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Summer of Core Day 25: Plank Till You Drop

The other day in class, I said “Ok, this plank is until failure.” I got some chuckles and groans, and later, reflecting on my language I realized that “failure” is not something we say in yoga class very often.

But it’s worth exploring a little bit. The “until failure” directive I must have picked up from my CrossFit friends talking about their WODs (Workout of the Day). And what it means is until you can’t do any more, that you are so tired, your muscles so fatigued, that another rep, another pushup, another pull up, or whatever the exercise, is not an option. That is totally CrossFit culture. Not so much in yoga.

In yoga we say, “listen to your body,” and “come to your edge.” That edge is when your body tells you that you are working to your limit but not going beyond it in a way that will cause your body harm. You are pushing yourself, but not falling over the cliff, so to speak. This is a way of taking care of yourself, feeling good about where you are, building body awareness and trying to avoid injury. These are all good things, and as someone who is as capable as the next person to practice negative self talk, being kind to myself and allowing myself to back off when I need to is empowering.

That said, planking “until failure” is another way of building empowerment. Testing how long you can hold your body in this challenging position while maintaining good form, strong breath and a keen awareness of the moment.

We’ve been going on this Summer of Core journey now for almost an entire month. If you’re practicing regularly, you should be feeling quite strong. The weekly plank test is one way to gauge your increased strength.

So today, we will plank until we drop, until our form falls apart and we need to rest. Maybe you’ll feel your shoulders sag, or your belly sink toward the ground. Maybe your arms will begin to tremble, or your breathing will become too labored to go on. Or maybe you’ll lose the engagement in your lower abs. Pay attention to all of this, and when it’s time to come out, come out and be proud of yourself for your hard work and dedication.

Now, go do your plank with a time, and let me know how it goes!

Happy planking!

~ Shoshana

 

Summer of Core Day 24: Mointain Pose/ Pelvic Floor Awareness

Happy Saturday (again)! Our last Saturday of Summer of Core!

Is it me, or has this month flown by? I hope that however fast August seems to have gone by for you that your core, at least, has been feeling like it’s been putting in some long hours!

Today, similar to last Saturday, we are going to be doing an exercise that can be done anywhere at any time: Mountain Pose, tadasana in Sanskrit.

For those of you who have been to my class, you know that I like to go through a long series of body awareness to get into a full Mountain Pose. After finding the feet and strength in the legs, we travel right up into our pelvic floor. But what is the pelvic floor?

pelvic_floor

Here’s an illustration of a female body, identifying the pelvic floor. Men have pelvic floor too!

In short, it’s the muscle that keeps everything from falling out.

Finding the pelvic floor, however, can be difficult. But there are a couple of ways:

  • Imagine you’re zipping up a tight pair of pants. Feel your low abs pull up and in, as if you’re lifting from the ground up.
  • Imagine wading into cold water. When it gets to your pelvic area, you cinch up.
  • It’s a similar feeling to retaining urine, though with less urgency!
  • Kegels! Kegels are a contraction and relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles. If you’ve done Kegel exercises before, you have worked your pelvic floor! To keep the pelvic floor engaged, don’t release, but continue to contract gently, feeling a subtle lift.

Hopefully, one of these ways will work for you. Remember that this is a subtle move. You should be able to keep your pelvic floor lifted and engaged while breathing, even with deep, yogic breath.

Moving into Mountain

  • Standing with your feet hip-width apart, close your eyes.
  • Imagine your feet rooting into the ground, forming your foundation.
  • Allow the ground to push up into your feet, drawing that energy up your legs.
  • Lift your kneecaps, engage your thighs.
  • And now lift the pelvic floor!
  • Feel your low, deep abs engage and lift, followed by a lifting throughout your entire spine.
  • Reach to the sky from the crown of your head.
  • Relax your shoulders down and back, away from your ears.
  • Stretch your arms long, reaching through your fingers, palms forward.
  • Draw your ears back in line with your shoulders.
  • Soften the muscles in your face, your jaw, your throat.
  • Pause and breathe.

