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The phrase “core workout” tends to summon images of influencers with washboard midriffs. But we are 360-degree creatures. In addition to the anterior abdominal muscles, our core also consists of the posterior chain and the obliques. Together, these muscles lend us the ability to twist, reach, side bend, back bend, as well as walk, breathe, sneeze, and laugh. And you can challenge them all in a 15-minute core workout.
How a 15-minute core workout can benefit you
When we focus less on how things look and more on how they feel and function, it can instill curiosity in us and turn our physical practice into a place of awareness. The tapas, or discipline, that we summon during any physical practice—including a 15-minute core workout—is the same drive behind every endeavor that challenges us, whether arm balancing or running or hiking.
When we exhibit tenacity and vitality, our core workouts become a physical expression of moving from superficial instability to underlying steadiness. This stability helps us extend our lifted leg in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3 Pose) but also lends us the confidence to be a strong advocate for ourselves off the mat.
Any workout that you do—even a 15-minute core workout—with awareness can also be a practice of inquiry and provide you with the ability to summon the same courage, conviction, and commitment it takes to be human. When you can get to the core of who you are and understand your worth and potential, you can more fully inhabit your life. This core helps you be steady when confronting feelings of inadequacy or shame and move from superficial to deep, both in your body and your mind. This discernment around our own sense of value then allows us to extend the same understanding and dignity to others.
I don’t think any of us need to apologize for appreciating some intensity in our practice. In the words of yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of the Iyengar style of yoga, “Penetration of the mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.”
A 15-minute core workout that addresses all your needs
These yoga-inspired core-strengthening exercises are known as the “Curse Me Core Workout” because there’s a longstanding joke among my students that they curse me under their breath while they practice this core workout. (And now that they practice with me online, they can curse aloud since they’re muted!)
This core workout challenges your front, back, and side body as well as your sense of discipline. Take rest when you need it. You are the expert of your own body. Exerting agency is what makes your practice “advanced.”
Start your 15-minute core workout by lying on your back in Constructive Rest with your knees bent, feet hip-distance apart, knees resting together. This is a place to rest any time you need to stop and start again. Find your breath and allow for some calm—before the cursing begins.
Dwi Pada Uttanapadasana (Leg Lifts)
From Constructive Rest, lift your hips enough to bring your hands beneath you, palms down, and lower your hips to rest them on your hands. Extend your legs straight toward the sky and keep your head and shoulder blades on the mat.
Lower either one leg at a time or both legs together and hover them partway or just above the mat and then slowly glide them back up again. Inhale as your leg or legs lower and exhale as you draw your legs back to starting position. If you have a tender lower back or find yourself overarching, try pressing your low back toward the mat, but otherwise the natural curve of your low back is fine.
Option to lift your hips off your hands and curl your upper body toward your lower body as you glide your leg or legs up and down. Release your hands and reach up. Think shoulder blades off the ground, chest lifting toward the sky, and no strain in your neck, which remains neutral. (Imagine there’s a tangerine tucked under your chin that you don’t want to squish.) Let your core do the work.
Leg Lift Crunches
From Leg Lifts, come back to bent knees, feet on the mat hip-width apart, heels beneath your knees in Bridge Pose. As you exhale, roll up as you would in a crunch, reaching your arms forward to frame your thighs, palms up. Stay here or bend your knees 90 degrees to bring your lower legs parallel to the mat. Stay here for your inhalation. Lower your feet to the mat, bend your knees, and use an exhalation to bring your chest closer to your thighs. Release to the mat.
Start with 4 repetitions and build up to 8 reps. To intensify the exercise, straighten your legs in front of you and hover them above the mat with your arms extended forward.
On your next inhalation, lie back and bring your arms overhead.
Bridge Pose Break
From Bridge Pose Leg Lifts, lower your hips to the mat, bend your knees, and bring your feet hip-width apart or wider in Bridge Pose. Inhale and take your arms alongside your ears. Pause here. Option to lift your hips for a not-too-intense Bridge Pose. Stay here for 3 breaths and then exhale your hips to the mat and release your arms at your sides. Lifting your hips into extension can feel like a respite after all that hip flexion. This is something you can come back to at any time during the sequence.
More Leg Lifts
From Bridge Pose, extend your right leg to the sky and either extend your left leg straight and hover it above the mat. Your upper body can roll up here or you can lie as you did in the beginning to support your head and neck.
Option to take a deeper bend in your knees and practice a few crunches like this. Repeat on your other side.
Salabasana (Locust Pose)
From Bridge, roll onto your belly for posterior chain work. Bring your forehead to the mat, arms along your sides, palms facing down. With your legs together or hip-width apart, press the tops of your feet into the mat until your knees draw toward your hips from the engagement of your legs. You can then lift your knees off the mat or keep them where they are. Press into your hands and lift your collarbones and head away from the mat in Locust Pose without jutting your chin forward. Rather than finding a deep backbend here, we’re looking for length and strength.
Stay here or add cactus arms while widening your legs apart in abduction.
Then bring your arms overhead in front of you with a motion that is almost like swimming the breaststroke.as you bring your legs all the way together (adduction) or hip-distance apart if that feels better in your body.
From Locust Pose, keep both forearms on the ground and oomph (or press) into your arms so your shoulders don’t collapse. Keep your hips buoyant and don’t let them dip below the height of your shoulders. Don’t forget to breathe.
Option to lift one leg to hip height if you’d like. Then do the other side. Remember, Forearm Plank can also look like keeping your knees on the ground. Sphinx Pose is also a great option here as well.
Favorite Least Favorite Pose
From Forearm Plank (or from reveling in a moment in Sphinx), keep your forearms on the mat as you twist to come onto the outer edge of your right foot and the inside of your left foot. Keep your feet scissored or stack them like you might in Vasisthasana (Side Plank).
Bend your left knee and open it out to the side in external rotation. See if you can tap your leftknee to your left arm as you abduct that leg out to the side and bring it forward.
Then bring your left leg back and cross it behind your right leg in adduction. (I was cursing myself at this point.) This is a little ditty that will likely have you cursing me but will also invite your obliques (side waist muscles) to the core workout. Try to love me anyway as you take the second side.
From Favorite Least Favorite, release your knees to the mat and lower yourself to Sphinx Pose and then roll over into Constructive Rest. Give yourself plenty of time to recover—and come back to your 15-minute core workout whenever you need.
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