As promised... here are three exercises to practice and make use of your new found core-activation skills:
Lie on your back, with your knees bent, hip-width apart and hands resting on your thighs. Inhale fully into the chest, and on then on the exhale release all the air from your belly feeling the belly button contract inwards towards the spine and pull the pelvic floor up and into your body - as you are doing this lift your shoulders and slowly glide your hands up your thighs towards your knees. Hold and take a few breaths at the top, then gently lower your shoulders back towards the floor. Repeat.
This is a very subtle movement, and for people used to doing crunches etc. it may not seem very "active" at first. However if done correctly it will begin waking up the core, and after a few repetitions you should start to feel this area burn. Unlike crunches however, your back is fully supported in this movement - instead of hurtling your body forward using your limbs and superficial abdominal muscles you are using your deep core muscles to bring you forward, strengthening and improving them as you go.
Now we add levers aka "arms":
Begin the same way, but on the inhale bring your arms up over your head. Then on the exhale curl your shoulders off the floor and bring your hands in between your knees. Hold here for several breaths, then on the exhale slowly roll shoulders back down to the floor -core is switched on throughout this all!
Inhale, and then on the exhale return the shoulders back up again, but this time bring the hands towards the right of your knees, as if you wish to touch your right ankle. Now we are using our obilique abdominals and creating a powerful stretch down the side waist. Repeat on the left side, then continue three (or more!) reps on each of the middle, left and right sides. With each exhalation remember -all air out, belly button to naval, pelvic floor up!
One more! Navasana (Boat Pose)
Start seated on the floor with legs straight out. Press your hands behind you, fingers pointing towards the back. Lift and extend your spine and lean back into the arms, without rounding through the back. On the exhale start lifting your feet off the floor to get the thighs about a 45 degree angle off the floor. Try and straighten your legs out like Carlo is doing above, but if this is not possible without your back rounding have them bent, with your shins parallel to the floor (as seen here).
Stretch your shoulders apart and your arms out in front like you to want to touch the opposite side of the room. Try to keep the belly flat, and keep using the exhale to bring that belly button to spine. Tip your chin slightly forward to get some nice room in the back of the neck. Breathe slowly and easily - try to stay in the pose for 10 - 20 seconds, increasing to a minute over time. Release on an exhale, inhale and stretch your arms above your head to finish.
Now you know about this area and how to activate it, you can start using it all the time; both in your yoga poses and in every day life. So many activities can benefit from increased core awareness and spinal support - swimming, cycling, walking, standing, sitting on a chair at work - you name it. I will be re-visiting this subject again (and again and again) on the blog, but if you are jonesing for more core exercises right this very moment, the wonderful Sadie Nardini has a free video workout for you right here.
Thanks to my lovely patient (and easily bossed around) co-worker Carlo for modelling for these shots! I see a bright future as a sports model for this plucky young lad :)
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor! These are suggested exercises, not solutions for medical issues or injury. Please consult your doctor if you have severe or re-occuring pain, and before undertaking any exercise regime. Stay safe brogis :)