The Yoga Flow Show Artwork
Season 6 - Episode 6

Core Strength

30 min - Practice


Shelly shares a practice integrating applied core work. We find rhythmic repetitions to awaken and strengthen the core and spinal muscles. We integrate our core work moving through familiar balancing shapes and asanas. You will feel strong, powerful, and energized.
What You'll Need: Mat, Blanket, Block (2)

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(waves crashing) Greetings. Thank you for coming back. It's nice to see you again. Today we'll be working with a little bit of what I like to refer to as my core shenanigans. It's a bit of a flow that involves some applied core work that's really great functional practice for yoga, and when we think of our core, it's not just the six-pack abdominal muscles in the front of our body, but our core is really everything top to bottom between the shoulders and the pelvis.

The front core, the side core, back core, and of course our pelvic floor, our mula bandha. So, we'll be kinda rollin' in and out of some different flows that involve the three dimensional core today, and let's begin. If you have a blanket or a towel or something that you can work with on a smooth floor or hardwood surface, that would be great, and if not, if you happen to be on carpet, then just flow through surya namaskar with us. But we will take kind of a sliding surya namaskar today that can help start to warm up the body and activate your core. As you inhale, circle the arms out and up, full body breath, feel the side waist long up to the fingertips.

Exhale and to your forward fold and plant your hands flat onto the wood floor. Inhale to lift your heart and bend your knees and you start to slide your blanket back, feel your weight shift from your feet to your hands and lower to chaturanga. It's kind of a slow motion, jump back. And then flip over the feet and inhale to either upward dog or a cobra. And as you exhale, tuck the toes, lift the hips, and engage your low belly to draw all the weight into a forward fold.

Inhale to lift your heart. Exhale, release back down and soften the knees. Inhale to rise all the way up to standing and exhale to samasthiti. And that's one round. Inhale, circle the arms.

Exhale, forward fold, draw the navel center in, and just start to direct your attention to your core as you shift from one asana to the next. Planting the palms, lift up through the center of the body, lower down, flip over the feet, and rise. Then exhale, tuck the toes, lift the hips, and pull all the way in to your forward fold. Inhale to lift the heart. Exhale, soften the knees, release your spine.

Inhaling to rise. Exhale to samasthiti. Let's take the once more, inhale, circle the arms. Exhale, draw the navel in, forward fold. Inhale, look to the front of your mat or the wood floor.

Soften the knees, stay low, and slide back as you lower to chaturanga. Open up your chest and then a little bit different this time. Come to plank, tuck the toes, and just draw the knees in and out couple of rounds, and as you lift, keep your weight over your shoulders, lift through the low belly, and just allow a little bit of a fluid line. On this last one, bring it all the way in, stretch the legs long, and hang out in your forward fold. Inhaling to rise, and exhale, draw the hands to your heart.

And go ahead and step onto your mat. You can take your blanket to one side. We'll use it a little bit later to counter pose at the end of our practice. Let's come down onto our backs. Slowly roll back down with your feet out in front of you and draw the knees into the chest.

And we'll just start to go through a really simple series here that we pull from the Pilates mat classic repertoire. It's called the series of five, and it's just five different exercises designed to strengthen the core that we do about 10 reps of each exercise. So, just draw the right knee in and extend the left leg out into space, and start to just exchange your legs, moving them like pistons from left to right, keeping the head, the neck, and the shoulders curled up away from the floor, and if you like, I kind of encourage you to breathe in a rhythm that works for you, of course with anything, but let's inhale for two and exhale for two. And if your neck starts to get tense at all, you can always take your hands behind your head. One more cycle like this, and then go ahead and let it progress to a straight leg press.

And there's a little double pulse as you draw your leg in towards your face. Try not to let the leg bounce or your upper body bounce but just increase the stretch on your hamstring in that second pulse. Same thing with the breathing here. You can breathe for two, exhale for two. Inhale for two, exhale.