Foundation for Everything

Mountain pose is a fundamental pose for all standing postures, and I like to bring a reminder into my classes to think about your posture and engagement in mountain pose in many other positions. It’s especially helpful in balancing positions, as the act of lifting from your center, getting long and stable, engaging your core and standing tall will give you a stronger ability to hold a balancing pose.

Do It All Day Long

So today, and for the rest of the weekend, take time to check in with your pelvic floor, while you’re washing dishes, or watching TV or reading a book, or sitting at a baseball game (which I will be doing later). Get used to that feeling and give yourself permission to bring it into a daily practice.

See you on Monday for our last three days of Summer of Core!

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 18: Core Everywhere

Happy Saturday!

Today’s core exercises is less an exercise and more an act of awareness. Saturdays can be busy, I know mine is, and it doesn’t always leave room for a regular yoga practice.Strong-Core-2

So for today, your goal is to be aware of your core throughout the day. That means, while you’re out doing your shopping, watching your kid’s soccer game, having drinks with friends, pause to mentally check in with your core.

As yourself:

  • Am I standing up tall with an engaged core?
  • When I’m sitting am I slumping or keeping my core strong?
  • Can I walk tall with my abs pulled in and up?

These are things to notice today. No self-judgment, no body shaming, no self-deprecation, just awareness of how you’re holding yourself and how you can use your core to improve your posture and stay strong throughout the day.

And if you do find some extra minutes to get in some deep core work, take another stab at your plank.

Have a great day!

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 16: Side Plank T-Flows

I made this one up. Well, I’m sure I picked some of it up somewhere. But I certainly made up the name. It’s not so much side plank as it is a chance to utilize your obliques in a new way.

Here’s Katy for a second day in a row demonstrating the move.

Thanks again Katy for being a wonderful model and dedicated student!

Let’s Do It

  • Begin in kneeling side plank with your right knee down and left arm to the sky.
  • Inhale, lift from your left arm so your right arm lifts off the ground and both arms form a “T”, palms facing down, arms out to the sides, torso stacked over hips.
  • Exhale, float your left hand to your left thigh. Reach your right arm straight up.
  • Inhale, extend toward the sky, stretching from your right knee through the whole right side of your body up to your finger tips.
  • Exhale, float your right arm back to the ground with control, left arm to the sky, returning to side plank.
  • Repeat this flow five to ten times. Switch sides.

Alignment Tune-Up

  • In kneeling side plank, make sure your bottom arm is stacked beneath your shoulders, so there’s a long, straight line running from your bottom hand through your chest and shoulders and up your lifted arm.
  • Bring your bottom knee directly under your bottom hip for optimal stability.
  • Extend your top leg straight out so the foot is in line with your bottom knee. You should feel like your body is in one singular plane.
  • Engage your extended thigh and keep your top hip lifted, core engaged.

Why Flow?

We primarily practice vinyasa yoga, meaning yoga that flows with the breath. It becomes a moving meditation, which can be very effective in clearing the mind and reducing stress from our hectic, daily lives.

“The Western world has become a seated society, which is why vinyasa yoga is so important: its orientation is breath and movement, and research shows that increased movement in a seated society is absolutely essential for health. Vinyasa yoga gets us moving.” ~ Eddie Modestini, renowned yoga instructor and student of BKS Iyengar and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

I hope that this flow and yesterday’s flow will get you moving today and you’ll find some joy and freedom in the practice.

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 14: Spinal Balance

Today’s pose, spinal balance, is one that takes core strength in the back muscles as well as the front for stability.


Spinal balance, dandayamna bharmasana in Sanskrit, is also known as balancing table in some yoga circles. It’s often called a beginner’s pose, but in my experience, it takes a lot of body awareness and control to execute and can be a challenge to hold.

I love using it as a warm-up, because it helps you get a feel for elongating your body while connecting to your core. In my classes I often incorporate it into a flow to get the breath linked to movement. But today, we are going to break down this pose and get into proper alignment for optimum benefit.

