Core Strength Exercises To Get Your Center Back

06/23/2011 09:05 am ET | Updated Aug 23, 2011

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As the founder of a style of yoga called Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, I'm always intrigued by questions about center. One topic that seems to come up again and again is how frustrated new moms (or those currently pregnant ... or anyone, really) are about re-finding their "core."

It's not that we ever really lose it, the way we do a pair of keys, but it can sure as hell seem as impossible to find sometimes.

I've got some tips that might surprise you for regaining your core strength more quickly, since in the new view of anatomy, the old version of what the core is can be thrown out like, um, the baby with the bathwater.

When working with your core before and after having a baby -- or if you are simply a student seeking your center -- it will serve you best if, instead of an obsessive fixation on working the abdominal wall (which some people have had turned into shredded wheat through the birthing process or surgery), you direct your attention to a deeper muscle, the psoas (so-as).

It's the only muscle that bridges the legs to the spine and is an immense -- and usually untapped -- source of power. The psoas weaves from each upper, inner/back thighbone, across the front of your hips and then dives back behind the abdominal and reproductive organs (and baby!) as it runs up the sides of the lower back spine.

This muscle, or, more specifically, these muscles (one for each leg) are crucial for you to know about if you want to stop messing around and get truly core strong. An added benefit is that when you recruit your deeper muscles in addition to your outer ones, you will heat up faster, raise your metabolism and torch more calories, too!

In my classes, I cue psoas spinal stabilization as "Move the front of your low back spine in and up while keeping your outer abdominal muscles available for breath," to do what the core should: safely keep the lumbar spine from over-curving; maintain proper pelvic alignment; and provide you with the ability to keep your abdominal wall more resilient for breathing, moving and baby.

When you take a deeper look at the core -- past the abdominal muscles which act as supporting players to the deeper core muscle meridians close to the spine -- you'll find main actors like the psoas, the quadratus lumborum (a twin to the psoas from the back of your hips to the ribcage) and the pelvic diaphragm, or bowl of muscles inside your pelvic bones at the base.

You can work all three of these muscles to gain incredible, centered stability and cause a sweet release of lower back tension -- all without overworking the abs which can potentially compress the spine, the uterus and your digestion tract, as well as freeze your breathing.

To see this in action, cough all your air out, then hold your abdominal muscles tight -- "navel to spine" as people often say. Then try to breathe or move. Exactly.

We need the abs -- also the breathing muscles -- to be flexible as well as strong, not shut down and taking over for our inner body power.

If you're a new mom or are pregnant now and you have a nagging feeling that just burning your outer abs might not be the most effective way to create the inner strength you seek, or effectiveness in your breath or poses, you're right. When you spend time working from this more external place only, you miss out on a whole world beyond it can serve you more powerfully, and allow you to reach your goal of inner strength and outer freedom.

Here's one of my signature Core Poses, a move to show you the difference between superficial and deeper core strength pre-baby, post-baby or no baby, so that you can regain psoas action and all of the benefits it brings.

For a longer Core Strength Sequence, try my Psoas Flow here.

Note: If you are pregnant, go easy on any pose to avoid overstretching, compressing or twisting into the belly. Make your yoga practice more subtle at center until you give birth.

Pointed Plank


Come into Plank Pose, place your knees down slightly behind your hips (this isn't a Hands and Knees Cat/Cow position), and point your toes. Maintaining shoulders over wrist alignment, and pressing your knees into the earth, aim to lift the front of your lower back spine up toward the lower back. This will naturally lengthen your tailbone and pull up the front top hip crests.

Keep this action as you try to allow the abdominal wall to expand with the inhales and tone with the exhales. Usually, the inhale will be the hardest part. If this feels fine, try lifting your knees and doing the full variation .

Breathe here for five to 10 breaths, and on the last exhale, lift from your front spine and transition into Down Dog once again without over-curving or straining your lower back.

Repeat this one to three times and then rest in wide-knee Child's Pose -- or Hands and Knees moving back towards Child's Pose as far as your baby belly will allow -- swaying your hips gently side to side.