Well hello again to all my yoga friends. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on the notion of core strength as it is certainly something that has been a focus in most of my classes. It became very popular to talk about “activating the core” with the increasing interest in Pilates many years ago and although perhaps not always discussed in terms of “core strength” it is still very much a part of a good yoga asana practice. It is more often referred to as developing abdominal strength and there are specific asanas that work this area of the body. However we are not merely talking about the rectus abdominus or “six pack” as is commonly identified with your abs but the deeper muscles of the abdomen including the transverse abdominus, the obliques, multifidus, diaphragm and pelvic floor.
Developing strength in this area is important because it is these muscles that support the lower back in particular and play a significant role in posture. As we age our abdominal strength can be diminished through lack of exercise, childbirth and poor postural habits. By including regular practices that maintain and strengthen the core you will definitely help to support your back and experience less back pain. Many of the practices found in the PMA 2 series of the asana handbook by Sw Satyananda focus on this muscle group. These include the boat pose (Naukasana), leg raises (Paddotthanasana) cycling (Pada Sanchalanasana) and many more. Stronger practices can be found in the plank pose (Santalonasana), the spinal column pose (Merudandasana) and of course any balance pose will rely on core strength to maintain stability.
Is core strength just about strong abdominal muscles then???
I personally think there is much more to it as this area of the body coincides with the energy centre or chakra known as Manipura chakra. Manipura chakra is symbolised by a bright yellow lotus with ten petals, a fiery red triangle, the yantra of agni tattwa, or fire element and is the seat of the digestive fire or agni. The animal which serves as a vehicle for Manipura is a the ram, the symbol of assertiveness and energy. So this is the chakra which is involved in self-esteem, warrior energy, and the power of transformation.
A balanced, energised third chakra helps us to overcome lethargy (Tamas). It can kick-start our way of being and attitude so that we can take risks, assert our will, and assume responsibility for our life. This chakra is also the place of our deep belly laughter, warmth, ease, and the vitality we receive from performing selfless service or karma yoga.
Manipura chakra is closely connected to the psyche and it is often the case that psychic problems give rise to digestive problems. For example, many people react to fear or stressful situations with abdominal pain or diarrhoea. Building strength in Manipura is way to help manage stress and anxiety.
Self-awareness and self-confidence are other pearls of the Manipura chakra.
So when you are practicing your asana to build your core strength try to keep your awareness at Manipura…..to feel the strength building not just in muscles but in your whole being. You may even want to mentally repeat the bija mantra Ram!