First of all, let’s clarify the definition of what the core is. Your “core” includes more than your abdominal muscles. Rather than thinking of only the front of your stomach as your core, imagine your core is made up of your entire trunk- front and back side. Your spine, pelvic girdle, abdomen and hip joint are included. As well, upper back muscles, shoulders, and chest muscles play a crucial role in your core stability and strength. As the centre point of the body, the core is involved in almost every movement you make in a day. Its three most important functions are as follows:
Most of our daily movements involve one or more of the functions described above and as such, core stability can affect our ability to function day-to-day greatly. The same is true in yoga- nearly all postures as well as the transitions in/out of postures require some degree of core engagement. As such, the strength of your core has a significant effect on your yoga practice.
A strong core (including the spine and back muscles), helps to support the natural curvature of the spine and maintain proper upright posture. This is especially important in balancing postures, where the integrity of the posture is dependent on the ability to keep a straight spine. For example, in the Bikram practice, think about Balancing Stick pose. If you cannot maintain a straight spine, you cannot get into the “T” shape of the posture and achieve proper alignment. And chances are, if you are unable to keep a straight spine, you won’t be able to balance in the posture for very long!
Additionally, in yoga, it is important to view the whole core area as the connecting link between upper and lower body. Having a strong and stable core harmonizes the movements of the upper and lower body. It unifies the body in the posture by providing a centre of stability a well as a focal point for your energy. Focusing on having a strong and engaged core will benefit both the upper and lower body and their ability to perform movements with strength and precision.
Additionally, the ability to engage the core during certain parts of yoga practice can help to boost digestion and elimination. The final breathing exercise in the 26+2 practice, Kapalabhati breathing, involves a series of quick stomach vacuums performed repeatedly. This practice stimulates the intestines and promotes movement in the digestive system by stimulating greater blood flow to the region. Increasing your metabolism will benefit you outside of your yoga practice with higher energy levels and greater calorie burn.
One other benefit outside of yoga practice you will experience as a result of a strong core is reduced back pain, especially in the lower back area. Lower back pain is most commonly caused by posture issues. Common postural disorders involve short, tightened muscles on one side of the body and weak, overstretched muscles on the other side. For more in depth information on postural imbalances, read our blog post about it here. Strengthening both the front and the back portions of the core can help reduce postural imbalances, which will often result in less strain to the lower back. The end result is - less lower back pain!
With all this discussion about the benefits of a strong core, we can’t discount the importance of having a flexible core as well. Having a balance between strength and flexibility in the core gives you greater adaptability, meaning the body can adjust better and more safely to different positions, which is incredibly important when moving through yoga postures. In fact, this adaptability is what we use when moving in and out of any posture. For instance, think about standing bow pulling pose- it would be impossible to maintain this position without the balance provided by your core strength. At the same time, it requires flexibility throughout the entire core to get the backbend and twist combination needed to come into full expression. This asana provides a great illustration of the need for a balance between core strength and flexibility.
Your core plays an important role in your ability to perform movements both on and off the mat. It provides the central stability in your body and is involved in virtually every movement you perform. That is why for the month of July, we’re going to be sharing tons of tips and advice on core health. Make sure to check your inbox throughout the month for information-packed emails from us on keeping a strong and healthy core!