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What is Core Yoga and why is it important?

As a yoga teacher, whenever I attend another teacher’s yoga class, I’m always amazed at how little focus is placed on working the core before moving into the stronger parts of the class.

As a teacher of Japanese Therapeutic Yoga (having trained in Ryoho Yoga and Zen Ki Yoga), focussing on the core is an essential part of my yoga practice and what I teach. So much so, that I dedicate time at the start of every class to hone in on this area. 

During this process, I inform my students of the different ways that the core yoga exercises strengthen, tone and improve the function of the organs inside their abdomen and the benefits of this process. This helps my clients to feel a sense of stability and strength as they move into their practice and fosters a level of awareness deep inside their bodies. 

So, what is the “core”?

Perhaps you think the core is simply the muscles of the belly. However, the “core” comprises a number of different elements that all work together to help us maintain our strength and stability - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

Firstly, the core refers to the muscles that work to stabilise the mid to lower section of the body, including the abdomen, lower back and pelvis. 

The key muscles that comprise the core include:

  • the diaphragm at the top (used in breathing).

  • the pelvic floor muscles (the base muscles that support pelvic organs that help with bowel and bladder control and sexual function).

  • the abdominal muscles including the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscles), transverse abdominis (the belt-like muscles that wrap around), and internal and external obliques (provide lateral stability and support).

  • the muscles of the spine including the erector spinae (help with posture), multifidus (helps with stability and support) and quadratus lumborum (stabilises the pelvis and spine). 

Secondly, these core muscles are used to support the function and structure of the organs of our abdomen, lower back and pelvis by:

  • creating intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure is essential for organ function and stability and is also required to help us breathe deeply and lift heavy objects.

  • improving digestive health. By squeezing and stretching the belly, we stimulate peristaltic movements in the intestines and promote healthy digestion.

  • improving blood flow and circulation through the belly. This promotes the flow of oxygen and nutrients to our abdominal organs, helps remove waste products and, in doing so, improves the overall health and function of the abdominal organs. 

  • improving posture and alignment. The spine, belly and pelvis work together to promote good posture and help our organs sit in the right place. When our organs are out of alignment, they can press up against the spine, causing pain and discomfort. Working the core can help with the positioning and function of the organs in our belly.

  • creating a base of support. The pelvic floor muscles provide support for the pelvic organs, helping with bladder and bowel control and preventing the possibility of organ prolapse (i.e. the uterus or bladder descending into the vaginal canal). 

Thirdly, and perhaps the hardest one to grasp but also the most important, is the connection that our core has to our wellbeing. 

In Japanese Yoga, we use the term “hara” to describe the energy centre deep in the belly. 

The hara is the centre of our physical and spiritual energy. 

It is our centre of gravity and balance. 

It is where conception takes place (in women). 

It is the source of our power and intuition. 

Cultivating the hara through core yoga exercises helps to improve stability and strength, improve energy (ki/chi) flow through the organs and the body, and strengthens the connection between mind and body. As a result, our overall health and vitality is enhanced and we become fully aware of our body, tuning into the internal sensations and the fluctuations taking place inside of us. 

This connection to hara is something that I find fascinating and is something that I have cultivated for almost three decades of my life. 

This connection has helped me conceive, grow and birth a healthy baby. 

This connection has helped me stay strong in times of intense emotional turmoil.

This connection has helped me grow into the person I wish to become, boldly showing up even when fear and anxiety sit below the surface.

And cultivating this connection has helped me maintain an exceptional level of health, energy and vitality so that I can continue to do the things I love doing, and go on new and exciting adventures, well into my 40s.  

That is why core yoga is a foundational pillar of my yoga practice and something that I am excited to share with you.

Whether you are just starting out, or a seasoned yoga practitioner (student or teacher), there is an element of this practice that will bring about new insights into the way you move and feel about your body and connect with your deeper self. 

Look out for my upcoming Core Yoga Program launching mid-May 2024. A link to the program will be available here when it goes live. In the meantime, check out my Core Yoga playlist on YouTube.

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