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Core Strength for a Healthy Lower Back

By: Ann West

running-muscles-500x357Core Strength Workshops
On April 25th I’ll be teaching Core Strength for a Healthy Back workshop at Prana Yoga in La Jolla. Follow this link to reserve your space. The post below explains why core strength is important for a healthy back and how yoga is especially well suited to help.
Core Facts & Functions
Our physical core is the collection of muscles, bones, fascia and organs located between the pelvic floor at the base of the trunk, and the diaphragm at the base of the ribcage. The term “core” usually refers to our core muscles, which wrap around the middle of our trunk like a corset, supporting our back and internal organs.
The core muscles have far a reaching influence in the body. They generate the strength, stability, and mobility we need to perform all of our everyday activities, including walking, running, carrying, climbing, and any kind of sport. They support the weight of the entire body, initiate all of our major movements, keep us balanced, and protect our internal organs. In short, they play a crucial role in our body’s bio-mechanics, and we wouldn’t get far without them.
Core Strength for a Healthy Back
Most people suffering from chronic back pain would benefit from building a stronger core. The spine is the central structural column of the body. It assists in nearly all of our movements, and supports and protects the spinal cord. It should be strong enough to carry our body weight, yet flexible enough to allow our limbs to move freely.
Strong core muscles aid back health by improving our posture to support healthy spinal curves. A strong core is especially helpful when it comes to protecting the lower back as it guards the lumbar spine against bending or rotating too much in any one direction, and also shields the sacroiliac joints from overuse and strain. A strong core can also make the spine taller, which helps lift pressure off of the spinal discs and supports the back as it heals from pain.

Key Core Muscles
Anatomists differ as to which muscles make up the core, but below is a list of some of the major muscles usually included:
  • Abdominals
  • Iliopsoas
  • Erector spinae
  • Quadratus lumborum
  • Pelvic floor
  • Gluteus muscles
  • Adductors
When practicing yoga, we don’t usually isolate or work the core muscles individually. It’s more effective to simultaneously engage the whole body so it works in unison, from the legs and lower core on up. However, it can be helpful to focus on working a particular group of core muscles. To read more about the major core muscles and which yoga asanas (poses) target each group click here.
How Yoga Helps
Because of the integrative, total body involvement of most yoga asanas, yoga is an ideal medium to engage and strengthen our physical core. The wide variety of poses also challenges the core in many different ways, through standing poses, arm balances, backbends, twists and inversions. Alignment also plays an important role in safe, effective core strengthening, making the refined alignment techniques of Iyengar Yoga a great match for careful core strengthening of the back.
The Bandhas
The Sanskrit word “bandha” means bond or join. In yoga it refers to an action that grips and controls a part of the body to form a seal or a lock. Bandhas are practiced to contain and control prana (life-force energy) within the body. There are four main bandhas:
  1. Mula bandha – a contraction of the perineum at the pelvic floor
  2. Uddiyana bandha – a contraction of the abdomen into the ribcage
  3. Jalandhara bandha – tucking the chin into the chest
  4. Maha bandha – a combination of the above three bandhas performed simultaneously
The first two bandhas require a visceral lift from deep within the core region, automatically activating many of the core muscles. This protects the back during yoga practice, and enables us to hold the poses for longer to build strength and stamina. Engaging the bandhas also causes vital pranic energy to flow upwards, shifting the asanas onto a more subtle level of practice. For further reading and detailed instructions on how to practice the bandhas, please refer to “Light on Pranayama” by BKS Iyengar.
If you only had time to practice one core pose regularly, your best choice would be plank pose and its variations. Many movement experts agree that it’s one of the most effective core strengthening exercises out there, in large part because it engages so many core muscles at once. Yogis have been practicing their version of plank pose, Chaturanga Dandasana, for a long time. Head on over to this page for more on Chaturanga Dandasana and how to practice it.
If you want to put some of the above theory into practice, why not join me for my core strength yoga workshop at Prana Yoga at the end of April.

Ann has taught yoga in the San Diego and La Jolla areas since 1994. She teaches beginning through intermediate level classes, along with yoga for students suffering from chronic back conditions, and yoga therapy for students with special physical and physiological needs

Her regular teaching schedule at Prana is:

Mondays ~ 10:30am-11:45am for Happy Back Yoga Wall
Wednesdays ~ 11:30am-1pm for Iyengar Yoga
Fridays ~ 10:30am-11:45am for Happy Back Yoga Wall

Visit her blog here!


Source: Blogger

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