Fall week 2/6: Core

We focused on the core this week, although almost every asana and vinyasa between asanas involves using one’s core. May you move in your core power with a little help from the following practice! 🙂

Bird-dog curl (Tuesday) or Downward facing dog to plank curl (Thursday)

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

Vasisthasana | Side plank on elbow (Tuesday) or on hand (Thursday)

Keep body in straight line – hips have a tendency to fall back in this pose. Be sure to keep elbow below shoulder, and press well into edge of forearm. Use lower oblique to lift lower hip and ankle.
This variation is the classic side plank, but only practice it if your wrist is not unhappy here. Holding the toe o the upper leg is a more advanced option. Be sure to not let the hips swing back.

Upward facing tabletop (Tuesday) or Purvottanasana | Upward facing plank (Thursday)

Placing a block between legs helps one avoid over-using glutes. Keeping chin in chest prevents neck issues from being exacerbated.
Keep thighs rolling towards one another, and place soles of feet on floor.

Lolasana 

Curl into C-shape, with bellybutton lifting up into spine. If possible, pull feet off floor.

Block under sacrum, extended leg(s): A great counterpose to all the abdominal work is to place the block under the sacrum. Adding the leg lifts shifts the pose into another core working asana.

Raise one leg to hip height, then raise it higher. If you can balance on block without using shoulders, raise one leg and place foot of other leg on thigh, sliding foot down extended leg.

~namaste,

Sylvia

Main Event: Bakasana / Crow or Crane pose (aka Sneaky Abs poses!)

We turn our attention back to the core again (as though we ever forgot about it!) as we begin three weeks of arm balances and/or inversions. These poses are less about arm strength, although that does factor in, and more about using the core well, especially our first pose of this section, bakasana, or crow/crane pose (I’ll explain why two different English names are used later), where the abdominals are especially important (remember: core includes everything in the “cylinder” around your lower torso, abdominals, obliques, and the back muscles).

Let’s first “wake up” the core by engaging in cat/cow pose. The cat portion of these two counterposes provides a great opportunity to really engage the abdominal muscles and allow the back to stretch, which is key to bakasana.

Margarita cat wanted to make sure that I was doing cat pose correctly, so, she came to supervise (as is her habit on set…). Cow pose: hips up, shoulders back, belly drops down; cat pose: round the spine and push the ground away with your hands, pull the bellybutton in strongly.

Next, we move from either three-legged dog pose to plank, bringing the knee to the nose; OR from hands and knees to bring one knee to the nose. Take the variation that feels most doable to you – stressing the shoulders is not what we’re trying to do, so unless you are very comfortable in your down dog, start on your knees. Repeat 3-5 times on each side.

From neutral spine on hands and knees, reach one leg back, then bring it towards the nose as you round your back.
Lift one leg from dog pose, then move into plank as you bring the knee to the nose; note that the shoulders are over the wrists in the curled pose.

Counterposing these moments with sphinx pose will bring balance to your practice.

Lie on your belly, placing the forearms parallel to each other in front of you – elbows under your shoulders, or slightly ahead of the shoulders. Relax the glutes, and draw the sternum forward and up.

We are now going to engage in some small, internal movements that don’t look like much to an external observer, but are quite powerful for the person practicing them!

Lie on your back in constructive rest (feet on the floor hip width apart, knees bent), feeling the natural hollow under your lower back. Keep this hollow, neither losing it nor exaggerating it, as you bring your hands under your head and your elbows “hug” your head. Then peel your shoulders and ribs off the ground, resting the head in the hands (so, not using the neck muscles), and then imagine that your feet are stuck in the mud, and you are desperately trying to free them – just barely hovering them/just barely touching them to your mat.

Then do push your belly button to spine, and press the back strongly into the ground. Take your arms, palms together, between your legs as you peel the shoulders and ribs off the ground. Take the arms to one side of the legs, then to the other, breathing throughout. Repeat 3-5 times.

Finally, repeat the pose above, but bring the knees to the outsides of the shoulders at the same time. Breathe as you hold 3-5 breaths.

It doesn’t look like much is happening, but give these a try and see for yourself what really IS happening 😉

Finally, we are ready for our main event, bakasana, or crow pose (where the arms are bent) / crane pose (where the arms are straight). Note the similarity to the final pose of the above abdominal sequence, where your knees were reaching for the outside of your shoulders.

Begin on balls of feet, with feet together, knees apart, arms between knees and back rounded/relaxed. Place the hands as for down dog, but the elbows will be bent towards the back of the mat. Getting the knees as high up on the outsides of the shoulders, along with using your abdominal muscles strongly, will be the key to this pose. Begin to shift the weight of your body onto the “shelf” formed by your upper arms, perhaps, lifting one toe, then the other. Think of a see-saw – your arms are the fulcrum, and you have to balance your top and bottom halves on this fulcrum. Once you are securely in crow pose, you can begin to straighten your arms into crane pose.

Take care to NOT lift the hips too high, and to look down and slightly ahead (NOT between your hands), both of which will make you land on your nose – and no one wants a broken nose…. No “hop and hope,” please! 🙂

We counterpose all of this abdominal work with a supported bridge pose, with a block under the hips. If you wish, you can wrap the arms around the insides of the ankles (remember, external rotation), and lift the hips off the block for full bridge.

Relax in supported bridge (with block under the hips), or lift up into bridge with arms binding ankles for a deeper stretch of the front body. Relax gltues in both variations.

Rest in savasana, and enjoy your newly found or rediscovered abs! 🙂

~namaste,

Sylvia