Today’s post gives an introduction to getting in touch with your CORE!
In today’s post, we’re starting with getting in touch with your core. This is arguably the most important thing for you to understand and practice when you’re doing your yoga at home.
Yoga is awesome! I LOVE yoga! BUT, I know a lot of people who have hurt themselves in their practice. In almost all of the cases, it was because they didn’t understand how to properly engage their core as they moved through their poses.
A disclaimer that’s super IMPORTANT before we get started. Everything I share here is for individuals with no pre-existing conditions or anatomical concerns. If you have any special considerations, or if when you practice you feel something that just doesn’t seem “right”, then you need to speak with a well-trained instructor or physician for evaluation.
Now onto the fun … your pelvic floor. haha, kidding but not kidding.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
What getting in-touch with your core isn’t
I’m not trying to dis’ anyone when I make my comments below, yet I do hear (often) the types of cues that make me cringe. Such as:
“Suck in your belly!”
“Press your back to the floor!”
“Pull down your tailbone!”
Perhaps I should expound. These in themselves aren’t necessarily BAD, yet without the proper context, they are very misleading and can lead you down the wrong path.
How to actually get in touch with your core
To activate your core PROPERLY you need to start at your pelvic floor. Yes, I’m getting personal! And just wait for some of my cues. lol.
Whether sitting or standing, imagine there is a penny placed just under your pelvic floor (that means your privates). WITHOUT engaging your glutes (butt muscles), I want you do try to pull that penny UP toward the crown of your head.
Now, do it again and as you do INHALE through your nose and lengthen your spine. As you EXHALE (through your mouth) hold the core engagement.
Do it again and notice how you feel a wrapping, almost like a corset, around your midsection all by lifting up your pelvic floor.
That’s it! You have the secret.
So let’s rephrase the first cue I cited above, to be MORE okay:
“As you lift your pelvic floor,
you’ll feel your belly begin to suck in!”
This IS a core exercise you can do anywhere! Try it sitting at your desk, driving in your car, or hanging out watching TV.
Here’s a video clip from one of my IGTV posts that may help explain this further:
Diggin deeper: Neutral Pelvis
While none of us are perfectly aligned anatomically (sorry, it’s true), we can work toward practicing proper alignment.
When it comes to our pelvis, that means that the ASIS and the PSIS are aligned. What? That doesn’t mean anything to you.
Try again, most of us can feel the front points of our hip bones. That’s your ASIS.
You can probably also feel the two dimples on the back of your hip bones. They are your PSIS.
These guys are markers for our proper alignment. Standing up, they should be parallel to the floor. If you’re lying down, they should be perpendicular to the floor.
If yours aren’t, you’re not alone. YET, we will work with this alignment in mind. When they are properly aligned, that position is called “NEUTRAL“.
Think of your pelvis like a punch bowl,
when it’s neutral, no punch spills out!
The challenge comes when our pelvis is pulled out of alignment. This happens all the time ESPECIALLY when working out, such as doing the physical practice of yoga. Keeping the pelvis in a good position is really important to the lower back.
When the pelvis is in poor alignment and you add stress to it (pulling muscles or adding weight) then you can hurt your back. That’s BAD!!
So, what to do?
To protect the lower back, we engage the core
Yes, it comes together! You need to engage the core to protect your lower back. In some cases, that means pulling it slightly out of alignment for a GOOD reason.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
Here I am lying on my back (supine, is the correct term) and there is no pressure on my back. If you could see under my belly, you would see that my pelvis is neutral. I’ve shown this with the red arrow. My back is NOT pressing to the floor, as you often hear cued.
Note: if this position is uncomfortable for you, please work with someone in person to be evaluated.
One way to feel if your pelvis is neutral is to put the palms down on your front hip bones (ASIS) with your fingers reaching your pubic symphysis (the lowest part of your pelvic girdle). If these feel parallel with the floor, you’re in neutral. You can rock your pelvis around a bit to see how it feels when you’re not in neutral.
Even in this next photo, because all of the weight of my legs are directly above my pelvis (A), I can remain neutral (B).
But what if you don’t have the flexibility to straighten your legs like this? Or, what happens when you start to move your legs away from this position?
getting in-touch with your core – even more, lol.
As soon as you start to add weight or movement that places ANY sort of strain on your lower back then you need to engage the core EVEN MORE.
