Core power = standing in your own dignity

I often begin class by asking students to close their eyes and stand in their own dignity. That dignity begins by connecting with our own power, and that power emanates from the core, both literally and figuratively. 

I shall focus on the literal core in this post, by which I mean not only the abdominals, but also the obliques and back muscles – the entire “cylinder” located more or less between the pelvic floor and the bottom ribs. As riders, we need to be able to maintain a “positive tension” in the core, engaging it as needed, yet not being so overpowered by it that we become rigid.

I shall focus on one of the most common poses you may encounter in yoga class, the plank, in this post. I’ll also examine the movement between the high and low plank pose, which is a common “vinyasa” (or deliberate step) between poses, sometimes referred to as chaturanga dandasana in Sanskrit (if one is to be precise, the term refers to the four-limbed staff pose, not the actual movement from high to low plank.) However, almost every yoga pose uses the core in some way, so simply practicing every day will make your core more toned.

Forearm plank pose: arm set-up is the same as for half-dog pose. Use a block between the hands, elbows under the shoulders, inner wrists pressing down. Shoulders remain over elbows, back of neck long. Lift bellybutton up to spine. Breathe! 🙂

Correct and incorrect positions: top photo – shoulders over elbows, abdominals engaged and lower back straight; middle photo – lower back sagging; lower photo – hips too high, shoulders too far back behind elbows.

High to low plank: Whether you place the knees on the ground or not, begin by holding high plank pose. Think about curling the tailbone under while at the same time lifting the inner thighs up – these actions cancel each other out and crate a very strong core. If you tend to hyper-extend your elbows, be sure to have a “secret” bend in the elbows. Shoulders over elbows over wrists.

Think: curl tailbone under while at the same time lifting inner thighs up (the actions cancel each other out and crate a very strong core)

Low plank: if – and only iff – you can hold the low plank for a couple of breaths without sagging your lower back or collapsing down, then keep the knees off the floor. If you cannot, please place the knees on the floor (see second photo below). In both cases, from high plank point your toes to push your body forward, shoulders traveling further forward than the fingers. Bend the elbows at a 90 degree angle. (Too often, practitioners keep the hands under the shoulders, thereby hunching the shoulders, and sometimes even causing “tennis elbow” from the strain on the over-bent elbows.) From low plank, one can lower down to the floor, or move forward to cobra or upward facing dog pose (these will be addressed in a future post).

Note the angle at the elbows and the lower back (not arched)
Note the angle at the elbows and the lower back (not arched)

May the power of your literal core help you move through your days with dignity, thereby helping you access your very inner core! 🙂