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5 Core Yoga Poses: Build Up Core Strength and Mental Focus
Many of the people who I teach how to surf, ask me what they can do at home to better prepare them for the waves. I tell them to practice popping-up at least 5 times every morning, and I tell them to start doing yoga. Yoga creates more strength and flexibility in both your body and mind, helping you to deal with all kinds of challenges. Here are 5 core yoga poses to build up strength and mental focus.The following postures are not only useful for (aspiring) surfers, they are great for anyone who wants to build up core strength. If you’re looking for more yoga poses to help you increase you surf skills, check out these 7 exercises for surfers. Warm yourself up a little with some preparatory poses (try Sun Saluations) before doing these exercises.
Note: If you have any injuries, consult your physician first.
1. Stabilizing your lower back
Benefits & Precautions: Stabilizes your lower back, builds up core strength and improves your balance. If you have knee issues, use a blanket under your knee.
- Come onto all fours. Hands are under the shoulders, knees are under the hips.
- Exhale through the lower abdomen to activate your core.
- Inhale, lift your right leg up. This pose is not about getting your leg up high, but about stretching your spine. Keep your gaze on the floor.
- Now, walk your left hand forward on the fingertips and lift your left arm up. Thumb pointing up. Find your focus point and balance.
- Inhale into your spine and exhale lengthen your spine by moving your left hand forward and your right leg back. Create space between your vertebrae.
- Repeat step 5, 3 times.
- Switch to the other side and repeat step 1-6.
2. Boat / Paripurna Navasana
Benefits & Precautions: Strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors and spine. If you have any lower back or hip issues, this pose may not be beneficial.
- Sit on your mat with your legs extended in front of you.
- Place your hands on the floor next to you.
- Inhale lengthen your spine.
- Exhale through your lower abdomen and pull your navel to your spine. Lean back slightly (try not to round your spine, keep it straight!), place your hands under your knees and lift up your feet, bend your knees. Point your toes forward.
- Inhale into the middle of the chest with a sense of extension to straighten your spine, pressing your tailbone into the mat.
- Exhale, see if you can stretch your arms alongside the legs, both pointing forward.
- Breathe, stay for up to 30 seconds.
- Or (see picture below), see if you can slowly straighten your legs, letting your toes point up. Remember, no rounding your spine! Keep it straight. And if your spine does start to collapse, just take a step back, no worries. You’ll get there next time.
3. Warrior 3 / Virabhadrasana 3
Benefits & Precautions: Focuses deeply on balance. Strengthens core, legs, hips and back. Develops stamina and strength. Avoid if you have migraine. Be careful if you have knee, ankle, hip or sacroiliac injuries.
- Stand on your two feet on the mat (in Samasthiti).
- Inhale, raise your arms vertically over your head.
- Exhale, move your weight over to your right side, into your right leg.
- Inhale, lengthen your spine.
- Exhale through the lower abdomen (engaging core), and move your arms alongside of you (so in ‘swan dive’ or like an airplane – not yet over your head), bend forward, hinge at the hips, bringing your torso forward while lifting the right leg behind, until the torso and right leg are parallel to the floor.
- Inhale your arms above your head (broaden your collarbones), pointing your fingers forward. If this is too much, you can keep your arms where they are (airplane style), or put them on your hips.
- Inhale, return to standing position.
- Repeat to the other side.
4. Plank Pose with forearms on floor
Benefits & Precautions: Strengthens your core like crazy. Building up shoulder and leg strength as well. Be careful with lower back issues.
- Come into Plank pose (same pose as this one, but with arms normal/extended, instead of forearms on floor).
- Exhale through your lower abdomen (engage core!), pull your navel towards your spine, kind of ‘scooping’ your tailbone under. Your pelvis is moving up and back. This way you protect your lower back.
- Engage your legs, keep your legs strong and activated. Heels are pressing down towards the floor.
- Come onto your forearms.
- Inhale, don’t hang into your shoulders, but really press yourself away from the floor. Spread your shoulder blades away from each other.
- Look down on the floor.
- Breathe, stay here for up to 30 seconds. If it’s too much for you, come onto your knees. But keep pressing yourself away – using your shoulder strength.
- Exhale, all the way to the floor and relax.
5. Dolphin Pose
Benefits & Precautions: Calms the mind, strengthens shoulders, arms, legs, hamstrings and calves. Careful with shoulder or neck injuries. With tight hamstrings, keep knees bent.
- Come onto all fours, hands and knees.
- Come onto your forearms. Make sure they are not wider than shoulder-width. You can check this by grabbing opposite elbows with your hands. That is the correct distance for your elbows. Than place your forearms in front of you and your hands flat on the floor.
- Curl your toes under.
- Exhale, lift your hips up (slightly bend your knees at first).
- Inhale, press yourself away from the floor – using your shoulder strength -, lengthen your spine.
- Draw your shoulders out and away from the ears.
- Hold your head between the upper arms.
- Exhale, try to straighten your legs.
- Breathe, stay here for up to 30 seconds.
- Exhale, come into Child’s Pose and relax.
What’s your favourite core yoga pose?