Summer 2018 Core

Greetings, yoginis!

Continuing on with our summer yoga for riders course, we turn our attention to the core. To me, “core” means the entire cylinder of the trunk around the belly button area – both above and below it – not just the external layer of abdominals over the belly, as “core” is often used in popular parlance. Because of this, the psoas muscles, which we addressed last week, can also be thought of as part of the core, since they run right through it. Truthfully, we are almost always toning the core when we practice yoga asanas (postures), unless we are doing restorative work only.

As riders, we need a core that is both stable and supple. Too much stability leads to stiffness (usually in the form or a tight lower back and psoas), which leads to one bouncing all over the saddle and horse’s back. Too little core leads to “wiggliness” (usually due to weak deep abdominal muscles), which leads to giving confusing signals to the horse, lack of balance, and inability to use the seat independently (and the likelihood of simply falling off should the horse move a little too suddenly!). Both of these problems tend to be addressed by focusing our work on the deep abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominis, because having tone here allows effort to be distributed throughout the core area, and the back and psoas muscles to not work quite so hard.

Transversus abdominis (image from: https://i0.wp.com/bamboocorefitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/abs1.jpg?resize=587%2C335&ssl=1)

Although we haven’t discussed the chakras, or energy centers of the body, much in our course yet, the bellybutton area also happens to be the location of the manipura* chakra, which is believed by many practitioners to be the seat of self-confidence, willpower, and assertiveness. In other words, having tone in the core allows one to stand (or sit!) in one’s own dignity – and who wouldn’t want that?

(*As an aside: autocorrect kept insisting that it really ought to be the manicure chakra… sometimes, one just appreciates a laugh – good for the core! ;-))

Read on for this week’s selections from our class practices.

Warmup: Tuesday’s practitioners may wish to practice cat/cow a few times to warm up the core, while Thursday’s practitioners may wish to move from downward facing dog to high plank a few times (or through sun salute A).

Bird-dog balance, then curl knee to nose: opposite leg and hand are up in the air.

Breathe out with the curl, and move slowly and deliberately. “Cinch” your waist as though tightening a belt around it. .

Thursday only: Adho muka svananasana variation/three-legged downward facing dog -> three-legged plank -> curl knee to nose. Variation is to take knee first to one elbow, then to other elbow (twist).

Move into 3-legged plank pose first, then curl knee either to nose, or one or other elbow. Press ground away with hands and arch back during curl. Exhale on the curl.

Thursday only: Flip the dog -> upward facing tabletop

Remember to bend the leg remaining on the ground, so that ball of that foot can swivel. Organize your legs once in tabletop so the the feet are parallel and hip width apart.

Vasistasana/side plank on forearm. Variation is to bring elbow of top arm to bottom wrist.

Be sure to keep feet-hips-shoulders in straight line. Lift whole bottom leg off floor, and press down side of wrist to floor.  If bringing top elbow to bottom wrist, exhale on the downward motion.

Supported setu bandha sarvangasana/supported bridge pose with block, dynamic, to ensure deep core engagement and relaxation of gluteal muscles.

Place block between thighs, then press knees over feet, drawing hips up. Hold block as lightly as possible without dropping while moving hips up and forward, down and back. Keep shoulders relaxed and breathe! 🙂

Constructive rest, two legged twist.

Shoulders really want to get engaged while moving in and out of the twist, so keep monitoring them so that they don’t do the work instead of the core. Keep knees well tucked up and together. Breathe out during the movement, both going down and up.

Happy core practicing, everyone! Your ponies (not to mention your back, hips, and self-confidence) will thank you for it. 🙂

~namaste,

Sylvia

Author: Sylvia Vitazkova, PhD, CYT

Dr. Sylvia K. Vitazkova is a certified yoga teacher, life coach, horsewoman, and conservation biologist. Sylvia’s formal study of yoga began while she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and intensified when she began to practice Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 while attending Columbia University for doctoral studies in biology. Sylvia soon realized that she wanted to help others experience the consciousness and transformation that her own practice fostered in her and began to teach in 1998, subsequently studying in Mysore, India, in 2002. Sylvia continues to evolve her practice by learning from senior teachers, the most influential of whom has been Barbara Benagh. Her teaching focus is on correct alignment, the joy of being fully present in one’s body, and the psychological and spiritual context within which the physical practice is embedded. Parallel to being a yoga teacher, Sylvia had a full-time career as a professor of Conservation Biology, having taught undergraduate and graduate courses, including a course she created on nature and spirituality, which brought her two areas of expertise together. She has conducted and published the results of her research on wildlife in the tropics, and has been involved in the creation of a number of conservation studies programs. Sylvia’s experience in mentoring students naturally led her to life coaching, in which she became certified through George Mason University in 2014. A lifelong connection with horses has been woven throughout these experiences, from her first pony while a child in Africa, to teaching at riding camp in the U.S., then Claremont Riding Academy in NYC, to the current and ongoing exploration of how yoga can be a tool for better and more connected riding. Sylvia now leads InBodied Living LLC, a wellbeing organization and consultancy, with her partner, James Houston.