Yoga for Core Strength and Balance
Aerobic activity burns abdominal fat, but yoga poses strengthen and tone the core muscles. The yogic sun salutation is a core strengthener and a great fat burner when done in a correct and repeated way, especially when the rhythm is quick.
What Is the Core?
What we usually call our core is our midriff. It involves all the muscles in that area, including the front, the back, and the sides.
Our core is a group of muscles that consists of more than what we usually refer to as the abs or the ‘six pack’. A lot of these muscles are hidden under the external muscles that we usually work with. The role of these muscles is to stabilize the entire body.
Major Core Muscles
- Pelvic floor
- Transverse abdominis
- Internal and external obliques
- Rectus abdominus
- Erector spinae
Minor Core Muscles
- Latissimus dorsi
- Gluteus maximus
Why Are Core Muscles Important?
Most physical activities, whether in sports or in daily life, rely on stable core muscles. Strengthening the core trains the muscles in our pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen to work as a group. This gives us better balance and stability.
Core Benefits of Yoga
In my Yoga and Wellness Educator training, I learned the value of the core that is the center of our physical balance and strength. It is related to our emotions and spiritual life. A strong core aligns us with our internal center of balance and power and gives us the energy and flexibility to deal with the good and bad experiences that life throws our way.
A strong core creates strength of the will to succeed. By strengthening and revitalizing our core muscles, we connect this foundational part of our being to our health, vitality, and well-being.
Yoga poses strengthen the core in a balanced and integrated way. Developing core strength not only involves strengthening all the muscles of the core, but it also means training these muscles to function together in a coherent way. Only by working your core in a balanced and holistic way do you achieve the kind of complete mind-body integration that true core work can create.
Re-establish your connection with your core.
How to Perform a Sun Salutation Flow
The sun salutation is a series of movements performed in a single, graceful flow. A single round consists of two complete sequences, one for the right side of the body and one for the left side. If one day you think you have no time for yoga, do at least one or two rounds of the sun salutation.
Caution: Avoid sun salutations if you have a recent or chronic injury to the knees, hips, or back.
Benefits: When done in a correct, fast, and repeated way, sun salutation is a great fat burner. It also builds strength and increases flexibility.
Remember to coordinate the movement with your breath.
- Mountain: Begin by standing with your feet open hip-width apart and hands in a prayer pose. Take several breaths.
- Hands-up: On your next inhalation, tilt your pelvis and in one movement raise your arms up and gently arch your back.
- Head to Knees: s you exhale, bend forward, bending the knees if necessary, and place your hands by your feet, fingers close to the little toes.
- Lunge: Inhale and step the right leg back.
- Plank: Exhale and step the left leg back coming into the plank position and hold a little while breathing normally.
- Stick: Lower your knees to the floor, buttocks close to heels, lower your chest to the floor and scroll forward.
- Cobra: Inhale and stretch forward and up, bending at the waist. Use your arms to lift your torso, and bend back as long as it is comfortable and safe. Look straight ahead. You can keep your arms bent at the elbow.
- Downward Dog: Exhale, lift from the hips and push the hips up and back.
- Lunge: Inhale and step the right forward.
- Head to Knees: Exhale, bring the left foot forward and come into a head-to-knee position, bending your knees if necessary.
- Hands-up: Inhale and come up raise slowly while keeping your arms extended.
- Mountain: Exhale and lower your arms to the sides and bring your hands into a prayer position.
- Repeat the Sequence: This time, step with the left leg.
Avoid Sequence If You Have Osteoporosis
Avoid the sun salutation sequence if you have osteoporosis.
The sun salutation is risky for older people with osteoporosis because of the segment of the sequence that involves a quick forward bend. The red stars in the image above show the danger points where there is a transition between a backbend and a forward bend.
Let the yoga teacher know if you have osteoporosis and she will adjust the practice by using props.
Side Plank Instructions
- Lie on one side.
- Holding yourself up on your elbow, place one foot on top of the other. If you cannot, then place one foot in front of the other on the yoga mat.
- Lift your torso up, keeping shoulders, hips, and ankles in one line.
- Start by holding 20 seconds and repeat three times on each side.
You can do the side plank pose on a carpeted floor or mat. Breathe freely. Focus on engaging your transversus abdominis, the deepest abdominal muscle and the one you feel contracting when you cough.
Plank and Modified Plank Pose Instructions
Below are step-by-step instructions for performing the plank pose, along with a modified version. Do only what feels comfortable in your body.
- From forward fold, step back about 130 to 160 cm and come into a push-up position.
- Spread the fingers wide apart pointing forward, press into the palms with the arms straight.
- Tuck the pelvis under. Your legs, hips and torso are in a straight line.
- Press the crown of the head forward and with the toes tucked, press the heels back.
- Breathe and hold for three breaths.
In the Sun Salutation photo above, it is the fifth movement from the left.
- Caution: Avoid if you have a recent or chronic injury to the hips, arms, back or shoulders.
- Benefits: Builds strength in the upper and core body, lengthens the spine, and strengthens the low back muscles.
Modified Plank Pose
- Lie on your stomach.
- Raise yourself up so that you are resting on your forearms and your knees.
- Align your head and neck with your back, with your shoulders above your elbows.
- Engage your abdominal muscles.
- Create resistance by pressing your elbows and your knees toward one another. Neither should move from their positions on the floor.
- Hold for three breaths. Breathe freely.
- Return to the start position.
Questions and Answers
What Is the Role of the Core Muscles?
Core muscles stabilize our spine and give firm support for all the activities we do. They help us avoid back, hip, knee, and even neck injury and pain.
What Is the Gluteus Maximus Muscle?
The gluteus maximus is the largest of the three glute muscles and makes up a large part of the shape and appearance of each side of the hips. It is the prominent muscle of our rear end.
What Is the Transverse Abdominus Muscle?
The Transversus Abdominus (TVA) muscle is a broad paired muscular sheet located on the lateral sides of the abdominal wall. Together with the external abdominal oblique and the internal abdominal oblique, it comprises the lateral abdominal muscles.
What Is the Erector Spinae Muscle?
The erector spinae is a group of muscles and tendons that run about the length of the spine on the left and the right, from the sacrum and hips to the base of the skull.
What Is the Latissimus Muscle?
The Latissimus (or Latissimus dorsi) is the largest muscle in the upper body. It is responsible for extension, adduction, abduction, flexion from an extended position, and internal rotation of the shoulder joint.
What Is the Multifidus Muscle?
The Multifidus muscle works together with the TVA and pelvic floor muscles to ensure the stability of the spine. A weak Multifidus muscle is associated with chronic low back pain.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Liliane Najm
Liliane Najm (author) from Toronto, Canada on August 15, 2020:
I am glad you found the article useful. Yoga is basically great movements.
Liza from USA on August 15, 2020:
Thank you for this great article about yoga, Liliane. Reading the article makes me want to include more yoga in my work out. I wasn't as flexible as people who are practicing yoga, but I don't mind doing it. I did several yoga poses after my cardio, and high intensity works out. I feel great.