Below are a few examples you can practice to connect to your 5 Crucial Core Functions. Once you have a clear experience of how to tap into these functions and movements on their own, you can access them in your daily life (as well as sports and exercise) for a dynamic, fluid, healthy core.
It's important to make space and length in your torso for the health of what's inside it and to support common goals like good posture, healthy spines and strong abdominals. Let's practice finding length through axial elongation.
Take a comfortable seat with your legs supported. You should feel you can sit on the center of your sitz bones (or ishcial tuberosities) with the natural curves of your spine in tact. (If you are stuck in a rounded position in your lumbar spine or lower back try putting some extra padding under your pelvis like a folded blanket or yoga block). Now imagine the plumb line of your torso or a center axis that runs from the crown of your head to the center of your pelvis. Hold on to this sense of center while you work.
Inhale and lengthen along your center line feeling the crown of your head reach towards the ceiling and the center of your pelvis reach towards the floor.
Exhale and draw your navel gently toward your spine to wrap around and support your length. Hold on to the length you have gained and add to it with your next inhale.
Repeat eight times growing longer and longer while increasing support with each breath. While your torso will elongate the neutral curvature of your spine should not change or shift.
Scooping and stability compliment each other. We will focus on the scoop here and stability a little later, but realize you are utilizing both.
Knee folds -Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat, hip socket distance apart, and your spine in neutral. As you begin your exhale draw your abdominals in towards your plumb line and the up slightly. As you continue your exhale fold your right knee over your right hip without loosing your abdominal scoop and maintaining a long neutral spine. Inhale your right foot back to the floor. Repeat to the left with your next exhale.
Continue alternating right and left. Use your hands to help you listen to what your core is up to. Try a few with your hands resting on your abdomen. Feel your abdominals draw in and up. Notice if your ribs want to splay or compress.
Then try a few making a triangle with your thumbs and forefingers. Place your hands under your pelvis framing your tailbone with that triangle. (Your fingers should stick out below your glutes). Keep the weight of your pelvis centered in your hands by using your abdominal scoop and engaging your core. Notice if your pelvis wants to roll right or left, tuck under towards your thumbs or over arch towards your fingertips.
3. All Planes Movements
Your core articulates your spine into flexion (rounding your back), extension (arching your back), side bending, and rotation. You will need to keep your plumb line in your mind's eye here too!
Flexion and Extension
Start on hands and knees with your hands right underneath your shoulders and your knees directly underneath your hips. Elongate your center axis in both directions with your spine in neutral.
On an exhale, keep your arms straight as you round your head and tail towards the ground and you curl your waist band up towards the sky. This is spinal flexion. Draw your belly in and up, hugging your organs to your spine.
Inhale and arch your head and tail towards the sky making an even arch from skull to sacrum. This is spinal extension.
Continue with your breath for several rounds. Notice which parts of your spine don't like to move at all and which parts like to move more than their share. Try to initiate both flexion and extension from a very active and supported center, moving evenly through your whole spine. Avoid sinking into you shoulders by maintaining width across your collar bones in both positions. Feeling really advanced? Do this while hovering your knees 1 inch off the ground, keeping your thighs still.
Side-bending with one leg extended
Return to your neutral quadruped with a long center line. Keeping your center line long and stable, extend your right leg back and tuck your toes under as though you were doing a plank. Stand strong through your right leg and check that your rib cage and pelvis are square to the floor. Maintain your position from the waist down and side bend by arcing the top of your head to the left. Find a long connection from your right heel, along the right side seam of your body to the crown of your head. Keeping your hips stable, pass through center and exhale to side bend to the right. Repeat 3 more times with the right leg extended and then switch to do 4 rounds on the left.
Note: It can be tempting, or even go unnoticed, that your spine will sneak into a small twist, flexion or extension while you are side bending. Imagine your torso is stuck between two planes of glass (one above and one below) while you work and you don't want to touch either as you move. As in flexion and extension, stay active in your reach out through your long leg as well as elongating your center in both directions. (See six limbs for more on this idea.)
For this exercise you need a yoga block. Lie on your back with your knees bent and spine in neutral. Bring your legs to table top position and place the yoga block long ways between your shins. Place your arms long beside you with your palms firmly connected to the ground and your collar bones wide.
Inhale to rotate your pelvis to the right unit your knees are even with your right shoulder or about 30 degrees. Keep your knees even, so one does not appear shorter than the other, as you squeeze the block. Maintain length through both sitz bones and your pubic bone as you twist.
Exhale as you bring your legs back to center. Inhale your pelvis and legs 30 degrees to the left and exhale back to center. Repeat for 10 sets.
If you feel your abdominals uncontrollably bunch or cannot keep the connection between your palms, shoulders and the ground, try lessening the amount you are rotating. Length and neutral spine are just as important here too!
4. Slow it down
Momentum is a great way to cheat your core out of good ol' hard work. (Don't get me wrong- command of momentum also features your core in some of it's most powerful moments.) Slow down your movements so you can notice your patterns, your tendencies and the good work you are doing. Moving slowly allows you to perfect your form. Then, once you are clear and ready, add speed when it's appropriate to the movement or goal you are training.
The 10 Count Roll Up
We are using literal seconds to time this one. If you are a speed demon, grab your watch, with a second hand, and a buddy. Your goal is to take the entire 10 seconds to roll up and another 10 seconds to roll down. No accelerating, no decelerating, no chopping with your arms or legs -- just slow, strong control.
Lie flat on your back with your legs extending and your arms reaching up to the sky directly over your shoulders. Inhale to elongate your plumb line in preparation. Keep the length in your plumb line as you exhale, nod and curl into your upper abdominal curl. Continue exhaling as you roll up through your spine to a seated position, bending your knees if you need. Keep your heels on the ground and your arms stable in front of your shoulders the whole way. Inhale in your seated position. Exhale as you roll back down, starting with your pelvis, rolling through your torso until you are long on the floor in your start position. It is helpful to count out loud!
No movements. No micro movements. This means that all of the spinal movements you found above disappear. Let's practice stabilizing in neutral today but remember you want to also be able to stabilize in flexion and extension.
For this exercise you will need a physio ball. Begin on your knees on a mat and place your elbows and forearms on top of the ball making a fist with your hands.
Step your feet and legs back into a plank position with your feet wider than hip distance. Hold your core still, elongating your center axis as you draw circles with your elbows 5 times in each direction. If this feels too hard and you cannot stabilize your spine, try the same thing with your knees down. If this feels too easy step your feet closer together.