Do you know how to engage your core in yoga? Or anywhere, really?
Probably you’ve heard all kids of cues like, “pull your belly button toward your spine” or “tuck your tailbone” or “imagine you’ve been punched in the stomach.” That last one is extra helpful, right?
A few others that might be familiar are “flatten your low back to the floor” or “imagine you’re pulling on a tight pair of jeans.”
All of these are at best, interesting; at worst, completely ineffective and not sustainable when it comes to engaging your core muscles.
In my classes, I teach a few alignment cues that are simple and effective, as well as actions you can apply to any yoga pose.
Neutral Pelvis vs Tucked Tailbone
You’re aiming for a neutral pelvis instead of an overly tucked tailbone for a few reasons. First, tucking your tailbone bypasses your abdominal muscles and gets straight for your glutes. Second, it’s a clenching action that is completely unsustainable.
Neutral pelvis is more about aligning your pelvis into a more optimal place between too much forward tilt and too much tail tuck.
The way I teach it is this: Move the top of your pelvis back and the bottom of your pelvis slightly forward. You can watch me teach it in the video below both on your back with knees bent, as well as in a lunge.
Wrap Yourself in a Winter Coat vs Pull on a Pair of Tight Jeans
When you wrap yourself up in a winter coat, the action is one of pulling from the back around the sides and to the front so you feel well insulated against the cold. This is the same action you’re after when you want to engage your transverse abdominal muscles.
Pulling on a pair of tight jeans mimics a sucks in of your belly, which will only last so long. Also, once you put on those jeans and button them, plenty of your belly can spill out of the side and top if the jean are really too tight. So that’s not the best analogy in my opinion.
The way I teach it is this: Imagine you’re wrapping yourself up in a warm winter coat or blanket. Grab from the back, pull around the sides, and forward. Notice what part of your core and torso tightens. You can watch me teach it in the video below kneeling as well as moving from table to plank.
Contract Your Abdominal Muscles vs Getting Punched in the Stomach
Listen, I know that getting punched in the stomach is a very visceral thing. It’s just not helpful when it comes to core engagement. First of all, it’s a fairly violent action. Second, it’s not remotely sustainable, effective, or practical. Third, it actually won’t help you engage your core muscles.
I’ve always taught this more from the perspective of volleyball, which I demo in the video below.
The way I teach it is this: First, stand on your right leg and kick your left leg forward, without bending it, as though you’re kicking a soccer ball. You should feel your lower abdomen contract. Try this action a few times.
Then, lift your arms overhead and with palms facing down, imagine you’re slamming a ball down on the other side of the net. Since you can’t touch the net, you have to stop your hands forcefully. You should feel your upper abs contract.
Now try these 2 actions together. In the video, I show how you can use this action to move into Warrior 3.
Hopefully this breaks down some simple and effective alignment cues for engaging your core without resorting to violence or gimmicks. Check out the video and let me know what you think of these once you try them!
And if you’re really interested in creating a stronger, healthier core for the long term, check out my new Yoga for a Healthy Core series. Get 16 videos geared towards creative and effective core practices that will make you feel stronger, more confident, and more connected to your power.