In the case I’m exploring in this section, you are going to add a slight posterior (back) tilt to your pelvis. This will take it out of neutral. AND doing so will help to protect your lower back. This will also move your lower back into contact with the floor, but you AREN’T pressing your back to the floor. You’re contracting your abs!
I’m trying to keep this all easy to understand, so for now, just know that you have many muscles that are part of what we call the “core”. They connect the pelvis, rib cage, and spine. Some start in the pelvis and reach out and grab the ribs. Some do the opposite. There are also helper muscles, not part of the core that give support too.
All of the specifics don’t really matter YET (we’ll get into this later), but just know that you can keep your rib cage perfectly still, keep your glutes (butt) relaxed, and tilt your pelvis by using these core muscles.
When stress is going to be placed on your spine,
you need to keep your pelvic floor lifted
and engage the core MORE, bringing the hip bones toward the ribs.
By bringing your hip bones towards your rib cage THROUGH MORE CORE ENGAGEMENT you are protecting your lower back. Let’s look at a few examples:
In this position above, you see that my legs are bent at my knees. This puts stress on my lower back (A). To help, I’m tilting my hip bones toward my rib cage by engaging my core MORE (B).
If you are in this position and you put your palms on your hip bones again and reach your fingers to your pubic symphysis, you’ll feel that there is a tilt. Your hip bones are lower than your pubic symphysis.
Same thing in this common exercise. As I lower my legs, I need to engage the core (starting at the pelvic floor) more and bring my hip bones to my ribs.
As I return my legs up to where they were in the first photo, I can return my pelvis to neutral. Thus, when you’re doing this exercise (lowering one or two legs toward the ground), you can start by holding your pelvis in the more engaged position. Then, as you become stronger, you can advance to moving your pelvis throughout the lowering and lifting to add “ab crunches” on top of the lower and lift. Sneaky, right!
Let’s rethink one of the cues from above:
“As you engage your core MORE,
You’ll feel your lower back touch the floor!”
Further, if you do press your back to the floor, you’re leveraging off of the floor. This doesn’t strengthen your core effectively.
Do the lower and lift of the legs. Engage your core more as shown above. IF, as you lower your legs, you can’t keep the core in the proper position, then back off. Don’t go to that point. DON’T use the floor for leverage even if your instructor tells you to hover your legs 2 inches from the floor. Know your body. Keep practicing and you will develop the strength – with time and practice – to lower down farther and farther.
Getting in-touch with your core – through poses
It’s a little easier to isolate how to move the core when doing “core exercises” specifically. Obviously, in these cases, you’re focusing on your core and how to work it right.
But what about when you’re flowing through yoga poses and your mind is elsewhere?
You still need to think about your core FIRST and the pose alignments SECOND. Let’s face it, if you hurt your back, you’re not doing ANY asana period. Asana is another name for the physical poses in yoga.
Here’s and example for you using Chair Pose (Utkatasana).
Here, in Chair Pose, the left photo shows my core is engaged yet there is a strain on my lower back. I need to engage my core MORE, as I do in the right photo, to bring my front hip bones up towards my ribs.
Yes, it’s subtle. I’m NOT tucking my tail between my legs. I’m just engaging my core effectively to protect my lower back.
Let’s look at another pose, Warrior 2.
There’s a LOT of positioning to think about in Warrior 2. This is one of the poses that we’ll break down in future posts. BUT to start, what’s the first thing we need to think about? Yuppers, our core engagement so our spine is happy!
See how it’s out of nice alignment above. This is NOT unusual to see in a group yoga class.
In this photo (above) I’ve engaged my core MORE, my front hip bones are moving up towards my rib cage and I’m lengthening my spine straight up from my pelvis. OH, my spine is so happy!
Let’s revisit that final cue from the beginning of this post:
As you engage your core more,
you’ll feel your tailbone extend lower toward the floor.
This all takes more work. Building up strength in your core and spine are two of the important benefits of a yoga and Pilates practice.
Now it’s your turn
That’s our lesson for this week of the AT-HOME YOGA series. If you didn’t read the first two posts in the series, please click HERE. This is a building sequence so you need to read all of them to get the full benefits.
For the rest of this week, you are going to keep moving as you were shown last week. However, you’re going to add in what you now know about engaging your core. This will make every movement you do safer. It’s also imperative that you practice thinking CORE FIRST with every pose, movement, and exercise you try!
Do you have a question or a suggestion? No problem! Email me with all of it and I’m happy to respond.
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Have a fantastic week! Namaste,