And at any time between any of these sequences, feel free to rest if you need to. We're building endurance in our core strength just like anywhere else. From here, draw the left elbow to the right knee and let's just progress into a little criss cross. Inhaling for two, and exhaling for two. Inhaling for two, and exhaling.

And I'm offering these particular exercises to you in a little bit of a different order than we would normally do in a classic Pilates mat class, just FYI. We're just kind of taking some liberties with the order of these exercises. So, take a couple more twists from left to right and really flex through the feet so you feel the long lines of energy through your legs. And then draw both knees in, forehead to the knees. As you exhale, release your head down, but keep your abdominals firm as you reach your arms and legs long over your head and away from your hips.

Exhale, coil back in. Inhale, reach it long. Try not to let your back arch, but keep the pelvis in a slight posterior tilt. And exhale, coil in. Inhale, extend, exhale it, return.

Nice long stretch like you're stretching out of a cocoon and then come right back into it. And once more, and this is, this particular exercise is a really great expression of some of the simple directions of prana that move within the body when we expand the viyana vayu, the expansive energy, and when we draw in, samana vayu, that coiling energy. Let's inhale to reach out, and this time bring your legs straight up and place your hands so that they're framing your sacrum with your palms facing down and keeping a little anchoring through the navel center, just lower legs down to about a 45 degree angle and then exhale, bring 'em back up, and keeping the neck relaxed and sometimes we do this exercise with the head, neck, and shoulders lifted but for today, just keep it relaxed. Try to keep the chest open as you lower your legs so the shoulders don't jump up and creep into the neck and just take a couple more rounds here, stabilizing through the front core as well as the back core. The weight of the legs creates a little bit of a lever against the pelvis, so keep the pelvis, again, just slightly tilting under.

And on this last one, let's inhale to bring it back up. Exhale, lower it down, and just keep it there for a moment. Feel a little bit of a fire in the belly and then draw your knees into your chest and start to rock and roll along the length of your spine. From hips to shoulders, keep the back nice and round and relaxed, and we'll let this rocking and rolling take you all the way up to a forward fold, so you can separate the feet. Push yourself forward and relax your spinal.

So, go ahead and take a couple nods of your head and neck, releasing as you nod yes and then no and back to yes. Inhale to lift your chest, start to feel your back core engage and slide your hands up your shins to get a little lift. Your weight is forward and as you exhale, draw the navel in to drop back down. Bend your knees, roll up your spine leading with the navel center, and as you come up to standing, just take a really simple standing version of ustrasana. Take the fingertips, point 'em up the spine.

Heels of the hands down and lift your chest, open up your heart, open up the throat, little counter pose to the core work. As you exhale, come back into your forward fold. Inhale to lift your chest. We have a little opportunity to play around with our arm balances inside of the core work sequence because all coiled arm balances are essentially core work, right, and hip openers. So, let's come down into a low malasana, feet together, hands at the front of the mat, catch a little bit of that drawing inward energy into your knees and your triceps and then shift forward to lift one foot up, maybe both.

Take a deep inhale here, keep your eyes steady. Stay for the exhale, and then just rock back under your feet and take that forward and back a couple times, lifting up into your core and then rocking back into your base, and just once more, lifting up into your core, and rocking back into your base. And step back to downward facing dog. Press that through the heels. Take the right leg to the sky on an inhale and coiling knee to navel, three cycles here, and just feel that action of expansion and drawing into the core too.

Exhale, last cycle. Inhale, reach it up and set it down. And we'll stay inside of a, kind of a bit of a brisk rhythm as we move back and forth. We'll treat this whole sequence as a series of kriyas. Inhale to reach and exhale, knee to chest.

Press back to downward dog. Inhale to your toes and let's swivel the knees in one direction and have a seat and come down for a little dynamic bridge. Roll down onto your back. And so we just were working our front core and now we're gonna turn our attention to the back core. So, as you inhale, reach your arms over your head.

