Aligned and Awake Artwork
Season 2 - Episode 7

Strong Core

40 min - Practice


Nathan guides us in a challenging core-focused practice to build strength, heat, and energy. We begin with Kapalabhati (Skull-shining breath) before moving through Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations) to build heat in the body. We then explore twists, and standing balancing and arm balancing postures. You will feel challenged and energized.
What You'll Need: Mat, Square Bolster

About This Video


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Welcome back. Practice five. I've got a strong practice for you here. We'll be focused on the core and we're going to start out a little different than we have in the previous practices and I'm going to bring a little element of pranayama into this. It's called kapalabhati and this is going to be to help warm up the abdominal muscles and get some heat going in the body early and pranayamas can be a little different from what you're used to.

And I'm going to try something new here today with me. I'm going to give you a quick example of how the kapalabhati works and then we'll do it together for three rounds. So it's a short forceful exhale and just a passive inhale. The body will automatically do that for you. So let me show you how it works.

You can rest your hands on your thighs, lift and open your chest and I'll show you here five rounds. Just that quick. We're just going to do three rounds of 15. Everybody's going to have a different pace on this so don't worry if you're caught up with me or faster than me. Your body will do its own pace.

Alright, so we're going to do three rounds. We'll pause in between each round. Let's rest the hands on the thighs, nice tall chest. We'll take a breath in to prepare and begin. Take a breath in and relax.

Just get a sense of how your body feels after that first round. Okay, second round, 15 pulses. Don't worry about the pace. We'll finish together. Take a breath in to prepare.

We'll begin. Big breath in. You might have already started to feel the heat coming up into the body. This is an energizing breath. One more time together.

Big breath in to prepare. And we'll begin. And inhale, exhale, and let it go. Just take a notice of how your body feels. You might feel a lot of energy moving around after something like that.

It's a great way to start it up and build some action into the abdominal muscles. From here, we'll find our way into a dog pose and start our movement practice. Climb on in. Dog pose. So let's take a few seconds to orient ourselves here.

We'll do a little bit of movement, pressing the heels, bending the knees, getting the body ready for what's to come. You're breathing nice and long. Let's shift forward to a plank for a moment. We can let the hips sink down into the ground. Just a light little up dog and then again back, pedaling again.

And let's hold our dog here for just a few moments. Remember to press the hands into the floor to feel the shoulder blades opening up the chest. All the work we've been doing previously. From here, bring your feet into the midline and we'll start taking it to a deeper level. Left leg up nice and high.

Raise off of your right heel. Big breath in. Exhale. Our first stop is knee to nose. Raise up your mid back.

Inhale stretch back. High right heel. Exhale. Next stop is knee to outer elbow. Hold that for just a moment.

Inhale. Reach back. High right heel. Exhale. Third destination is opposite elbow.

So we're going to turn the trunk well as I try to get to the outside of that elbow. And then come back. Raise up high. And to our dog pose, we rest. If you need a child's pose at any time, you take it.

Once again, feet close to the midline, we'll raise the right leg up. Left heel high so we can get all kinds of height out of the pose. Exhale first destination. Nose to knee. Rest that mid back.

Bring it back. High left heel. Exhale. Pulling it into the outer right elbow. We're going to hold with the strength.

Send it back. Final destination. We come across with a deep torso rotation to try to touch the outer left elbow. There it is. Hold.

And stretch it up. Dog pose. Let's do take a child's pose. Relax the arms. Relax the wrists.

And we'll fold down for just a moment. Let the breath recover. And then, once again, to your dog pose. And one more time, we'll bring the feet together. Raise up your right leg.

We've got a new pose for you. Coming forward over the shoulders, over the wrists. We're going to turn left heel to the floor and stretch through. Come back. We'll place it down for dog pose.

And second side. Come forward shoulders over the wrists. Knee into chest. Turn the torso and stretch through. Very strong core pose.

Come back. Dog pose. We earn the rest. Rest your wrists. And then head down to let the breath rate settle.

