Core Intensives

While every yoga sequence works the core, there are two short sequences that I do when I feel the need to focus on my core. And by focus on my core, I mean really feel the work out on my stomach the next day. I’m not trying to have a certain kind of stomach shape or “body”, just strengthen the core muscles. There are two sequences instead of one because they are broken up by position. The first set are done while prone, the second set is when laying down.

As with any yoga practice, it’s important to warm up first and to keep in mind whatever part of you is about to do the most intense work. The sun A is a warm up and I tend to add in a child’s pose to the mix between the upward dog and the second downward dog, kind of like this:

As mentioned before, the sun A should be done a few times as a warm up flowing with the breaths. I like to do two full sun As and then two “transitional” ones to get in and out of the warrior sequence. So it looks something like this:

Once standing, come back into downward dog with the beginning of the sun A on the opposite side. Always remember to do both sides and try not to put too many things on one side before transitioning to the other. To start the core intense stuff, work back to downward dog and then bring the knees down directly under the hips and the wrists directly below shoulders. This is called table top.

From here there are a few options. A lot of yoga classes will stretch out with some cat and cow before going on, here’s what that looks like:

And then get things started with lifting one hand, we’ll just say the left, and then lifting the opposite foot and stretching out the leg. In this case the left hand would be extended in front of your face and the right foot would be extended straight behind you like this:

I thought about reshooting this because my form isn’t the greatest but left it because it always helped me to remember that we’re all figuring it out. Contrary to my bad picture, though, the foot should be even with the hips. After holding here for a few breaths, bring the elbow and knee together like this:

If you’re feeling up to it, from here bring the foot up and reach the arm around and grab foot in a kind of bow. This takes a bit more balance but I love it.

Bring the foot and hand back down to the ground and switch sides. Usually, this is done about 5 times in the classes that I’ve taken that incorporate it. If I’m doing the whole rotation, I do three.

From here, let’s go into a camel. Come up on your knees and first lean back with your arms outstretched for a few breaths and then reach over and around to touch your heels if possible. That’s not possible for everyone, so be careful and come back to the first version rather than overstretch. If you can touch your heels, remember to actively pull the ribs and hips towards each other. It saves your back and works that stomach at the same time.

Straighten back up and then sit back on your heels and pulls your arms forward into another child’s pose:

Slide your chest forward until your body is straight, plant your hands next to your chest. Then push down with your pelvis and up with your hands for a cobra pose:

Even though you can technically get into this shape without pushing down with the pelvis, you really know you’re in it if your feet practically levitate and there isn’t much pressure on the hands. This pose can be done with the chest just hovering over the floor like this or with the hands extended:

The pelvis does tend to come up off the floor with the hands extended and this one should be done once you feel sufficiently warmed up. Some classes will only do cobra in stages where the class starts with the lower cobra and then comes up a little further until the arms extended.

That’s the first mini-sequence. You can transition straight to reclining from here and do the second mini-sequence or throw in some pigeon work first, maybe some seated poses. Typically, classes follow a pattern where prone is followed by seated poses and then “reclining” poses where you’re laying down. I like to save the seated and reclining poses for closing up my practice, so even though both of these sequences are a part of core intense days, this second mini-sequence gets added in when I’m in the reclining portion of my practice rather than being done all together.

The second set begins with laying on your back and putting your arms and legs in the air:

This is one of the beginner inversions and one of the more relaxing poses. From here, lower your arms to your sides and your legs until your heels are six(ish) inches above the ground:

Hold for a few breaths and then bring the knees in for some “reverse situps”:

I’d love to say that these come easy to me, but they never have. In order to build up to the point where I can do the reverse situps, I usually have to do some bicycles first, bringing in one knee and then the other:

Another exercise I do to work the core until I can do them is to rest one foot on the ground and let the other one hover before lifting it to a 45 degree angle and come back down like this:

I do 15 until that’s managable and then build up to 15 bicycles, then 25, before trying the full on reverse sit up. Ideally, I’ll go straight from waterfall to 25 reverse sit ups. At about this time in the sequence, my back starts to feel like it needs a reversal of pressure and that’s when I thrown in a bridge or wheel or both. Always the bridge first:

Bridge Pose

When I first learned this pose in some random high school PE class long before I ever did yoga, it was all about pressing up with the heels and thighs. In my yoga instructor course, we talked about it in terms of pulling up with the core muscles. The shoulders roll back and the hands clasp, letting the hips come up even further.

If that feels good, I’ll put my hands behind my head and push up into a wheel pose too:

Wheel Pose

As with the first move in the last sequence, my wheel isn’t quite perfect, but the point is be able to arch without hurting yourself. I’ve seen lots of interesting variations over the years but getting a good wheel in itself is an accomplishment. Pulling in with the stomach muscles helps to not overload your back in this pose. It should definitely be felt in the stomach. I also feel the bend in the upper back and shoulders. It opens the heart and all that. Sometimes I’ll even sway forward and back, letting my arms and chest feel the opening. This is one of those poses that helps restore me, reversing all that pressure from slouching at work all day.

Once I’m done with the wheel, I’ll reset the placement of everything with another waterfall. Depending on the day, it’s followed by a boat pose:

There are three variations shown because the ability to hold a good boat pose varies depending on how much the core already feels worked. I have to admit that I don’t normally do it. There’s one more like that. Sometimes, if I really feel like I need to go the extra mile, the last pose is a reclining eagle/eagle situp. It can be kind of torturous but I’m just motivated some days. Here it is:

So eagle pose in itself is where the left leg is wrapped around the right leg and right arm is wrapped around left arm at the elbow. It’s usually done standing in yoga classes, but I like the reclining one too. This is the only way I can get that foot to be that close to the calf, it’s definitely not going to happen while I’m holding my weight. Anyway, from there, bring the elbow and knee together like in the second picture. I usually do five of these and then switch so that the right leg is wrapped around the left and the left arm is wrapped around the right. Or I’ll just hold it for five breaths. It depends on my level of motivation.

Then it’s time to get into the relaxing poses in the reclining position, which usually includes revisiting waterfall. I’ll get into those when I show you how I close out my practice in a few weeks.

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