Exhale, coil the tailbone under and sweep your arms forward and down as you lift your back body up into the front body. Roll down your spine and sweep the arms up and back. Inhale and exhale, once again rising up. So, as you move up and down, in and out of this dynamic bridge, you can feel that relationship of the whole, we can call it the posterior chain but all the lines of energy in the back body from your upper calves to your hamstrings to your hips, low back, mid back, upper back, and it's really important to spend equal amount of time stabilizing and strengthening the back body as it is the front body. So, take about three more rounds here, slowly rising.

Notice the opening in the hip flexors and the chest as you come up. Exhaling to descend. Twice more. Little bit of awareness through the inner thighs, through the pelvic floor, kind of squeezing the inner thighs into the midline as you rise. And then come on up and let's stay lifted for a few breaths and you're welcome to lace your fingers behind you and walk the outer shoulders in if you like and kind of press into the feet, lift a little bit higher.

Take a few breaths here, opening the chest and engaging the back core, the back body. One more deep breath. Maybe lifting the hips a little higher. And then as you exhale, separate your shoulders, separate your hands, and slowly roll down your spine. If you have a block handy, you can take it and place it right between the inner thighs, lift the feet and the shins a little bit higher than parallel to the floor and then open up the arms nice and wide and give the block or even a rolled towel a good squeeze here, and we'll just start to move into a dynamic twist, which involves front core and side core.

And as you twist to one side, you can even turn your head in the opposite direction. So, inhale, roll the knees to the right, the head to the left. Exhale, come back to the center, anchor down through the navel. Keep a good squeeze on the block or the rolled towel, whatever you have as you move from side to side, and this will help to activate your pelvic floor, the base of your core, otherwise known as mula bandha or muladhara chakra. And exhale back to the center.

You're welcome to continue like this with your knees bent or if you like just a little more juice, you can straighten the legs long, flex the feet, and aim the soles of your feet towards the open palm of the opposite hand, a really great way to open up, twist the spine, and strengthen all the muscles around the spine, front to back, side to side. And then exhale, come back to the center and draw your knees in, set your block to one side. And let's start to rock and roll up once again. So let's start to rock and roll again and as you rock and roll, maybe instead of tossing the feet over your head, keep your heels close to your hips now and really keep your little ball of energy nice and tight and you'll feel how your core has to activate to keep your thighs close to you. And then go ahead and come all the way up to your forward fold at the back of the mat.

Inhale to lift your heart, exhale, release, soften the knees, draw your navel in and roll up. Relax your head, neck, and shoulders. Circle the arms out and up. And exhale, draw your hands to the center. So, I'm gonna turn and face you, and it's another opportunity for us after twisting to come into a little side curl.

So, bend your knees, come into chair pose for a moment and as you exhale, hands to your heart, take a twist to your right, and turn your spine, and come down onto your tippy toes here, and if you're newer to arm balancing, simply shifting your weight and lifting up through your side waist, through your obliques is really effective to start to pave the way towards this arm balance, and if you like, and if your body's gonna let you do it, you can shift your feet up off the mat and really lift through the side waist, through your obliques. Keep your gaze forward and remember, you're transferring your weight forward into a counter balance rather than down towards the Earth. Keep looking forward. And then we'll go right to the other side, stretch the legs long. Inhale, lift your heart.

Exhale, forward fold. Bend your knees, come into chair pose again and then take a twist to your left. Come down under your tippy toes and just keep it a little bit playful here as you shift forward and back. One of the things that I sometimes notice people doing when they come into side crow is dropping one shoulder down and turning their head and you really wanna try to keep a little equanimity in your shoulders, the chest open like you do in chaturanga, and that's gonna help you stay lifted through your side waist. So, just take a couple more rocks, in and out of your parshva bakasana.

And then come back to your forward fold. (deeply sighs) Inhale to lift your heart and as you exhale, walk your hands back to the front of the mat. And come into downward facing dog. Inhale, shift forward to plank and feel the coiling of your tailbone to your heels. It's really important in any plank asana or forearm plank that you keep that lift through the low belly rather than dropping down through the waist and crunching in the low back.

