Sunday, January 8, 2012

What is the core?

As well as a fun buzzword to throw around to make me seem more yoga teacher-y, core stabilisation serves a very important purpose... I swear! The 'core' in core stabilisation actually refers to three major muscular regions - the abdominal, pelvic and lower back muscles. These core muscles are not the obvious muscles we see such as the six-pack (or "keg" in some of our cases :)) but rather the deep muscles buried beneath them which attach to the spine, and are designed specifically to support it. Not only do these muscles enable good posture and balance - ensuring less back and neck pain - they also assist the spine during every single movement we make. Shout out to the cores! Raise your arms in the air! Yep - the core helped you do that. Amazing.

Even breathing becomes easier with a stronger core, as the ribcage becomes supported in it's optimal position; bringing in lots of much needed fresh air to energise and regenerate your body.

Some anatomical diagrams of these wonders:

Look at them there, supporting the spine like the champs they are!

So, how do I get these AMAZING AND MAGICAL CORE MUSCLES you ask! Well, obviously you do already have them, but the trick is to work on them to make them stronger; and therefore more supportive and useful. Luckily for you one of the first steps is awareness... so look at you being one step closer just by reading this! Have a cookie. No... don't. They're full of sugar. Have a raisin! Nature's candy. Mmmm.

Anyhoo.... the core. The first step is to "activate" this region (sound familiar brogis?) then to work on exercises which utilise this activation, of which there are many. In this post I will go through some activation techniques, then in the next I will give you three exercises (which I may or may not have stolen from pilates... yeah, that's how Broga rolls!) to kick start your practice. First things first though...

Core Activation, Method 1: Activation simply by breathing

This is the tried and true we practice in class. Simply lie in a comfortable position on your back, knees bent so you feet are below your butt. Become aware of your breathing, and use your inhalation to fill first your lungs and then begin filling your belly. Then, on the exhale, exhale every last bit of breath out from the belly and pull your navel back towards your spine until you feel a constricting movement deep in your inner abdominal muscles. Then hold this constriction as you inhale into your chest - practice holding it for several breaths (slow ones!) and then let go. Repeat.

Another trick to assist with this is imagining that you are tightening a belt - bringing your abdomen in as you exhale to allow this imaginary belt to go one notch tighter. Again, imagine you are drawing your belly button in towards your spine. The constriction deep in your belly should be a sign that you've got it.

Method 2: The Pea

I like this one too, just because it demonstrates the same thing but in reverse (sort of). Lie on your belly, legs outstretched, arms by your side. Inhale again into the chest, and again on the exhalation exhale fully and "scoop" the belly in as if attempting to pick up a tiny pea from the floor using your belly button. Again hold while refilling the lungs on the inhale, and continue holding for a few more breaths. Release!

One more step... Adding the pelvic floor!

Now you can add an additional lift of the pelvic floor during your full exhale to switch on the "wonder down under" and really get that core area switched on! How? Repeat one of the exercises above and during the exhalation add a contraction to the muscles between the pubic bone and the tailbone, pulling your perineum up in towards the abdomen. Another way to put this - contract the muscles you use when you pee, imagining you are attempting to stop it "mid flow" as it were (sorry, there is just no charming way to put that). Think of two forces at work here - one pulling your pelvic floor muscles up, the other pulling your belly button in towards your spine.

This pelvic floor activation is known in yoga as the very powerful "Mulu Bandha" lock, which you can read more about
here. As the article says, adding this action to your practice... "helps build core body strength, enables you to hold [yoga] postures longer, protects the low back muscles and makes [yoga] postures safer... increases your energy and vitality, and improves concentration and mental clarity"...


These exercises can also be of benefit with regards to erm... other very important areas... something I won't go on about, but you can read more here. One word to pique your interest: SEX (*clicks increase 100%*)

You can also practice this lock off the yoga mat anywhere you like... the bus stop, at your desk, watching teev... no-one will know! The more you do it the stronger these muscles will become and the more you will reap the benefits in improved spinal alignment and general all round healthiness. And remember to keep breathing when you are practicing these activations, don't brace or tense up - the contraction should be deep in your core, not in your limbs and breath.

Finally, as promised, in the next post I will take you through some exercises to utilise you new improved core muscles! Stay tuned.


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