Yoga and the core muscles

Core muscles are not just the rippling 6 pack abdominal muscles that we often see in magazine covers and billboards across town. While having 6 pack abs are lovely, they are not the basis of a strong core.

A strong core supports good posture and proper joint alignment. Good posture not only makes you look and feel better but also prevents back pain. A strong core allows you to stand for long periods of time without pain or survive sitting at your desk and working at your computer for long hours.

Good posture places the least amount of stress on your joints. Strong stabilizers keep your neck, shoulders, hips, and knees properly aligned to minimize wear and tear on your body. Hence it is crucial to have a strong core.

The list of 5 core muscles are:

1. Rectus Abdominus

The rectus abdominus, abs for short, is the most well-known of the core muscles. Running from the bottom of your sternum and ribs down to the front of your pelvis, your abs are responsible for flexing your spine forward and also to the side.

2. Obliques

You have 2 sets of oblique muscles: internal and external. Arranged in diagonal layers, these muscles are located on the side of your torso and cover parts of your lower back and ribs. They are responsible for rotating your spine and for flexing it laterally.

3. Erector Spinae

The erector spinae is the collective term used to describe the muscles that run up either side of your spine from the base of your sacrum to the base of your skull. When one side contracts and the other side relaxes, they bend your spine sideways into lateral flexion.

4. Transverse Abdominus

The transverse abdominus fiber runs horizontally around your abdominal cavity. When it contracts, it compresses your abdominal organs and increases pressure within your abdominal cavity. This pressure helps to support your spine from within.

5. Quadratus Lumborum

The quadratus lumborum is a deep muscle that runs from your bottom ribs and first to fifth lumbar vertebrae to the top of your pelvis. It helps to laterally flex your spine. Bending sideways while keeping your hips level will stretch this small but important core muscle.

Yoga poses are all about building core strength. The slow, focused movements require a strong mid-section and the isometric contractions of many exercises will add a new form of resistance training than the typical machine-based workouts. Take almost any yoga posture like the Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Virbhadrasana (warrior pose), Navasana (Boat pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward facing dog), Urdhva mukha Svanasana (Upward facing dog) or the Dhanurasana (bow pose). How well you are able to emulate these poses almost always depends on how strong your core is. Being flexible, but having a weak core, will allow you to do some basic postures like Uttanasana (bending forward and touching your toes), but will not allow you to make much headway in the slightly more advanced postures.

If you do the core exercises mentioned above regularly, not only will you notice strength and ease of movement in all your routines, you will build up all your body’s muscle systems, not to mention improving your stability. A strong core is the key to attaining the ability to support your body in all exercises. Yoga is a whole-body workout, and it will help you to find strength you didn’t know you had.