So, keep a little coiling through the tailbone and lower down to your forearms. Feet are hips width apart and we'll roll to the outer edge of one foot, inner edge to the other. Let your hips melt down and then rise up and over the midline to the other side. So, it's a little side core through the front core, back over to the side core. And what I love about this particular kriya is that it really helps inform the action in the side waist and the sides of the ankle and leg for your vasisthasana.

So, as you roll, be careful not to buckle down on your ankle but stay on the knife edge of the outer foot and lift up through the side waist. And just take a couple more each side. Imagine that you're rolling your hips up and over a little camp fire. And then come back to center and lower the pelvis down to the Earth, lift your heart, and we'll shift back into the back core as you extend your arms forward like a superhero and lift the right arm and left leg up. It's a little prone balancing cat here.

Inhale, lift the left arm and right leg up and you can feel that really nice line of energy that runs from the right finger tips across the spine down to the left toes. And as you come down, stretch out a little further so you feel like you're getting longer with each lift and extension and lift, extend, and then set it down. And we'll just add a really simple opening here for the quadricep. Lift and reach back and just touch your fingers to your big toe. Stretch long and then lower down.

Inhale, lift into the back core. Reach back, touch your fingers towards your toes and lower down. And just once more on each side. Just keep moving the energy all around the core of your body, front to back, side to side. And then from here, release, draw your hands next to your chest, lift into a little upward dog.

Fold up into a little downward dog. Walk your hands all the way back to your feet, lift the chest, and exhale, relaxing down, rollin' up your spine. And draw the navel in and open up your chest. A little standing ustrasana. And exhale, let's roll back down.

From here, walk it back out to plank and then lower your right knee to the mat, and we'll come into a little kneeling vasisthasana, and you're welcome to let your shin pivot a little bit as your each up through left arm and up through the left leg. If your knee's sensitive, you can grab your blanket and place it underneath your knee. Draw your hand behind your head and open your chest as you exhale, draw your elbow and knee to the midline. So, here's that coiling samana vayu and then expand into a bit of a back bend, viyana vayu. And we feel that wonderful activation as we move in and out of our front core, our side core, and our back core.

So, it's a really great three dimensional kriya that also involves the bottom hip. Exhale to coil in, inhale to expand. Exhale, and this time as you expand, reach back and just catch the little toe side of your foot and give your quad a little, a little breath of air here. Release and extend long and let's go through plank, one push up, just to say we did, and then right to the second side, lower the left knee down and come into your kneeling vasisthasana. As you draw your hand behind your head, press your head into your hand, reach through your toes and then exhale, coil inward.

And inhale, expand outward, exhale, and expand. And you can think of this almost like cat cow that we do on our hands and knees but from the side and feel the action of the bottom hip to support this really wonderful opening expansion and contraction in the front body to the back body. Let's reach back, take the little toe side of your foot and let your quadricep breath. Front of the hip opens. Stretching long and then coming back to plank.

And pausing here for a moment in plank. Notice your hands shoulder width apart. Keep your eyes forward and then walk your feet a little closer, and let's take a couple little playful hops, bringing the hips and heels up and over the shoulders, really drive this with your breath, exhale as you hop, and lift with your low belly. And this is one of the ways that we start to prep for kicking up to handstand. And we just drive it with some lightness in the legs, some stability in the upper body, and some lift in the low belly.

And then release. From here, take a moment in your down dog. Take a moment on your knees. I'm gonna take a moment to catch my breath. (laughs) And we'll grab our blocks to jump though for a little navasana, and we're on the tail end of finishing up here.

So, place your blocks towards the front edge of your mat and you can turn them low or medium for a little more height but it gets a little squirrely if you put 'em too tall so set 'em up wide enough for your feet and hips to float through, come into your down dog, and if you're newer to this, you can take a couple preps and land really lightly on the tops of the feet a couple times. Practice controlling your descent using your core and then eventually, we just tuck it in a little deeper and send it all the way through. And you can even practice just that several times. Keep the blocks where they are, but rock back under your pelvis and come into navasana, and navasana can be with the feet on the mat or the floor, it can be with the knees bent, or with your legs straight. And hang out here for a moment, just enough to feel a little like, okay, there's some action happening in my core, I'm feeling that.

