Monday, April 1, 2013
Friday, March 29, 2013
The Role of the Abdominal Muscles in Yoga
by Carmela Cattuti, LPN, CYT
The function of the abdominal muscles in yoga has always been nebulous. Yoga teachers often refer to the abdominal muscles as the “core.” Traditionally, the core refers to the solar plexus (area above the navel and below the chest). During the early infiltration of yoga into the west teachers rarely referenced the abdominal muscles. As yoga practitioners and teachers, it helps to have a working knowledge of these muscles physically and energetically.
The human body has three sets of abdominal muscles: the rectus abdominis, the obliques, and the transverse. The rectus abdominis is the outermost muscle and it runs up and down the abdominal area. This is the muscle people generally think of as the abdominal muscle. It supports our lower back when practicing yoga. There are internal and external obliques. The external obliques run downward from the rib cage to the pelvis; the internal obliques are underneath the external from the pelvis to the rib cage. These muscles are important in forward bends, side bends, and twists. The transverse abdominal muscle is the innermost abdominal muscle. It runs straight across the back and the abdomen like a girdle. This muscle supports the organs and holds everything in place. This is the muscle we want to contact while practicing yoga. It is actually our core. It supports our structure and needs to last a life time. These muscles need to be flexible and strong. The abdominal muscles are a major player in yoga and in order to develop a sustainable practice our abdominal muscles need to fully participate.
During the 1980s there was little talk of the abdominal area when yogis practiced. It was either about alignment or yoga was a transcendent spiritual practice with little consideration of form. In the west, yoga was about the exterior and how we moved our arms and legs and ascending through our crown. Awareness of the abdominal muscles started to enter yogis' practice during the mid 1990s. Practitioners began to move from the inside out and to create shapes based on inner energy, allowing it to flow outward. Moving from the inside out means a deep awareness of the abdominal muscles so that we not only move safely in and out of postures, but we also access our core energy. This focus brings us closer to who we are and it is reflected in our practice, making our postures an organic flow. If we do not move in this manner then our solar plexus becomes congested and prevents us from accessing our innate wisdom on how to move for our bodies.
The most significant advantage for practitioners to develop a practice where the abdominals are major players is the opening of the heart. The more awareness we have of the abdominals the more the heart is supported and can blossom while practicing. If we only focus on our limbs then our connection to our heart is distant. Of course, we need to have balanced alignment while in postures, but once we become familiar with our core and know how to use it for our practice, then our heart can expand and we can hear its wisdom. When we do this then our practice becomes organic and we follow the heart, while accessing the power of the abdominal muscles.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013