What is the core?
Our core muscles go well beyond the six-pack abs of the rectus abdominus, in fact our core muscles are a group of about 10 muscles that surround the spine, front and back. Our core muscles stabilise the spine and pelvis and provide the power and strength for much of our movement. We often associate the core muscles with our abs, but the core consists of our back muscles, muscles in the pelvis, the hip flexors and also our glutes.
Core strength improves our posture, alleviates back pain and helps to protect the back from injury – both in and out of our yoga class. Prolonged sitting, poor posture and pregnancy can all contribute to a weakened core.
Our yoga practice provides a great opportunity to strengthen our core muscles. Core strength also provides the platform for many of the advanced yoga poses. You will often hear your teacher say ‘engage your core’ as a cue to support your spine or pelvis. You may also hear your teacher say ‘engage your bandhas’.
What are bandhas?
The ‘core’ of core strength are our bandhas – mula, uddiyana, jalandhara. They act as the base, the middle and the ‘lid’ of the core, retaining prana or life force energy. A bandha refers to the coactivation or contraction of muscle groups to provide a lock or seal and bandhas are used in yoga to stabilise, strengthen, energise and increase stillness and awareness of the body. We have three major bandhas which correspond to our three diaphragms:
Mula bandha – located at the base of the spine at the pelvic diaphragm – aka pelvic floor. Mula bandha is performed by drawing up from your pelvic floor to engage the base of your core. It is experienced as an uplift and a hold of that lift. Mula banda is the foundation for core strength and should be engaged in all standing poses (think the warriors), balance poses, down dog and any poses that target the core such as plank and chatturanga.
Uddiyana bandha – located just above the navel, beneath the respiratory diaphragm. Uddiyana bandha is performed by drawing the navel in to the spine and then up. It is a sense of lifting up to support the spine and to draw prana up from your base. Uddiyana bandha is engaged in most asanas of a vinyasa practice.
Jalandhara bandha – located at the throat, corresponding to our vocal diaphragm. Jalandhara bandha is performed by drawing the chin towards the chest. It represents the lid of our core and protects the cervical spine in our practice.
When all three bandhas are activated it is called tri-bandha or maha bandha and acts as a great seal of energy in the body.
Image credits – Yoga with Jib