Down to the Core | Longer Torso
Building grit and finding inner lightness with core fitness is critical for yoginis and anyone aspiring to better physical health. The third of our 3 part series on improving ab strength focuses on the rectus abdominus.
Still in my 3rd trimester with baby 4 so I've left it to others to demonstrate these moves through the links embedded. Surrendering the core to baby 4 has been challenge with breath work and visualization becoming ever more important.
Breathe baby Breathe
Running from the uppermost part of the ab area down to the pubic bone, think of this muscle as a strap pulling you core up through the center. Its generally the area most easily associated with abs as it bears the 'crunch' in ab crunches or sit-ups. Good posture and a happy neck come from engaging this part of the core properly in connection with proper alignment of shoulders down your back. When training this area, neck tension and shoulder pain are a good indication you are likely shortening (crunching) this area too much. Breathe in and visualize it growing longer as you draw up instead of crunching. You are entering the no crunch zone.
Downdog (or Plank) to Forward Fold Walk-ups.
Just as the name suggests, this is a walk-up from your downdog (or plank) position to your forward fold. The intensity from a basic step up is turned up by the length of hold- walking on the tip toes, piking your tush in the air. Begin in downdog, lifting your hips as high and wide as possible. I like to begin with knees slightly bent so as to feel the strength in my lower abs and upper quadracepts and then slowly push to straight legs. Raise up to your toe mounds and then slowly and deliberately begin walking forward to forward fold. Eventually you should be able to hold in a pike fold position just on your tippy toes. Yoga ninjas then push themselves up to pike handstand but that is the 4.0 version. Reverse the same movement tippy-toeing your way back from a fold to a downdog position. This requires a lot of strength all along your core chain but if your upper ab, shoulder connection is not fully engaged you will have a difficult time supporting the walk-up
- Pro Tips
- there is a lot of hamstring stretch in this move. Focus on lengthening the back of the knees to even the stretch between the hamstrings and the calves.
- length in the back 'sides' of the waist /spine are key. Shoot energy through your tail and try to pancake yourself instead of rounding in.
Plank Towel Slides.
Often used as a prep exercise for press handstands, the plank towel slide is actually the 6-pack maker. It is a more advanced version of the Downdog to forward fold walk-up and it also assumes you can hold a plank position fairly comfortably. The pro tip here is the initiating the move from your upper abs. Keeping your collarbones wide push firmly down with your triceps and begin to curl your upper abs in tight. You will continue on down the core chain curling and feeling each area as you reach a forward fold position. If you do not engage your rectus abdominus and shoulders properly in this position it will be almost impossible to complete more than one or two. Here is a good demonstration on youtube
- Pro Tips
- bending your knees in this exercise will make it slightly accessible. The goal is (eventually) straight legs keeping the torso and back as long and straight as possible
- your shoulders have to move ahead of your hands as you slide forward in order to keep your sides, legs and back straight. Crunching will not get you to the goal as it takes the strength out of the chest, triceps and abs (especially rectus abdominus) dumping it into the shoulders and biceps.
Jump Back Preps
Ah, the ashtanga jump throughs- killer even for the most advanced yogi. This move is a building block on the (long) road to the 'effortless' float. Checkout our friends at Urban Yogi for the visual. Using two blocks, begin on your knees with your hands on the blocks. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders as this requires a lot of shoulder strength (again!). Leaning ever so slightly forward focus the energy and push into your chest. Now tuck one knee into your chest as you lift one foot up toward your bum. Eventually you will be able to lift and hold both legs simultaneous. Once this has been mastered the float back is really about rotating the shoulders further forward without dropping the knees. Piece of cake, right? Ha- even when my practice is at its very peak with press handstands accessible, etc. I can still BARELY do this move. It requires a tremendous amount of chest and shoulder strength making it ever so slightly accessible to our Brogi (brother yogis). But if you want to feel the burn in your rectus abdominis this gets you there fast. Even leaning forward on the blocks without lifting your knees up will do the job!
- Pro Tips
- to get this pose off the ground, you have to lean forward and squeeze your triceps toward the sides of the body to get your knees up. The power up comes from your chest and your triceps pushing up
- getting the feet off the floor actually feels a lot like a ab crunch. Tuck tailbone and round the rectus abdomus (you dont want it straight for this one) to get yourself into a tight little ball. Shockingly (ha!) this is much harder to do with your shoulders forward (as it needs to be) than when the center of gravity is up and down.
Mastering all of these last moves is an advanced process. It takes time and persistence to feel even slight improvement. By the end you will truly be a ninja. Yoga really is all just about flexibility and relaxation :)
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