Oh I was so wrong: When I first started doing yoga, I thought that yoga was all about flexibility (This is a common misconception about yoga). I could not be more wrong. Ashtanga yoga is truly a combination of strength, flexibility and cardio, and of course, a strong core to hold you in many key poses like the headstand (Sirsasana), boat pose (Navasana) and crow pose (Bakasana).
I still cannot lift my legs off the floor, and that is partially due to my weak core (the other is learning how to balance, and shift my weight using my hips). I’ve done some research on the core muscles, and it has deepened my understanding of the core tremendously. I hope it will be of use to you as well : )
Here are my findings about core muscles:
- The core is actually made up of 3 layers of muscle that provide control and support for spinal movements. The outermost layer consists of abdominals, which help to move the torso in forward bends and twists. The rectus abdominis is the most visible member. The active function of the rectus abdominis is to bend the spine forward – and it is worked strongly in poses such as Navasana (Boat pose) and arm balances such as kakasana (Crow pose).
- The internal and external obliques are the other members of the outermost layer. Their primary function is to twist your torso as well as to bend it sideways. They join with the rectus abdominis to add power to your forward bending. The obliques have a protective function in twisting: They ensure that the spine twists evenly, e.g. in poses such as Marichyasana C and Ardha Matsyendrasana. The obliques also get a stretch in lateral sidebending poses such as Utthita Trikonasana.
- The middle layer of the core supports the spine by bracing it. This layer is a system of muscles whose prime member is the transverse abdominis. These muscles wrap around your torso—covering your entire abdomen from sternum to pubic bone. They are also known as a muscular corset. The transverse abdominis works strongly in poses such as Plank Pose and Chaturanga.
- The tiny muscles that fine-tune the movements of the vertebrae make up the deepest layer of the core.
The importance of the Psoas muscle
The psoas is the deepest and one of the largest muscles in the body – It attaches to the vertebrae and stretches over the hip joint on each side of the lumbar spine to attach at the femur. The psoas is used when you walk – it initiates every step we take by pulling on our leg at the inner thigh, and works in tandem with the abdominals to flex our spine. The psoas flows through the deepest core muscles.
If the transverse abdominis is weak and the torso is not held steady, the psoas will pull the lumbar spine out of alignment into an exaggerated concave curve.
The core is the primary stabiliser of the body, and a strong core is essential for any balancing pose. A strong core also helps with posture, and lowers your risk of injuries and back pain. Now, time to work on my core!!!
Clara (200hr YTT Hatha/Ashtanga, Jul/Aug 2015)