1) By focusing on your breath or Pranayama, you can increase the efficiency and capacity of your diaphragm. By using your diaphragm more effectively, the abdominal muscles surrounding the diaphragm can better support your inhales and exhales. Your rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, transverse abdominis, intercostals, and pelvic floor muscles all work together to move the breath in and out of the body.
2) One word: Chaturanga. Done correctly with proper alignment, Chaturanga Dandasana, or four-limbed staff pose, is great for strengthening your core, shoulders and back muscles. Ask your teacher before or after class to help make sure your Chaturanga has correct alignment to avoid any repetitive injuries. You can also watch this tutorial to help give you a 360 view of proper alignment. In your plank pose, make sure that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are stacked in the same line, your fingers are spread, and 10 knuckles are all pressing into the mat. The body weight is distributed evenly between the feet and hands. If you can't hold plank, lower your knees to the floor instead. You can still build core strength while on your knees, and you won't hurt your back or shoulders in the process. From plank, come down half-way until your elbows are at shoulder height, and then lift forward and up by straightening your arms to find your Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, or upward facing dog.
3) Yoga takes the emphasis off of what your core looks and instead shifts the focus to what your core can DO. This change in perspective helps you recognize the strength you already have so you can draw from it to move forward in your practice.
4) Arm balances require huge core strength! Practicing challenging poses like crow or handstand will help you build your core muscles, and in time the poses will get much easier for you to explore regularly.
5) Your core is not separate from the rest of your body: everything is connected in a fantastically complex system of movement. By having a regular yoga practice, you will strengthen the muscles surrounding, connecting and supporting the abdominals and give them the support and structure they need to work together efficiently.
6) Yoga can be a fun and enjoyable way to get exercise! You don’t have to do a million crunches in the gym to get flat abs. Try core power yoga, hot yoga or a fast vinyasa flow class to get your core fired up instead of your traditional sit-up routine.
7) Twisting poses can increase the flexibility of your core by stretching the muscles in your waist, massaging the internal organs, and releasing toxins from your digestive system. Healthy digestion = healthy core.
8) All the systems in your body that are responsible for creating movement or locomotion (your neuromusculoskeletal system) receive a multitude of benefits from a regular yoga practice. By giving these systems a boost, you will, in turn, increase the efficiency of your core muscles and how they work together with the rest of your body.
9) Good posture requires core strength, but good posture builds it too. If you sit up straight and lengthen your spine all the way up, making sure your torso is in line over your pelvis, your core has to work harder to support your body in proper alignment. Slouching is not only bad for your back, it weakens your core as well.
10) Practicing yoga and moving mindfully can teach you how to work with your body, not against it. You realize having a healthy body is an amazing tool, and your core is one of the most valuable assets to a strong yoga practice!