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In the following sequence, master Baptiste Yoga teacher Leah Cullis, who will lead Yoga Journal’s upcoming online course Pillars of Power Yoga (sign up here to be the first to know when this fitness- and focus-boosting course launches), offers 10 poses to strengthen your core and build your confidence.
Core strength is simply essential. Not only does a strong core help you maintain good posture and support your overall health and vitality, there is power in moving from your physical core center. When you feel strong on the inside, you can start to lean on and trust your inner wisdom—your body’s inherent intelligence. When you feel good in your body, your confidence will soar both on and off the mat, and stress and discomfort will start to melt away, igniting your personal power.
In this sequence, we’ll focus on working from the center of your body and developing your core strength. Amplify the benefits by linking your movements with your breath and using its pathway to step into more energy and ease. Hold all poses for 5–10 breaths the first time through. Once you feel confident with the flow, try moving through it again at a pace of 1 breath per movement. I suggest starting with 3 rounds each of Sun Salutation A and B as a warm-up. Note: Have a yoga block handy.
Come into Boat Pose by balancing on your seat, reach your hands behind your knees and lift your heels up to knee level. Activate your feet, pressing the inner arches together and spreading your toes. Extend your hands forward and spread your fingers open. (To modify, keep your hands behind your knees.) Draw your upper arm bones back and broaden across your chest.Engage your low belly and lift your heart high. Cross your ankles, roll over your feet, and step back to Plank Pose.
Stack your shoulders over your wrists and extend your heels to the back of your mat in Plank Pose. Ground your knuckles into your mat, soften your thoracic spine (upper and middle back), and hug your thumbs toward the center of your mat. Press your outer shins in, and firm your leg muscles to the bones. Extend your crown forward and reach your heels back. Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels and zip up your low belly. Hold for 5 breaths. Light up your whole body, feeling everything working together as one powerful vessel. (For variations, try lifting one leg and hovering or crossing your ankles.)
Crossed-Ankle Side Plank variation
Cross your ankles (if they aren’t already), spin both heels to the left, and lift your right arm high into a variation of Side Plank. Press down into your left hand, broaden across your chest, and reach your right arm higher. Lift your gaze and spread the fingers of your top hand. Draw your legs together and arc your hips high. Hold for 5 breaths, then return to Plank and recenter for 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Downward-Facing Dog Splits
Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana
From Plank, press your hips up and back for Downward-Facing Dog. With your inhale, lift your right leg high. Keep both hip bones squared to the earth and lift from your inner right thigh. Move from core strength rather than from the periphery.
Plank Pose + Right Knee to Right Tricep
Ride your exhale forward and touch your right knee to your right tricep. Engage your low belly and lift your knee high up toward your armpit. Then on your inhalation, press your right leg up and back to return to a Downward-Facing Dog Split. Lengthen from your right wrist through your right heel.
Plank Pose + Right Knee to Left Elbow
As you exhale, shift forward and cross your right knee to your left elbow. Lift your belly and move from your core center, squeezing your obliques. Inhale, expand, and press back to Downward-Facing Dog Splits, lifting your right leg high. On your exhalation, draw your knee forward toward your nose, curling your upper back to gracefully step it beside your right thumb. Set your foundation, grounding down through all four corners of your right foot.
High Lunge, Crescent Variation
On your inhalation, lift your arms and chest high. Root down through your right foot, pulling your heel toward the back of your mat and lighting up your inner thighs. Stack your left heel over the ball of your left foot and hug skin to muscle and muscle to bone. Lift the power from your legs up into your core. From your core root down into the floor. Set your drishti (gaze) and hold for 5 breaths.
Crescent Lunge Twist
Draw your hands to heart center. Inhale and lift your chest to meet your hands. Exhale and twist, hooking your left arm over your right thigh. Continue to ride your breath, lengthening as you inhale, twisting as you exhale. Press your outer shins in, drawing in from your foundation. Hold for 5 full rounds of breath. Come back through Cresecent Lunge as you inhale and step back to Downward-Facing Dog. Switch sides and repeat starting with Downward Dog splits.
From Downward-Facing Dog, walk your feet up toward your hands and set up for Crow Pose. Separate your hands on the floor shoulder-distance apart or wider and bend your elbows. Keep your tail high and hug your knees against the back of your arms, close to your armpits. Keep your gaze forward in front of your fingers as you shift your weight forward and start to lift your feet.
To modify, step your feet onto a yoga block, using it as a perch for more lift. Lift your low belly up toward the ceiling. Just like in Boat Pose, press the inner arches of your feet together and awaken your toes to ignite the power line up to your core. Take flight! Hold for 5–10 breaths. Step back to Downward-Facing Dog.
From Downward-Facing Dog, step halfway up your mat, take a seat and roll onto your back. Lie down and draw your right knee to your chest as you extend your left leg long. Hug your right knee to your armpit and flex all your toes. Catching your right knee with your left hand, draw it across to the left side of your mat for a twist. Extend your right arm long and gaze over your right shoulder. Inhale, breathing length into your side body. Exhale, drawing your navel back toward your spine. Enjoy this final rinse. Come through center and repeat on the other side.