Back into the dog pose. Settling in. Nice long spine. Here we go. Lift the heels up.

And if you'd like, you can jump or step to the hands. Exhale. We jump. From here, we'll lower the hips down. Raise the arms up.

And come all the way out into standing. We're going to keep the heat going. A few sun salutations be. Arms up. Inhale.

Squat back. Exhale. Hands down. Let's step to the first Chaturanga. Strong legs.

Lifting core as we descend into the pose. Up dog inhale. Down dog press back. Right foot forward. Left heel down.

Warrior pose. We practiced a few of these on our previous session. Exhale down. Sorry, Chaturanga. Up dog inhale.

Down dog exhale. Left foot between the hands. Right heel rolls to the mat. It's warrior pose. And here we're really just focusing on the flow of motion.

Bring all the joints warm up for our practice. And down dog. A few breaths here as we organize into our pose. Here taking the awareness through the body to feel. And raise the heels.

Look forward. Exhale. Step or jump to your hands. Fold forward. Inhale squat down.

Arms up. Exhale. Hold forward. One more. Inhale.

Squat down. Arms up. Exhale. Fold forward. Inhale to look forward and lengthen.

Exhale. Chaturanga. Step or jump. Up dog. Breathe out.

Down dog. Right foot forward. Warrior pose. And Chaturanga Dandasana. Up dog inhale.

Down dog exhale. Left foot. Arms up warrior. And Chaturanga. Up dog inhale.

And down dog. If you happen to find that the pace of the sun salutation is faster than you're capable of going right now, don't worry, you'd do your own pace. Join us any time in the down dog or rest in child's pose. Before you know it, you'll be moving in and out of the poses. We're going to jump forward and fold forward.

And Utkatasana, chair pose. Exhale all the way out. And let's pause here in Tadasana to recover. Our next pose will be a chair pose with a twist and we're going to take it to a deeper level than we've been doing so far. We'll start with an inhale and arms up.

Exhale coming down into the pose. With that long torso, we keep that torso long, I'll bring the left hand to the hip and the right hand to the thigh. That way I can keep the length and we're going to start to work in slowly but surely. Exhale we'll slide the arm through once, I can use this hand for help. Exhale twice.

Exhale I can get a third and even a fourth time if I want. And this time we're going to fully open the pose. Right hand down to the floor or block if you like. Left arm up. Inhale chest, exhale abdomen.

Inhale chest, exhale abdomen. We'll close the arms, make our way up out of the pose, arms up, arms down. Relax the body ready for the second round. Arms up so we get that nice torso length, exhale sitting back. We'll bring the arms over to the side to start helping us with the length and the body.

We lift, inhale, exhale, I slide through one. Inhale for length, exhale for twist. Inhale for length, exhale for twist and we're taking the left hand to the floor this time. It's very helpful as though you're to turn your back down toward the floor more so than turning your chest to the sky. We'll raise the top arm up.

Inhale chest, exhale abdomen. Inhale open the chest, exhale turning the abdomen up. We're bringing the arms together, arms up to the ceiling and tadasana rest. Shake out the legs. Another version of chair pose, also known as fierce pose, will come down into our squat.

Left leg, figure four, coming down, down, down. Core is sometimes a misnomer. Arms up everybody. And we think it only involves this region of the body. But if the feet aren't strong, the knees, the hips, that area of the body won't be able to do its job.

So we're going to work all of those areas through our core practice. Let's do the right leg. Come down a little. We'll assist the right leg into its figure four, which is different from lotus where the foot would be up here. Arms up and we find our depth, four, three, two, and out.

From here we'll find a crescent lunge, right leg back. In crescent we have the back foot heel lifted nice and high up so we can get that lift out of the trunk. Now you can see that happening there. Strong deep bend to the left knee. We'll take the right arm alongside the temple.

A big breath in and I reach forward with the elbow, exhale, and come across. This is rotated side angle. Again, I'm going to use my two hands to help lift, exhale and turn, lift, exhale and turn. Remember turning the back toward the floor, I hook in, and then take the hand to the floor or block, or you could go to prayer. Hand to the floor helps me lock in a little deeper.

