I’m just going to come out and say it.
Yoga is hard.
The asanas, or physical postures, demand strength and flexibility we’re not sure we have until we show up on the mat and try. Even the most seasoned yogis have off days when hamstrings are tight; balance is off; and abs, arms and legs shake in boat pose (especially if you’ve got an 8-pound little dog perching on your shins).
But more than this, it’s hard because practicing yoga, at its core, is all about union. Union of you and the present moment, over and over, through which you become besties with your beautiful soul.
I love a good word play, so I had Merriam-Webster assist on this one:
- a central and often foundational part usually distinct from the enveloping part by a difference in nature
- the inmost or most intimate part
- a basic, essential, or enduring part
In sum, core means distinct, intimate and enduring. With those three words in mind, is it any wonder that we call our souls the “core” of who we are?
Unfortunately, anyone who has lain in savasana or sat in meditation for two seconds knows how difficult accessing our core can be.
Some days, everything seems stacked against us and the present moment, which is to say: us and peace.
The seasons, the stars, our genetics, our relationships, our jobs, our lack of a six-pack — we spend a lot of time blaming exterior causes for our interior lives.
But do you know the greatest obstacle of all?
Your ultimate support system
In 2007, I hit rock bottom. My support system at the time was my relationship, and when that crumbled so did I. But the depression had been coming for some time — in fact, was genetically out to get me for a second round after I seemingly overcame it as a teenager.
But this time, I found yoga, and in so doing I rediscovered myself. I turned that miracle into You Again Yoga.
What if I told you there was someone upon whom you could rely for support no matter what? Someone who can be your core strength when things fall apart?
It’s your Eat, Pray, Love-breakdown-on-the-bathroom-floor support. Someone who doesn’t tell you to “suck it up” or that you shouldn’t feel the way you do. A solitary smile in a sea of frowns. A fan who never stops cheering, even when you come in last place. Especially when you come in last place.
Sounds great, right? Sign me up!
Here’s the kicker. That person?
So here you are. You are your greatest obstacle and greatest champion — two in one — and your yoga practice can be a way to source both.
I know what you’re thinking. How can I be my best support during my toughest times if I’m the one creating my toughest times?
Because you’ve done it before. Every time you’ve laughed through your tears; every time you’ve nailed that yoga pose eluding you for months; every time you’ve chosen to open your heart even when it felt like closing — there’s your core strength.
One of the most life-changing aspects about yoga is not just developing a strong physical core, but rather realizing that you — the you who gets in your own way — is capable of stepping aside.
This is why the “core” yoga teaches us to use is so much more than our abdominals. Sure, learning to engage your pelvic floor and belly button toward your spine (Mula Bandha or the root lock) is a game changer for asana. But your six-pack isn’t going to comfort you when things fall apart.
Try it: Boat Pose, Navasana
It’s it’s core work you’re after, pop up into Boat Pose (with or without a little dog). This pose challenges the body as much as the mind. Hint: When your mind tells you to give up, you can hang on with at least one more breath.
- Sit on your mat with feet planted and knees hugged in to your chest. Bring your hands to the back of the thighs. Lift through the sternum and the low back to elongate the spine. Keep the crown of the head reaching up as you inhale and lift your legs parallel to the mat.
- Breathe smoothly in and out as you extend through the toes and hug your inner thighs and knees together. Stay here if this is enough of a challenge.
- Release your grip and extend your arms forward, palms face up. Lifting from the upper chest to avoid rounding the low back. Stay here and breathe, or…
- Begin to extend your legs high toward the ceiling. Resisting leaning back with the upper body; keep your abdominals engaged, navel in toward spine, and stay for four to six deep breaths.
- On an exhale, lower your legs and hands gently down to the mat.