Connecting with Your Core
Becoming more in tune with your core will help you regain balance and stability, while facilitating a greater connection with your inner wisdom.
The “core” as many fitness professionals refer to the abdominals is, as the name suggests, an essential part of any workout. However, the core isn’t just your abdominals, suggests Ana Forrest, founder of Forrest Yoga and the Forrest Yoga Circle in Southern California. “The core,” she explains, “is basically from crotch to crown. Each section of the core needs to be connected and in communication with each other section.”
Many know Forrest for her athletic build and somewhat grueling asana practice, but at the crux of her practice is a belief to honor oneself—not pushing too hard, but not slacking off either. Forrest explains that she started Forrest yoga because she “felt that there was a loss of connection to our own spirit. That is how Forrest Yoga evolved, providing tools to connect to your spirit.”
At the root of Forrest Yoga is the core practice—a sequence devoted to lengthening and strengthening the core muscles from crotch to crown. Forrest says that there are a variety of reasons she developed such a stringent series of core exercises, one however is especially notable: “When you learn how to access information from your core, you learn how to get your information more accurately,” says Forrest. “It won’t be based on your fear or because you’ve been leaned on by someone,” she adds, “[instead] you can connect with the truth shield inside of you.”
In addition, weak core muscles are related to a variety of ailments and even illnesses. Forrest believes that if we don’t keep length in our core, that our organs and lungs won’t function as well—a problem that is frequently caused by long periods of sitting. “As you’re sitting at your computer, your breathing is being shut-off, so your brain is getting foggy, your organs aren’t getting energy, and the oxygen and blood flow to your intestines is cut-off. So, whatever you eat isn’t going to be digested or assimilated very well.”
The key to learning how to use your core muscles is to first learn where they are, how they are activated, and how to use them to support your body. Forrest advises, “Next time you’re sitting, lift your rib cage and slide your shoulder blades down. Learn how to use your upper back muscles and make them responsive. You can feel the difference almost instantly—clarity and relief.”
Part of the problem stems from the disconnection many women feel with their lower abdomen and pelvis—or root chakra. Yet, says Forrest, “if the core of the building is rotting, you have rotten structure.” From sitting to standing, learning to connect with your core not only improves your posture—it will enhance your health and your ability to connect with your true inner wisdom.
Here Forrest provides Healing Lifestyles & Spas a sequence to awaken and energize the core. She advises practicing the core exercises in the beginning of your yoga practice, just after pranayama and warm-up.
1: Abs with a Roll
This is a good pose for anyone with weakness in his or her abdominals or lower back. It also applies to people who suffer from tightness or problems in their legs and hips.
Place a rolled up mat or towel, or a block between your legs, resting it on your pubic bone. Extend your legs straight up. With your feet active, press through the balls of your feet toward the ceiling. Clasp your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows close—about 8 inches apart. Inhale, ballooning your back into the floor, hold your breath, and lift your tailbone skyward. Keep your legs over your pelvis (not your belly). Squeeze the mat or block with your inner thighs. Exhale, and lift your head and shoulders off the mat. As you get stronger you will get your shoulder blades off of the mat. At the end of your exhale, pull your belly in. Inhale, and lay your head down. Repeat 5–10 times.
Benefits: Brings connection and aliveness in the lower abdominals, pelvis, and inner legs.
Lie down on your back. Bend your knees so that the heels of your feet are touching your fingers. Your feet should be active and your knees should be directly over your feet. Exhale, tuck your tailbone up, using your belly and buttocks muscles; lift your pelvis and torso up. Keep your arms and hands relaxed. Inhale as you telescope (lengthen) your ribs towards your face. Press your feet into the mat. With each inhale telescope your ribs more, keeping your neck relaxed. On your exhale, continue tilting your tailbone up, lengthening your lower back. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Exhale. As you come down, keep your tailbone tilted up. Lower down to the floor, starting with your upper back, then middle back, and finally lower back.
Benefits: Stretches and releases tension in the neck and upper back. It expands the rib cage, therefore expanding breath capacity. Strengthens and reshapes leg and buttock muscles.
Lie down on your belly. Clasp your hands behind your back, interlacing your fingers. Tuck your tailbone toward your heels, lengthening your lower back. Squeeze your ankles together. Keep your feet active. Inhale and lift your chest and legs off the mat, keeping your neck relaxed. Hold for 5 breaths. Keep your tailbone tucked, ankles squeezing together, and feet active during the breaths. Release. Inhale, and balloon your breath into your lower back. Exhale, and relax your back.
Benefits: Strengthens lower back and opens the chest and shoulders. Establishes a connection between the core and the legs.
Start on your elbows and knees with your knees directly under your hips. Measure the width of your elbows by clasping the middle of your upper arms. Place your forearms on the mat, parallel to each other, with your middle finger aligned with your forearms. Keep your hands active. (Active hands means spreading the palm of your hand and fingers out and pressing the web of the hand down. The “web” of your hand is the fleshy part between your thumb and index finger.) Wrap your shoulder blades by pulling your shoulder blades toward your armpits and away from your neck. Activate your chest muscles. Relax your neck. Exhale, straighten your legs and press your heels down. (Like downward dog.) Press your forearms into the mat, lift out of your shoulders. Use your chest muscles to hold the pose. With each exhale pull your belly in to engage your lower abs. Bring your chest closer to your legs without sinking into your shoulders. Hold the pose for 8–10 breaths. Finish the pose by exhaling and coming down on your knees, then move into embryo or child’s pose.
Benefits: Strengthens the upper torso, upper back, and chest. It also strengthens the arms. It brings blood and oxygen to refresh the brain. It also reverses the pull of gravity on the organs and stretches the hamstrings, calves, and lower back.