Now the top arm. The top arm is really what makes this twist go deep, three, two, and one. Bring the arms, unwind slowly, safely, and we'll step forward and shake out the legs. Let that blood move around in those muscles. Second leg, nice lifted heel so I can get the space in the trunk to turn.

I'll take the left hand of the temple, take a big breath in and reach forward so I get rotation starting. Exhale the elbow forward and beyond the right leg. A couple times I'm going to help myself in. Inhale, open, and lift. Exhale to turn.

Inhale open and lift. Exhale turn. I've got myself a nice deep twist and take the hand to the floor, rolling the back toward the ground, and the arm. Holding three, two, and one. Come out slowly, safely, come up, and step forward and together.

Let's separate the feet just a little bit and do a forward fold, a ragdoll. Let the body recover from these strong, strong poses. You're doing a great job working into these. Doing it at your own pace and building over time with practice. You can change the interlock of the elbows.

And then hands and knees, lift the chest. And there, see? We forgot all about those hard poses. Let's come up. I'm going to suggest using a strap unless you have a very easy grab of your forward leg.

We're going to be doing a straight leg hold. And our first side, we'll take the left side first and bring the strap underneath the foot. We use two hands for this. First, like we did in the backbends earlier in our earlier practice, sacrum and tailbone down, and then we'll extend the leg. We lift up out of the body.

Two things happening here, primary things. I'm stretching the left leg into the hold of the strap, and I'm pulling my arms to help anchor the leg in its socket. And then bend the knee and rest. We'll do the second side. Right leg, cradled by the strap.

Bring the leg up. And before you stretch out the leg, sacrum and tailbone down, that helps me get the strong power in the body from which I can extend the leg. I'm pressing down through the standing leg to help give me the lift in the torso. And do hunt for these things. Do feel you have that space in the body.

Remember that's really what we're aiming at in these asana poses, the ability to feel and open up that space. And bring it down. And we'll take a rest. We'll add on to that pose with a little rotation. Left leg is up.

We'll start just like before and extend the leg, sacrum and tailbone down. And now we'll pass the strap only to the right hand. Here's our challenge. I stay nice and tall in torso, turning over that left leg. Here would be a wonderful pose to be practicing at the wall.

If it's something you're unfamiliar with, always great to get that support to feel these actions in the body rather than struggle against the balance. Let's do the second side, right leg up. Starting from the beginning, anchor down with the standing leg, sacrum and tailbone down. Passing the strap to the left hand. All right.

Our challenge is to turn the torso. We'll unfurl the right arm, maybe. There we go. Couple more seconds. This is definitely my challenge side for balance.

There it is. We'll come down and rest. Let's put the strap away. Those are great challenging poses for the core. We've earned ourselves a good rest.

So we'll take wide leg forward fold and let the body cool down for just a minute. Folding forward. Let's get a nice strong foundation with the heels and strong legs. And gently and slowly we'll start coming into forward fold. You can rest your elbows on the ground.

If you want blocks under the head, all of that is great to use right now, whatever supports you need so that you can rest the body for just a few breaths. Few more breaths. And this wide legged forward fold, prasarita paratanasana. And we'll come back up, pause in the pre-pose, and then heel, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe. We come up.

In previous practice we started working on our crow pose, and as we're doing some nice core work here, I thought it would be nice to add that in, but we're going to go a little bit more quickly into the pose, bhakasana, crow pose. We'll take the hands to the floor and raise the heels up high to project the knees. Can you see that? The knees coming up high into the backs of the arms, and then I can just pause and sit here for a minute, contemplate what's to come. I'll lift the buttocks up nice and high and really anchor those knees into the armpits.

Start by leaning the body weight forward until you feel there's a possibility of light, light toes, and then landing gear comes up. And I hold for three, two, and one, feet down, let's unfurl, come up, let the body breathe for a moment. Remember, you can do this single leg lifting if you're still practicing your crow pose. We'll do one more here and challenge this wonderful pose. Hands on the floor, heels up nice and high, and turn the tips of those elbows back, sit down for just a moment.