Then cross your ankles, plant your palms on your blocks, and lift. And that is a really great way to start to activate the pelvic floor even more. Let's take another visit. Cross the opposite ankle on top, plant your palms, and lift. And one more time.

Cross the ankle and lift. And then release your feet to the mat and roll down slowly. Hug your knees into your chest. Rock your hips a little bit side to side. Come into a happy baby pose and open the chest, take a deep inhale here.

And exhale completely. And then I'd love to just close with two very simple released counter poses. If you have a bolster, it's great to use a bolster for this 'cause it's a little bit softer, but if not, you can use your two blocks and simply set them up in the middle of your mat and take your blanket and just drape it over the blocks so it creates a bit of a softer surface. And from here, go ahead and just bring one hip to the edge of your bolster slash block made into a bolster and come onto your back and you want the support of the bolster to be right underneath your pelvis, not your lower back. Draw the right knee into the chest and extend the left leg long and don't hold it up in the air but allow it to melt down into the Earth so that we get a nice passive release of your hip flexor and psoas.

And your knee, if it's not comfortable for you to hold it right here, you can grab a towel and place it behind your knee, or a strap, right, wherever feels comfortable, if you want a little bit more, you can even straighten your leg and open the hamstring while you stretch the psoas of the opposite leg. I'm gonna take a little less right now. And then draw the knee across your body and come into a simple twist, just rolling to the outer edge of your left hip, and you can allow your right knee to roll all the way down to the ground if you want to or support it with the left hand. And then coming back to the center, draw that knee in once again and then change sides. So, it's really important after doing any kind of core work to counter pose and let the body receive and balance.

And especially with the front core work that's oriented towards closing the front body, we want to make sure we open hip flexors, upper quadriceps, and psoas, so that we can stand up straight and comfortably. If you straightened your leg on the first side, go ahead and do so on the second side. And then draw the knee into the chest and gently pour your body over onto the right side, letting your knee come down into your hand, any amount. And then coming back to the center. Place the feet flat, lift your hips, and slide your bolster down low, so that it supports your knees, and let's come into a very brief savasana here.

And you can take your left hand to your heart, your right hand to your navel center, to that wonderful place where the third chakra lives. We'll just take a few breaths into that place of power, into that place of intuition and wisdom. And taking three of your deepest breaths here. And then slowly reach your arms over your head and reawaken, extend through the fingers and the toes, and draw the knees into the chest, rollin' on over to your right side, slowly press yourself up, come to a comfortable seat, and bring your hands together at your heart. Thank you so much for sharing your presence and your enthusiasm and your practice with me today.



Suzanne L
4 people like this.
I really need this one!! Thanks. I hope to accomplish more as I repeat it.
Tera K
1 person likes this.
Oh yah baby, I love those floor sweeps! That was also my first time being able to hold side crow since I had kids!
Kate M
1 person likes this.
Oh yeah. I need to come back to this one REGULARLY!!! Fantastic sequencing and cueing. Thank you Shelley. : )
Shelley Williams
Kate , nice!!! Glad you dug it! Lots more to come in Jan 2019!! Happy day to you :)
Beth S
1 person likes this.
I need more of this! Can’t wait to try out the new classes coming in Jan
Julie B
1 person likes this.
Wow! I love this one!! I got that side crow and felt so mighty! Thank you!
Shelley Williams
Julie! Rock on sister!! So proud of you, great job!!
Sheryl B
1 person likes this.
After the 30 day Awaken to You Challenge I couldnt just walk away! This Challenge is definitely a little harder but I am staying with it! Thank you for another great class.
Shelley Williams
hi Sheryl! So glad you are staying with us!!! Love your feedback, and as always just do what feels right, and let the rest come when it will! Happy practicing, Happy Monday! Namaste~
Kate M
1 person likes this.
I think, to be honest, the only way I really get core work done is when I let someone tell me what to do! Thanks for that, Shelley!! This is a great sequence.
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