By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Is Yoga for shaping and strengthening the core muscles realistic? Hatha Yoga practitioners benefit physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually from many different Yogic techniques (poses, breathing exercises, and meditation, etc). One of the physical benefits experienced by Yoga practitioners is the shaping and strengthening of the core muscles. Yoga for shaping and strengthening, in turn, helps to maintain correct posture and prevents heart-related conditions from developing. Shaping the core muscles is not about developing a six-pack to show off. It is, instead, about developing a healthy physique, as a result of taking care of the body.
Practicing Yoga for shaping the body makes sense. There are a variety of Yoga poses that specifically target the core muscles. Practiced over time, these asanas help to shape and strengthen these muscles, providing additional benefits, as a result of a strong central body core. Most Yoga asanas, whether they are twists, balancing poses, inversions, or standing poses, contribute to strengthening the abdominal muscles. A strong core leads to more stability, balance, and fluidity in body movement. Additionally, shaping and strengthening the core muscles also help with digestion and elimination, since defined, strong core muscles provide better support to the abdominal organs and the spine.
Since core muscles include the diaphragm, the abdominal muscles, and the pelvic floor, a session to shape the entire core needs to include asanas that target each of the areas. It is easy to focus on just the abdominal muscles and on the rectus abdominis, in particular, since this is the one area responsible for the desired six-pack. However, the other abdominal muscles are actually just as important.
Postures of Hatha Yoga for Shaping
Some asanas target more than one muscle. Boat pose, for example, focuses on the entire core, shaping and strengthening. Inverted poses, such as headstand, handstand, and shoulder stand, all target the abdominal muscles, when the legs are lifted and lowered. The Bharadvaja’s Twist works all core muscles and encourages digestion. In addition, this and other twists target the oblique muscles, which facilitate side-to-side movement. Triangle pose and Warrior Pose II target the obliques and the transversal abdominis, which is the deepest abdominal muscle. Core muscles also help to create stability in the torso and spine. The breathing exercises in Yoga (pranayama techniques) help to shape the core, since they include motions that result in a stronger diaphragm.
Practicing Yoga, correctly, shapes a stronger core, which leads to correct posture, reduction of back pain or complete elimination of pain in the back. A strong core also helps the Yoga practitioner to remain heart healthy, since it maintains the waistline in correct proportion to the rest of the body.
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