This time just a slight variation on the theme. I'm going to bend the left elbow a little bit more and wedge that elbow back. See how high that knee is up on the arm now? Right arm, a little bend of the elbow, bring the hand back. And now, like vice grips, my legs strongly from the center are holding my body, tip forward, and up we come.

So my legs are pinching the arms, holding there steady from the core. And then come down, bring it up, we'll let the body breathe for a moment. Standing forward fold, ragdoll, and then from here, feet together, and come down into a squatting position, heels up high. This will be just an introduction for side crow. We'll take the arms over 90 degrees to the side, and using my elbow, I'm going to gently press the legs backward behind me to begin to turn the body.

A couple more times, turn, lift and turn the abdomen. And then, wedging that elbow against those legs, I hold them back that way, place the hands. I just lift up a little bit, bend those elbows, or just practicing a little bit of leaning the body weight to that side. That's all we're going to do before you know it will be hovering off inside crow. There it is.

We'll straighten the legs, just to recover for a moment, and then second side. Come down, and I'll turn to the side so you can see. Legs together, heels up nice and high, nice and high. We'll bring the body over 90 degrees or so to the side. We want to lift and turn, lift and turn several times.

I'm going to use my left elbow to help wedge the legs back behind me that way. Then when I feel I've got a good twist, I'll plant the arms, and I'm going to hold my elbow against my legs. All we're doing for this round is just feeling what it's like to tip, feel how that core starts to engage. We'll tip two more times, and come back, and one more. What you're hunting for is just that feeling that, my gosh, my toes are getting lighter.

There's a possibility they could lift. We'll get there soon, and then we'll undo, let the legs go. One more time, a ragdoll. Release the arms to the floor, we'll bend the knees, and step into a plank pose. From here, we'll be working on what we've worked on before for side plank, but we're going to go right into the full plank.

We'll turn onto the right side, remember our work with the toes here, we're going to work the foot into the ground, and lift, and we're in full Vasisthasana. Top arm can come up if you're feeling that freedom, and then come down and rest, hands and knees. And again, we'll come into plank pose. Turning open to the other side, I'll roll the outer left foot on the ground, and work the sole of the foot down. That acts to give these muscles a good charge, and I stack the legs.

Top arm is up if you feel you have the freedom to do that, and we're holding for three, two, and one, coming down. Let's come to the knees for a second and give a rest, and we'll roll the hands, roll the wrists. The wrists will build up strength over time as we keep practicing here. Round two of side plank, we're going to add to it. Come into your plank, turning onto the outer right foot, and rolling again, the foot down in the ground.

So here we can stack the legs to begin, and now we're going to make the top leg like tree as we build more and more height and power into the pose. If you have the freedom to lift the top arm, please do, and let's fully open the body for three, two, and one, coming down, onto the knees for a rest, move the wrists as you need. And final pose in our side plank series, plank, turning onto the outer left foot, sole of the left foot working for the ground, two legs on top of one another, working into that tree pose feeling, and use those left hip muscles to lift. Top arm up, if it's available to you, let's hold for three, two, and one. Come down, definitely a child's pose.

Let's rest it out together, or perhaps, if you're feeling up for it while we rest, you can do a couple more on your own. With the body recovered, we'll come up into a sitting position, and we'll carry forward with the work that we're doing. We did a lot of practice in Navasana boat pose in previous sessions together. We're going to take it to full boat pose today. We'll start by getting a nice long spine, feeling that deep inner support, and bring the feet off the ground.

We'll leave the hands on the ground for the first one, and extend the legs, holding, five, four, three, two, rest. Take a pause. If full Navasana isn't happening for you today, remember you have the work that we've been doing previously, single leg, all great opportunities to work into these poses. We'll take it back again, fingers on the floor, lift the legs. Hands up now, full boat pose, Paripurna Navasana, five, four, three, two, and we're resting.

