Yoga is for everyone!
My Core Integration WS is scheduled for October 14, and here I will lay out some ideas I base my approach on. Integration. What does it mean to have a pose well integrated?
I have been structuring my classes in such a way as to allow gradual and deep integration of various aspects of the core into one cohesive whole. I have become really interested in this since I was introduced to Pilates five years ago. Before Pilates, I could get by in my Yoga practice because I was young and relatively flexible. After having two kids and my practice taking a back burner for a while, I felt that things were not the same anymore. I tried Pilates, and within three months I felt a great shift towards becoming more aware of my core, of my posture, and the way a strong core can breathe new life and lightness into some of the most demanding Yoga postures. I have been integrating aspects of Pilates into my teaching ever since then.
The one thing about it, though, is that I have moved away from the pure Pilates tradition as it is taught in the studios. There is a lot of emphasis on certain alignment that I feel is unproductive to most people, who suffer from poor posture of the slumpy, slouchy kind. The whole concept of "imprinting", for example. I can see why dancers, who were initially the main practitioners of Pilates when it hit mainstream, would feel the benefit of imprinting the low back into the floor. A dance background (and I have seen this in my students who were/are dancers) puts certain stress on the spine, making one prone to lordosis and flattened thoracic curve. For them it is a major relief to round their low back, and they usually have strong abdominals to be able to do it "from the core", although I have noticed a very big preference for using outer gluteals in almost everyone.
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=238610
For the computer developer, the soccer mom, and all of us who spend hours a day sitting with our back rounded, this instruction only reinforces what is already wrong with the posture. An imprinted position, if it is done when the abdominals are weak, targets mostly the surface layer, the rectus abdominis, which does little other than flex the spine forward. For stability of the pelvic girdle and SI health, one needs to target a deeper set of muscles, such as transverse abdominis as well as internal and external obliques, and with them, the muldifudus muscles along the low back. That is harder to achieve for beginners. Those muscles are most readily activated when the pelvis is in neutral position. This understanding from the Yoga tradition is what I have been teaching to my students, with marvelous results.
For a while I have been teaching exclusively neutral pelvis when teaching Pilates movements. Then after a while I went back to teaching a combination of imprinted and neutral, with the specific instruction to not use the gluteus maximus, especially when imprinting, to make sure that the imprinting happens from the deepest core. That seems to produce the best results, and in addition teaches the student greater awareness of posture, or pelvic positioning, and the consequences of the slight tilt of the pelvis this way and that.
Teaching both also has illuminated for me a certain connection between the upper abdominals and the lower abdominals, as well as their relationship to the upper and lower back. The core, to me, is the whole central axis of the body, and it starts with proper head alignment at the base of the skull and the hyoid bone. The back palate needs to open to allow fuller, slower, mindful breath. Then the line of the core connects to the bottom tips of the shoulder blades, where the tone of the rhomboids, lats, and cerratus is needed to provide stability to the shoulders and the back body. Then we need to connect the back body with the front bottom ribs and then around circumferentially to the lower back ribs via the diaphragmatic breath.
Breath that uses the diaphragm as a pump to build energy, to engage the back palate and the pelvic floor simultaneously in an intimate relationship of mutual support - that is the center of the core, and without the breath via the diaphragm Yoga poses and movements are void of their inner light. From there we connect down to the hip points in the front and back, and ultimately to the sitting bones and the pelvic floor. That, to me, is the span of "the core". And integrating all of these aspects of the core makes some fun things possible in our Yoga practice.
I have been teaching the elements of this core structure separately using some easily accessible Yoga and Pilates movements, and then picking a difficult pose to do, that would aim to integrate them all into a unified whole, giving the Yoga student an appreciation for the bigger picture after spending some time dissecting its parts. I also have been starting most of my classes with some sort of "core awakening" and then proceed to break things into parts. The crown pose would then be one that aims to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. This has been working well.
As an additional benefit, this kind of approach also makes the "basic" poses in Yoga present new challenges and information. One begins to understand that in Down Dog all of these elements can be practiced simultaneously for the best experience. Even such physically undemanding pose as the table pose (on all fours) can open up new ways to investigate the different relationships between these aspects of the core. The Yoga practice then is infused with new curiosity and with that come countless new discoveries about the balance or imbalance we all carry deep inside us. Watch my video on Neutral Vs. Imprinted Pelvis.
Use those techniques to send your practice to a whole new level! Also, read my blog on "Finding the Self at the Core of Things" for further development of this topic.