Let’s Do It

  • From hands and knees (use a blanket or a doubled-up mat under your knees if they’re sensitive), bring your belly button in towards your spine to firm your abs and flatten your back.
  • Keep your gaze at the ground and draw your shoulders away from your ears for length in your neck.
  • Extend your left leg behind you, keeping toes on the ground.
  • Press through your heel to strengthen your thigh and feel strong from hip to heel.
  • Inhale, lift your leg to hip height.
  • Extend your right arm forward, turning your palm to face in, your thumb to the sky.
  • Work to keep your hips level and your abs turned on as you breathe.
  • Hold for three to five breaths. Switch sides.

Options

  • Lift your leg only, not your arm if you feel unstable or wobbly. Work on your balance and strength from here.
  • If your wrists bother you, use fists for wrists or come to your forearms.

Fine-Tune the Alignment

In class, I often see students with concave backs, their bellies dipping toward the ground and their leg and arm coming higher than shoulder or hip height. To maximize the benefits of this pose:

  • Try to keep your leg at hip level.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged to support your back and keep it flat.
  • Lift your arm just to shoulder height.
  • Think about reaching out and back, creating length rather than height.
  • Keep your gaze at the ground, your neck long.

It can be helpful to have someone watch you and tell you when you are in proper alignment or to do this in front of a full-length mirror, though you may know my thoughts on mirrors and yoga.

As always, let me know if you have any questions, if anything’s not clear or if you just want to say hi!

Have a great time with this one. Come see me in class today at 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.!

~ Shoshana

 

 

Summer of Core Day 10: Side Plank Hip Dips

Hello and welcome to the 10th day of Summer of Core! Can you believe it?

Today we will build a little bit more on side plank by incorporating hip dips. Like the Hip Dips on straight plank we did on Day 2, this move isolates and works the obliques a little more and the exterior hip muscles.

Let’s Do It

  • Start in your version of side plank (on the knee, staggered/scissored feet, stacked feet).
  • Bring your top hand to your top hip to help you feel where that hip is going.
  • Inhale, lift the side of your top hip toward the sky.
  • Exhale, drop the side of your lower hip toward the ground.
  • Inhale to lift.
  • Repeat three full rounds to start. You can add reps if you need to.
  • Switch sides.

Points on Alignment

  • Bottom hand should be under your lower shoulder, your arm strong, hugging muscle to bone.
  • Keep your back flat, as if up against a wall.
  • Your top shoulder may want to dip toward the ground, try to keep it pulled back, isolating movement in your hips.
  • Kneeling side plank might feel a little awkward for this move. If you prefer that position, try to move slowly with full awareness on your hip alignment. You might also consider extending the bottom leg into a staggered stance for more optimum alignment.

Here’s a video demonstrating the dips with all modifications.

Thanks for staying with this! Let me know how it’s going or if you have any questions.

I’m teaching tomorrow morning and Saturday morning at Soul, and we will practice this week’s moves in class. Check my Schedule for class times.

~ Shoshana

Summer of Core Day 9: Side Plank Flow

Welcome to Day 9!

I hope you’re hanging in there with me. Noticing any changes in your body?

Today, we’re adding a twisting flow to Side Plank by threading the top arm underneath the bottom arm.

This move severely targets the obliques, as well as your balance, your breath and your mental focus.

Thank you Nancy Frey for demonstrating all the options for today’s flow! Nancy teaches at Soul at 9 a.m. on Sundays, and she does private instruction as well.

Options

  • Start with your bottom knee on the ground, directly under your hip. Swing your foot off the mat, pivoting on your knee.
  • Stagger your feet for a little more stability. Keep your legs strong, thighs engaged.
  • Stack your feet so your top foot rests on the bottom foot and you are balancing on the edge of the bottom foot.
  • Extend your top leg. This can be done in any of the lower leg positions. It adds strengthening to the top hip and thigh, as well as an increased challenge for your balance.

Breathe

Let your breath control this flow. Move slowly, working with a complete inhale and a complete exhale to complete one round. The slower you go, the more you’ll be able to feel the crunch of the tuck when you bring your top arm under your bottom arm, and you can use a powerful end to your exhale to get into your diaphragm and intercostals deeper into your frame.

Take five full rounds, using your breath, on each side. Rest in child’s pose.

~ Shoshana