A little secret to Navasana, to corkscrew the legs inwardly. We're not going to let the heels separate way out to the side, but that inward spiral of the legs helps connect very deeply to the core muscles. We'll draw it back. Legs hover, arms to lift the chest, inward spiral of the legs as you extend for five, four, three, two, and rest. Strong poses.

Here we'll drop back slowly towards Arda Navasana. In this position, walk the heel bones out, and this is where we'll stay with the legs, and then slowly, with a deep round curve in the back, coming down to touch the waistband. Three, two, and let's go to the floor for our rest. A little pause, breathing, and bend the knees. We'll turn to the side, come up for one more version of Arda Navasana.

Start with the hands at the shins to help us support our way down, so we're learning to roll bone by bone into the mat. Walk the heels out, nice strong steady legs, and then we're rolling back away from there. We're rolling the pelvis back first, first, first, holding, three, two, release. And bending the knees, come up. We can take a little pause here in cross legs to relax the back, relax the abdomen.

Rolling up, easy twist, and easy twist, and then to center. Let's lie down on the back for the last two core poses. Our first will be arms alongside, knees into chest to start, then extending the legs straight up to the air. Our work here is to connect from the pubic bone to the navel to the lower floating ribs so that you feel well connected to the abdominal wall and that the lumbar is supported. I'm going to unsupport myself right now so you can see lumbar went way up into the air.

That's what we're going to prevent with these strong abdominal muscles. Arms alongside, legs up, find that connection from pubic bone to navel to chest. We'll start by taking an inhale as we reach the legs away, but all that awareness right into the abdomen and find your distance, exhale, come back up, inhale, go down, exhale, come back up, inhale, remember that inward spiral of the legs, exhale, come back up. And one more secret tip to this work that we're doing right now, the stronger you have the legs, the more energy you have reaching out of the legs, the better the work will be. If you let the legs bend, the core won't be able to hold on.

Just a couple more, inhale, reaching, exhale, return, inhale, reaching, exhale, return, and here comes the last one, inhale, exhale, and let down. I'll give you a little secret tip, if that was quite challenging for you, what you can do like we've been doing in bridge pose, you can hold onto the mat and push your arms to straight which gives an automatic curl and hold for the abdominal work that we're doing. If you're feeling that that first round was very doable for you, we can take the arms overhead for the next round. We'll bring the legs into the chest, find your connection in the abdominal area, legs up, and then inhale, reach, exhale, return, inhale, steady lumbar, low back, exhale, return, inhale, exhale. Three more, inhale, exhale, two, and last one.

And rest, bring the arms in, let's give ourselves a little hug around the knees. And then arms out to the sides. We worked a little bit with this pose in earlier practices and we'll start here with one leg up, left leg, and the other tucked in toward the chest. I'm going to be aiming my left foot towards my right hand, I take a deep breath in, exhale, and turn through the pelvis, through the lumbar, as though I were to sit my left foot in my right hand, three, two, and one, and come out. Second side, right leg up, nice strong charged little leg with energy, inhale, and exhale to turn, three, two, and one, come out, knees bend, rest your feet.

Now we have an opportunity to take both legs into the pose. You've got that single leg version, if that would be better for you. We'll take the knees into the chest, arms are alive with energy, legs alive with energy. Remember we're aiming the feet as though to set right into the right hand, so they're not way away, they're held in tight. Big breath in, exhale, let's take the legs up and over towards that right hand, and we'll hold for three, two, and one, legs up, give yourself a hug, strong challenging pose.

And arms out, second side, legs up, big breath in, draw the legs a little bit more over the eyes and turning to the second side. And we're holding for three, two, and one, coming out, bend your knees, give yourself a nice hug. We did a lot of strong core exercises today, it's time to take a nice unwinding set of poses to settle the body down. Let's start just by releasing the legs down, separating the legs about mat width and a slow easy rock left and right. And then coming to center, pelvic tilts where you gently rock the pelvis towards you, away from you, towards you, away from you, a couple more.

