Strong is the new skinny: poses to help you fire up your core
By Indira Das-Gupta
It's about this time of year that the now much maligned but still all too frequent question, "Are you beach body ready?", gets asked.
If you have a healthy relationship with your body image, your answer to this ridiculous question would be along the lines of, "Well yes I have a body and I'm ready for the beach!"
Sadly even if we look after ourselves and recognise that there are more important things in life to worrying about love handles or muffin top, it's hard to be completely immune to barrage of images depicting perfect looking bodies in bikinis or trunks in the run up to summer. Of course we end up comparing ourselves unfavourably.
We know that those images aren't real, that they are heavily edited and filtered yet still we feel that we should somehow aspire to the same look. There's nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, it shows that you have self respect and pride, but at what cost? When you do Yoga regularly you start wanting to look after yourself more. Embarking on a restrictive diet and slashing your calorie intake so drastically that you feel grumpy and exhausted isn't an act of self love. One of the most fundamental teachings of Yoga is non violence and that applies to yourself - love your body and treat it with kindness.
Instead of using the scales to measure your self worth, why not focus on getting stronger and fitter instead? This will have the added bonus of meaning that you have more energy to do the things you love with the people you love. We all know that Yoga increases your flexibility but it also increases your strength and improves your fitness levels too. One area that is mentioned a lot in many Yoga classes is the core - when you activate the core you have more stability in poses. Learning to activate your core will also lead to an improvement in your posture and can help prevent backache.
Having a strong core definitely doesn't mean being skinny. You can be skinny and weak. I myself am stronger in this area than I ever have been but if I have a six pack, it's staying well hidden under what my son likes to call my squishy belly. Do I love my squishy belly? I'd be lying if I said yes, but I have had two children and they have both testified that it's this squishiness that makes me so nice to cuddle so I have definitely learned to accept my shape. I deliberately targeted my core on the advice of a teacher I greatly respect, after I complained of back pain. And he was right it's made a massive difference.
Top 5 Poses to strengthen your core
In all these poses remember to engage both your tummy and pelvic floor:
Plank pose - can be done on the forearms, remember to draw your belly in and up and not collapse in the shoulders, gradually increase the time you hold it.
Side plank - can keep the knees down, cross the legs or stack one foot on top of the other. Try to keep the underside of your body lifted. With time you can progress to lifting your upper leg or even bringing the top foot on to the inside of your thigh in side plank tree variation
Reverse plank - this is a pose where many people forget to engage their core when they lift the hips, don't be one of them ;)!
Navasana - you can keep the legs bent and hold on to the back of your legs - try to keep upright, rather than leaning back
Warrior III - try to keep the hips level and the back leg and foot active
Try and incorporate these poses into your regular home practice and if you don't have a regular home practice then you are missing out!
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