Friday, January 19, 2007

Week Three

This week was the third of my current session at the Y, so we are working the core muscles. My classes usually progress from the base (feet, sit bones) thru the hips into the torso and up to the shoulders and upper back. The last week of the session usually focuses on Sun Salutations or flow sequences…sort of a “putting it all together.” This approach serves new students, so they can see how a pose is “built” but also is a nice reminder for continuing yogis pay attention to all elements of a pose.

The following sequence features poses that utilize core strength. Some of it is abs work, but other contributors to the core include the big muscles of the back and the thighs. These are the muscles that work together to keep you balanced and aligned and, most importantly, protect and support the lower back. This work may give you a nice figure (as my grandmother use to say), but it is crucial to keeping the spine healthy and strong. Remember to keep the breath full and even; it is easy to hold your breath when concentrating on your abs. (You may also notice that several of these poses show up in Pilates—Josef Pilates borrowed heavily from yoga when developing his system).

Strengthening the Core
(Easy Pose) Concentrate on lengthening the side ribs to create space in the lower half of the torso. Balance the pelvis so you are resting on the center of the sit bones, not leaning forward or back.

Dandasana + Hastasana (Staff Pose and Overhead Arm Stretch) Extend the feet in front of you and, while pressing a block between the palms, stretch your arms overhead. Keep the shoulders down and the neck relaxed. Breathe into the lengthening along the side body.

Seated Twist Come back to Easy Pose, with the right shin crossed in front. Starting with the lower back, start twisting gently to the right, then move the twist into the rib cage and then the shoulders. Release and repeat on the other side with the left shin in front.

Balancing Cat Come to Table Pose, with the hands beneath the shoulders and knees beneath the hips. On an exhale, stretch the right hand forward and the left foot back so you are making a straight line from the foot diagonally across the torso and out the fingers. Hold for a few breaths and then switch sides.

Plank Come to your hands and knees and, with the heels of the hands beneath the shoulders, step the feet back so that the body is now in a diagonal line: ears-shoulders-hips-ankles. Keep the neck long and the breath even. Don’t let the lower back sag or the hips lift up. The majority of the work in this pose will be in the chest and abdominal muscles.

Seated Twist

Navasana (Boat Pose) Sit with the knees bent and the hands behind the thighs at the knees. Lower the torso back to a 90-degree angle from the thighs. Keep the chest lifted and the neck long. Gently roll back onto your sitbones and balance with the shins parallel to the floor. Keeping the spine long, straighten the legs and, if you can keep your chest lifted, release the hands and straighten the arms with the palms down. Keep Breathing!

Supported Forward Bend Sit in Staff with a chair over your legs or a block between your knees. Gently fold forward, leading with the belly button and rest with your arms crossed on the seat of the chair or the block. Relax into this support and feel the backs of the legs lengthen and the spine releases.

Savasana (Corpse Pose) Lie on the floor and take a minute to realign your whole torso, so the neck is long and the head is lined up with the tailbone. Sink into the support of the floor and concentrate on letting all muscles relax. ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

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