And this is all releasing work, there's not meant to be a lot of challenging muscular work with this, just nice easy rocking. And then we'll extend the right leg down, left knee into chest, you can assist the leg across you, easy twist, nothing too deep. And coming back and second side, left leg down, right leg up, easy twist. We'll pause here with legs crossed, relaxing on your back, this helps open up the hip joints and hip flexors, abdominal muscles, letting the body cool down. From here we'll bring the knees up and together, turn to the side and come up.

We're going to take a couple of restorative poses to help really calm the nervous system and finishing in Sarasana. I'm going to recommend a bolster if you happen to have one, if not a couple folded blankets folded long ways and stacked on top of one another will work perfectly. We'll start with a bolster of blankets right about in the middle of the mat and we'll come up onto the edge of the bolster and lie down. At this point you can see my shoulders are off the yoga mat, we're going to make a little shift by sliding over the front edge of that bolster and curling or coiling the back until the shoulders come down. Right onto the floor, so you want to feel the weight of the body really coming down onto those shoulders.

You feel the nice openness in the chest and we're going to stay right here for just a few minutes to let the body adjust to this openness. Closing your fingers, if you feel like closing your eyes, you can do that. It's a great opportunity to start calming down the legs and arms as we're heading to Sarasana next. Here we want to really let that abdomen be soft and descend toward the floor. Now offer a little bit more depth in the pose if you'd like to, like we've been doing in our Sarasana is we can extend the legs almost to fully straight and then a little gentle push in the heels to elongate the body toward the head a little bit and that further helps relax the abdomen.

Then I slowly scrape the legs to their full length and now I'm in a supported bridge pose. Just a mild supported bridge and I am going to keep the feet a little active in this pose and draw them toward midline with the legs in midline and that gentle pressure that we've done with the heels. You can feel a nice long softening elongation all the way through the core of the body. See if you can pick up on that in your body. And as we've been doing in some of the backbend work, you might recall the sacrum and tailbone rolling toward the heels.

That's exactly what we're creating with that heel pressure and of course the lift and lengthening of the front of the body. And then we'll bend the knees, do an easy lift of the hips to take out the bolster. And if you can do it without coming up into sitting using your legs, we can set up the bolster for our final shavasana so that the calves and the heels are resting on the bolster. If you need to come up to sitting to adjust that, you can do that as well. We'll take just a minute to gently move the skin of the buttocks towards the backs of the knees, a little tuck of the shoulders, and now we can fully release the legs.

Let your chest open, your abdomen to be soft. Getting the energy out of the legs and arms, and we'll just take a few minutes in silence. Okay.


Jenny S
2 people like this.
So this was a challenge for me...abdominals always are. But I just listened to your soothing voice and kind of zoned out, and made my way carefully through the hard work and towards the restorative poses. Feeling stronger in body and spirit 💥
Nathan Briner
Jenny, I have to admit that the abdominal work is tough for me too. Don't let my soothing voice fool you in the video :D, I am definitely winded. Thank you for sharing your experience. Always good to hear from you.
Kate M
2 people like this.
Your voice is not only soothing, as Jenny points out, but also very encouraging! And no sense of "judgement". Very sweet core practice. Thank you!
Christel B
1 person likes this.
Just love the challenge of this session like the side
bakasana and side planks with variations. Definitely makes me feel like I'm building up strength.
Julie D
1 person likes this.
wowee - love your teaching will be doing more of your videos Nathan, your voice just switches off my mind .
Janet L
Thank you Nathan it was a lovely practice. :)
Lorrie B
1 person likes this.
Wonderful! I keep thinking of myself as a "beginner", but Nathan is teaching me that I'm evolving. So happy that I can keep up with the pace and am "feeling" each pose the way it's intended. Wonderful instruction, Nathan, I am so grateful for your teaching method. 
Nathan Briner
Awesome! Thanks Lorrie 
Catherine R
1 person likes this.
Such an enjoyable practice! Your guidance makes everything seem easy!
Nathan Briner
Thank you Catherine :) 
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