Hint: It’s not all about abs.

I studied classical yoga for a decade. Then I discovered true core strength.

Core strength is widely misunderstood to be solely about the abs. However, the holistic idea of core is made up of several things: an anatomy concept, a psycho-spiritual sensation of feeling clear, centered, and empowered, and a direct experience within your physical body.

If you have it, you feel like a superhero on the yoga mat, and in all aspects of life. You not only lighten up in some yoga poses, but you also have healthier relationships with others.

So, when I mention “true” core strength, I not only mean the outer casing of your abdominal wall, but also your deeper lumbar spinal stabilizers, internal pelvic strength and resilience, and the ability to draw power into each of these central areas.

Classical yoga training

Classical yoga training is amazing in some ways, and deficient in others. It focuses a lot on alignment, but not so much on anatomy.

It doesn’t take long for you to end up with some sub-par instructions, such as moving into poses like you were encased in a body cast, instead of in organic ways that activate more muscles across more joints, in a safe and efficient way.

Where classical alignment and contemporary anatomy diverge, I will show you the way your body needs and wants to move. In order to do this, here are two things you need to know.

1. Think of core strength as a dance, not a dictatorship.


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When approaching a core transformation, remember your yoga philosophy. Particularly, sthira-sukha, a duality of stillness-movement, strength-ease, hugging in, and expressing out. This is a foundational concept for yogis that applies to the core.

Did you know that there is hardly any research that shows that strengthening your abdominal muscles helps relieve lower back pain? In fact, because of the way activating your abs acts on the front lumbar and the effect it has on the back lumbar and sacrum, it can cause more lumbar/sacroiliac joint pain and strain.

As you approach any yoga move, think stability. But, along with this must be its opposite: mobility. Try tightening all your abs, as if you just coughed, hold them like that, and try to inhale—you can’t, much. Now, try moving into any yoga pose like this, and you’ll find that you are shorter, compressive in the spine, and over time, locked out of full expression and range of joint motion.

2. Bring power to your psoas.


There is no core strength without this secret, subtle, and amazing muscle. The psoas (so-as) runs from your upper, inner thighbone, over your front pelvic crests, then dives behind your organs and spirals up your side lumbar spine.

It knits together with the legs of your breathing diaphragm, and is the only muscle that bridges your legs to your spine. When you activate it while standing tall, and without flexing your body, it can cause your pelvis to move into place, and spark your front lumbar to shore in and up a little.

This in return can protect your lower back curve from dumping forward, making you a lot taller in almost every asana. In fact, the psoas is part of a chain of muscles called the deep core line that decompresses your spine and joints.

So, when you hear things such as “move your front lumbar in and up a little”, pretend that you have kitty paws walking up the front spine. Draw it inward a little and upward to lighten up, and maintain a natural lumbar position. It’s just a little wave—one that makes all the difference in reclaiming your most profound core strength.

Give this workout a try.

Here’s a foundational deep and superficial core workout to get you started. You will warm up your muscles, and become stronger and more flexible as you move. This should amp up your benefits and give you about twice the calorie burn, muscle activation, healthy stretch, and cleansing than if you moved in more linear ways.

This yoga workout may be a little different than what you’ve done in the past, but I want you to go with the flow—this will help you develop long, lean muscles, instead of bound ones. Keep practicing this balance of stability-mobility, deep core activation, and pelvic root breathing—and you will become a powerhouse of inner and outer core strength.

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