In yoga, movement is initiated from the inside, or the core of the body. We move from the pelvis and the spine, i.e. from the bones and the central structure of the body, rather than from outer muscle strength. Yoga postures stretch, lengthen and tone muscles, rather than contracting and tightening them.
We create core strength by harnessing inner body locks called bandhas (grips). Think of the pelvis like a garden, that contains nutrients and soil, and that must be supported by walling it. The front wall of the lower abdomen is sealed inwards with the deep muscle band contraction of Uddiyana bandha, which goes from hip bone to hip bone, and relates to the corset-like transverse muscle that runs around the abdomen. The front wall of the garden is sealed towards the back wall, or the sacrum, the wedge-shaped component of the pelvic basin. We support the floor of the pelvis, and of the whole trunk of the body, by lifting the cluster of muscles of the perineum, which is between the anus and the genitals. This is the Mula bandha or root lock.
Bandhas have far-reaching effects because they are associated with the energy centres in the spine and the brain. Their contraction affects the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, endocrine and energy systems.
From the garden of the pelvic basin, which is made secure and strong with the two lower locks (bandhas) we grow the spine upwards, out of the pelvis, like a plant stem. Through the yoga asanas, the spine becomes sanguine, lithe yet strong, felt by the rising energy from the pelvic garden, resisting the gravitational pull. The top of the spine lifts the base of the skull and the crown of the head is drawn upwards.
This sense of moving from the core, the centre formed by the pelvis and spine, and hara, the belly, known as the seat of the soul (which is why a phrase like “gut feeling” makes sense), supported by core strength, creates a strong and centred body. It helps to bring about a balance of the left and right sides of the body, and it cultivates awareness of moving instinctively from the deep centre of the body.