5 Core Strengthening Yoga Poses
Yoga has taught me a lot about my body. It’s made me realize I had muscles I didn’t even know existed, has given me better flexibility, eased some back issues I was having and made me understand the importance of building a strong core.
Your core region consists of your obliques, pelvic region, hip muscles and those that support your spine. Vaguely speaking, they are responsible for keeping your torso upright.
A lot of people don’t understand the importance of strengthening all of these muscles, but they are missing out on some great benefits.
A strong core can help you improve sport performance. Sports, like tennis that require dynamic movements between your upper and lower body, can seriously benefit from a stable core.
Did you know that your risk of injury reduces significantly when you take care of your entire midsection? Many injuries are caused from a lack of balance and excess strain on the lower back. Core strengthening exercises build your back muscles so you can protect it from unnecessary strain.
Other benefits include better posture, improved ability to complete everyday activities, and of course, flatter abs.
If you’re interested in reaping all these rewards, here are my five favorite yoga poses for a strong, lean core!
- Boat Pose – The boat pose can be a real abdominal killer. To do this sit on your mat, lift your knees so they are parallel to the ground and stay balanced by leaning back on your sit bones. It’s important to keep your back straight while doing this pose.
If you can, straighten your legs. If your back starts to curve, bring your knees back into a bent position. Hold this pose for five complete breaths then release. This pose always makes my midsection quiver, but makes me feel oh so strong afterwards.
- Side Plank – Remember when I mentioned the importance of obliques? This is a great exercise for targeting that muscle group.
Start in downward dog then step both feet together so your big toes are touching. Move your right hand over to the left so it’s centered with the top middle of your mat. Roll over to the left and plant your left heel down. The key here is to balance on your outer left, flexed foot. Reach your arm straight up above you and take five full breathes. Release and repeat the movements on the other side.
- Crow – This one looks tough, but I assure you it’s not so bad. Begin in a wide squat with your hands firmly planted on the ground with your fingers spread wide. Slightly straighten your legs and place your knees as high on your triceps as possible. Shifting your weight forward, balance on your arms and slowly begin to lift each foot off the floor. Again, remain here for five breaths.
- Four-Limbed Staff/ Chaturanga Dandasana – This position is frequently used when doing Sun Salutations. When held for longer it is a great core strengthener.
Come into a Standing Forward Bend with your palms flat on the floor. As you inhale, jump both feet back so your shoulders are above your wrists and your body is straight. Exhale and bend your elbows as you lower your torso towards the ground. Once your elbows are parallel with your back, stop and hold for five deep breaths.
- Plank – I like to call this the old faithful because it’s simple, yet effective.
From Downward Facing Dog, draw your torso forward until your shoulders are above your wrists. You want your body to be in one straight line. Pressing your hands firmly on the ground, press back through your heels. Keep your neck in line with your spine, broaden your shoulder blades and hold for 60 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe!
If you add these five core savvy yoga exercises into your daily routine you will have a slender and strong core in no time at all. Namaste.
How to Set Up Your Own At-Home Yoga Retreat
The weekend is finally here…but you’re stressed and tired from a grueling work week! Why not make the most of your weekend to rest and recharge in one of the most invigorating, centering ways possible? Yoga Journal had a great idea: treat yourself to a yoga retreat. The best part is, you don’t even need to go anywhere or pay anyone!
Your Own At-Home Yoga Retreat, Simplified:
Wipe Your Calendar:
If you can, you can allocate 3-4 days for the best effects of a bonafide yoga retreat. But for most of us, vacation time on a whim isn’t plausible, so a weekend will do if you make the most of it! Make sure you rearrange or cancel any commitments so you aren’t interrupted from your Zen at all; make it the same as if you were going on vacation, and make yourself unavailable to the outside world.
Practice Both AM & PM:
Now that your calendar is clear and your routine is reset, you have all day to do your favorite thing: practice yoga. Take advantage of it! You can either buy a class card or pass from a local studio, or you can easily practice at home to really capture the retreat ambiance. You can stream classes straight into your living room, or follow your usual, self-led practice. You’ll really start to feel the effects of a twice-a-day practice versus only once, or a handful of times during the week. It allows you the inner connection you usually get during a yoga session, only it takes you deeper. Kino MacGregor, founder of Miami Life Center, suggests, “If you have one really active practice in the morning, then you can be more meditative and introspective in the afternoon, working on alignment and therapeutics. It creates a holistic program.”
Find a Friend:
Looking to spend some extra quality time with a best friend? Need to make up your Valentine’s Day disaster to your significant other? This is the perfect time to bond for a weekend of health and wholeness. You get to spend time together getting set up for the retreat, grabbing snacks, drinks, and meals, and whatever yoga accessories you may want. And then you get to spend an entire weekend together, totally at peace and tuned away from any conflict.
Cut the Cords:
It’s time to imagine you’re on an island somewhere far, far away. Of course you don’t have cell reception or WiFi! Turn off your cellphone and stash your laptop somewhere where you won’t be tempted to grab it. This is the perfect weekend to try a tech detox, and you’ll be amazed at the mental results after you’re done! It even has some health benefits, according to Levi Felix, co-founder of The Digital Detox, “It lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate, lowers cortisol, and helps us sleep better.” Perfect for a retreat.
When you’re not on the yoga mat, be sure to turn your gaze inward. You can get in some great meditation sessions in (even if you’re new to it!) when you’re not being bugged by the outside world 24/7! Be sure to journal what’s going on internally, as well. Now that you’ve unplugged, you have time to return to your favorite hobbies, as well, such as reading, writing, or drawing. Do whatever restores you.
You’ve gone to the hard work of setting up this retreat, so make sure you enjoy it. Indulge in healthy treats that will help your yoga practice, like honey and whole Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, or your favorite (non-routine; this is vacation, remember?) smoothie. And what would a relaxation weekend be without a little spa action? Make your own, all-natural facials. Take a long bath with natural oils, candles, and tranquil music. If you have a friend over, trade massages (it’s okay if you only know how to do feet!). If you don’t mind leaving the house, you can always stop by the professional spas on the way home from your yoga class, as well.
Get Some Shut-Eye…Seriously:
As much as meditation can recharge you, there isn’t much better for refreshing and healing your body than a good night’s sleep. So tuck into bed early, but don’t be a bedbug. If you can manage it, try to rise and sleep with the sun to reset your circadian rhythm.