While you may think about your core on the mat, how often do you consider the work of the core in everyday life? As a mother of a 70-pound four-year-old (he has a very tall father!), I can attest to the importance of full-body strength and mobility. You use your rotational core every single day for basic movement. Those muscles that make up the front, side, and back of your core allow you to flex, extend, and twist. They play a role in everything from carrying groceries home from the farmer’s market to picking up dog poop. The great news is that incorporating the following five moves into your daily yoga practice will strengthen them to help you maintain a strong and flexible spine.
See also Poses for Abs
5 Everyday Strong-Core Yoga Moves
Begin on all fours bringing your hands directly under your shoulders and spreading your fingers wide, rooting into all parts of the hands and finger pads. Press the fronts of the shin bones and the tops of the feet down while spreading all 10 toes onto the mat. Draw the navel in and up gently so as to find a neutral spine. On your inhale lengthen the heart forward between the gateway of the upper arm bones while opening the throat and broadening the collarbones. On your exhale begin to hollow out the belly and round the upper back, protracting the shoulder blades and keeping your arms bones hugging toward the midline. Avoid overarching the lumbar spine by keeping a strong focus on your navel drawing in and up in both the Cat and Cow movements. The tendency here is to collapse the low back to get more of a visual backbend in the upper spine however that results in compression of the sensitive lumbar spine.
After a couple rounds, challenge your core: In Cat Pose actively press the mat away, allowing the upper back to round and shoulders to protract. Draw the navel in and up lifting the kneecaps off the mat about 1–2 inches. Spread through all 10 toes and press the tops of the feet into the mat as you would do for Upward-Facing Dog.
Forearm Plank with variation
From all fours, come onto the forearms. Choose your position: Interlacing the fingers is typically more comfortable for tighter shoulders while placing forearms parallel is a little more demanding for the shoulders. If your low back feels sensitive, lower your knees. Otherwise curl your toes under and extend your legs back. Take your gaze forward and lengthen the back of your neck. Lift energetically out of your elbow creases as if the mat were “hot” and you were moving up and away from it. Knit your front ribs together, drawing your frontal hip points toward your bottom ribs. And then recruit the legs, lifting the thigh bones. Draw your navel in and up.
To challenge your core, extend your right arm directly forward, fingertips on the floor, keeping the front body parallel to the floor. Keep the right arm fluffy and engaged so it doesn’t collapse. Hold for 5 breaths and then switch sides.
See also 16 Poses for a Strong + Stable Core
Plank to Pike
You’ll need a smooth floor (hardwood, tile, concrete) and a blanket, towel, or gliders.
Begin at the back of your mat or roll your mat over a few times for additional wrist cushion. Grab a blanket, towel, or gliders and place your feet on them. Make your way into Plank and firm the upper arm bones toward each other as you soften the sternum in and down toward the navel. This creates an arch from one wrist across the collarbones and down to the opposite wrist that stabilizes you. On the inhale, push the floor away as actively as you can, corset your ribs while ‘sliding’ your feet toward your hands, creating the “Pike” shape. Bend your knees if necessary.
Supta Baddha Konasana Side Crunch
Come onto your back, press the soles of your feet together, and let the knees butterfly apart. Curling the shoulder blades off the mat, draw your navel in deeply, and extend your arms alongside your torso hovering the arm bones off the mat. Keeping the palms facing up, flex your torso to the right, reaching your right hand toward or even past your right knee. Come back through center and flex to the left, extending your left hand toward or past the left knee. Continue for 1 minute if possible, exhaling as you “side crunch” and inhaling back to center.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
This pose has become a staple in my classes over the last two years, as I suffered the beginning stages of frozen shoulder. The strengthening of the back body and opening of my chest benefit the posterior body which keeps the entire core—front, side, and back—strong and flexible. Begin lying face down on the mat. Extend your arms alongside your torso with palms facing up. With the forehead resting on the mat, activate your legs by internally rotating the inner thighs up toward the ceiling while activating the quadriceps to extend the knees. Your gluteals (and hamstrings) will contract as you begin to lift the legs. Tilt the pelvis back and down slightly to almost lift the belly off the mat. Using the tops of your hands to root down, begin to lift your head, chest, and top ribs off the mat by extending the back and opening the chest. Think of moving your heart more forward than up. Hold 3 breaths and lower to rest. Repeat 3 times.