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5th Element of Yoga Practice: The Core

by Perumal Koshy

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The past decade has seen an incredible amount of focus placed on core development throughout fitness and wellness. But what exactly is the core? The core muscles are the muscles found in the trunk of the body. Take away the limbs along with the head and what is left over is the core. The major muscles of the core are in the abdominal and mid to lower back. They act as the foundation for all leg and arm postures right up to head standing.

Underdeveloped core muscles that are not properly addressed, will create a greater predisposition to injury. This is why it is fundamental to strengthen the core as one of the first steps to a regular yoga practice. In addition, the health of the spine and the internal organs are better exercised through core based postures. For this reason, core postures are truly the heart of any yoga practice.

During dynamic yoga movements, the core stabilizes the chest and pelvis. It is believed that power transfers from the core to the limbs. So, developing and maintaining a strong core is vital as a stepping stone to approaching postures of the limbs. For example tennis players, golfers and boxers use the core to deliver their swings. When they loosen and lengthen their core muscles, it results in increased speed and range of motion in their swings. This increased range of motion is critical; ask any avid golfer and they can tell you how much strain comes on their hips and back from swinging those clubs.

yoga backbend

For such athletes, yoga core conditioning helps to reduce fatigue and improve trunk rotation, as well as prevention and recovery from injuries. Furthermore, such athletes always emphasize the use of one side of the body more than the other, causing overuse of the muscles on that side. For them, strengthening and stretching the core muscles is vital to maintain a symmetrical body.

Prior to any practice, it is important to warm-up the core. Be sure to include core poses in every warm-up routine before or after joint preparation. Only then, we should progress into limbs-related postures. Once or twice a week, focus on strong sessions of core muscles while giving the limbs a rest. Yoga movements such as locust, east facing pose, wheel, lying leg lifts and boat, will strengthen the core. Forward and backward bending, along with twisting postures like Ardha Matsyendrasana, will stretch it. For beginners, it is recommended to practice core routines for a period before progressing into limb postures.

core postures

Despite all that has been said, you must approach the muscles in a progressive manner. This is especially true for anyone with back pain. Otherwise you may aggravate such pains. Even if there are no known back issues, overdoing areas of weaknesses can lead to injury. For example, people with lower back issues may hurt it when attempting boat postures or lying leg lifts. Seated or standing forward bends may cause low back irritations when there are existing issues.

If you experience back pains after yoga classes, then it is imperative that your focus is placed on resolving or at least stabilizing such core problems before moving onto the limbs. Avoid full forward bends if there are back issues. Often times, bending the knees and keeping the spine straight while minimizing the range of movement could stop most problems. Sound core practices will maintain proper spinal health, which translates into a good posture. Often times, the cause of back problems is simply a poor posture. When the core muscles are well developed, the posture is greatly improved, making a person appear taller, upright and confident.

wheel pose

In addition, training the core is vital for detoxification. The core provides the internal pressure to expel substances from the body. If there is fecal matter to expel, the core is the one in charge of it. When we train our core, we stimulate peristalses which are the waves of involuntary muscular contractions involved in moving food through the intestines.

Keeping a fit core through yoga will enhance the asana for limbs, detoxify the body, reduce injuries and improve posture to create a pain free body and confident appearance.

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