling strong, extend your right leg under the left so both legs are straight--with hips, knees and feet stacked on top of each other
  • Flex the feet to actively engage the quads
  • Hold the pose (but never your breath!) for 15-30 seconds and then--gracefully--switch sides; I say gracefully so that we don't drop out of it and potentially injure ourselves

SUPER EXTRA HELPFUL BONUS TIPS:

  • If the hips drop, you're likely to be dumping your weight into your shoulders.  To keep your shoulders safe and your core activating properly, you want to feel like you're lifting everything up to the sky.  Imagine someone placing their arm beneath the side of your torso closest to the ground and lifting you up.  That visualization of help can go a long way!
  • If it's still too much to stack both legs, place one foot in front of another to help lighten the load.
  • You can work up to longer holds in this as your core stabiliation improves.
  • And if you're feeling especially badass, you can even lift your top leg while in the pose, flexing the foot to keep the quads engaged and now inviting your outer hips and glutes to the party.  Fun, right? Please don't glare at me!

BENEFITS:

  • Strengthens the abs, arms, shoulders and legs
  • Stretches and strengthens the wrists
  • Improves balance

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  • "Connect to your core and you'll find strength. Act from your core and you'll move mountains."