There is a lot of talk around Core strength these days; I even dare to say that almost all fitness regimes include exercises that will build up strength in the abdominal muscles, so yes, the concept of “toning our abs” is certainly not new for us, this blog entry however will share what core strength means in the Yoga world, and how it can impact your class/practice.
Sthira Sukham Asanam
The ancient Yoga sutra’s from Patanjali indicate that Asana or posture should be stable & comfortable (Sthira Sukham Asanam), although many would argue the second point, let us focus on the first one: Stability.
Let us discuss two ways to bring stability to our practice:
1. Becoming aware of our limits. In other words, know when to stop before we go too far, knowing that we are not competing with anyone else in Yoga, and therefore we do not need to match the ability of the flexible guy next to me. Yoga is a personal Journey!
2. “Centering” the body through activating the abdominal muscles. Just think on how the core plays a critical role when doing a balance pose such as Tree pose or Natajarasana... Now think how a seated posture would benefit from a strong core…, one has to observe the difference it would made when doing a forward bend with a loose abdomen, vs. activating the core when performing the exact same posture, the student will suddenly realize that they are able to reach deeper, so go core!
A good yoga session will involve several postures that will slowly work the different abdominal muscles, which in the medium to long term will translate in other health benefits, such as a Good Posture, which will then translate in avoiding back problems, etc. so, if you keep it long enough, you WILL see benefits.
The first time I did a yoga session where I “engaged” the core during each Asana, I ended up exhausted with the temptation to drop the “abdomen work” so I could concentrate on other aspects such as “stretching” more… but slowly, a stronger core translated into a stronger/stable practice. I still have to keep reminding myself about this, so, I believe a mindful practice engaging the core requires patience, perseverance and a healthy dose of concentration as it is far too easy to forget about the abdomen and focus on reaching a toe, or reaching the floor on a given pose.
So, performing Asana with a loose abs will lead to some progress, but we will probably reach a limit, a strong core however, will give you the strength and the balance which is needed to perform postures with grace and stability, on top of giving the Yogi a good looking abs!, so, it is worth it! Enjoy :)
Yoga teacher & Senior Scientist working full time with a major Multinational.