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.
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.
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).
Thursday only: Flip the dog -> upward facing tabletop
Vasistasana/side plank on forearm. Variation is to bring elbow of top arm to bottom wrist.
Supported setu bandha sarvangasana/supported bridge pose with block, dynamic, to ensure deep core engagement and relaxation of gluteal muscles.
Constructive rest, two legged twist.
Happy core practicing, everyone! Your ponies (not to mention your back, hips, and self-confidence) will thank you for it. 🙂
(Follow the links in this post for additional information on each topic. Happy learning!)
How many times have you found yourself holding your breath while trying to learn something new, such a half-pass or gymnastics combination? Yes? Most of us have 🙂
One of the gifts offered by yoga is learning how to breathe well, move, and perform at the same time. Importantly, we inhale and exhale with the mouth closed in yoga. Unlike exercise, such as running or pilates, yoga teaches practitioners how to meet stress with calm by activating the parasympathetic nervous system through breath.
In the first classes of our Tuesday and Thursday Yoga for Equestrians courses, we are focusing on the importance of connecting breath (prana, the life force) with movement. We also learn how to practice Ujjayi Breathing, Victorious Breath, a form of pranayama, or breath control, most used in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, the form of yoga with which I began my journey over 20 years ago. Here are three simple and safe ways that one can practice breathing and moving:
Wave Breathing is safe for everyone, and can be practiced by cupping the knees or holding the backs of the thighs if that is a challenge. Exhale – knees in. Inhale – knees out.
Cat/Cow (or, for us: Cat/Sway Backed Horse!) is another good warm up for the spine and practice of connecting breath and movement. Really push the ground away and create a “Halloween Cat” with your back, including tucking the tailbone under (often, riders’ lower backs are tight and can benefit greatly from this movement). Keep elbows straight in Cow pose and draw the shoulders back. Exhale – round to Cat. Inhale – extend to Cow.
Swan Dive to Rag Doll Rollup allows the back to stretch nicely and for the prana to really wake up (I’m embedding the link to the FB post of it, as the video is too large to upload to this blog). Engage your abdominal muscles well in all the movements. If your back bothers you, keep your knees bent even on the “dive” forward and down, and/or support yourself by putting your hands on your thighs, as is shown later in the video. Inhale – reach up. Exhale – swan dive. Inhale and exhale as you slowly stack each vertebra on the now under it and round up to standing.