It took me years of practicing yoga to realise just how important core strength is in maintaining a healthy, injury free practice.
In fact, core strength is important for maintaining a healthy, injury-free life. However, building true core strength in the transverse abdominis (the deep core muscles) can be tricky, and a lot of modern core work focuses on the superficial abs, the rectus abdominis, which look pretty but are too superficial to, say, be much help in preventing you from putting out your back.
Thankfully, it gets easier thanks to a simple anatomical reality: that when you breathe in your belly, the movement of your breath also moves the deep core muscles. So, you can use the simple act of breathing to help you begin to engage and strengthen these critical core muscles.
With this in mind, try the first exercise below. Lie on your back on the floor, with your legs bent. As you breathe in, notice how your lower back lifts gently off the floor. As you breathe out, gently flatten your lower back against the floor. As you do this, try to pull your belly button down towards your body, and at the same time engage your pelvic floor by trying to draw the skin above your pubic bone upwards (there’s lots written about pelvic floor, so if you’re not sure, go on and google it and then come back here!!). This is basically mulha bandha, the “root lock” your yoga teacher may have told you about.
It’s a subtle feeling, so it might take you a few times to get the hang of it. Try it about 10 times, slowly. The more you practice, the more strongly you will be able to press your lower back into the floor.
Once you’ve got that, try the rest of the exercises below. If you are just getting started, it’s really important to get the breathing right, so that you can take advantage of the natural way the breath and the deep abdominal muscles work together.
NB: All of these exercises are safe to do postpartum (after 8 weeks or with doctor’s permission). If you are trying to build your core strength back after having a baby, I would recommend doing the exercises below as a 10-week programme, doing the exercises every day or every other day and adding one new exercise per week. If you had a c-section or experienced abdominal splitting, consult your doctor and/or physiotherapist before beginning any core work.
If you are recovering from a lower back injury, some of these exercises may not be appropriate for you. Please consult your doctor first!
When you are done, don’t forget to counter pose! Try a gentle bridge pose or sphinx pose to stretch out the abs, and then hug your knees to your chest to stretch out the lower back.
Once you’re feeling comfortable with the exercises above, you can start to challenge yourself a bit more! Here are 3 more exercises that will add a nice core focus to any yoga practice or workout.