The core is the seat of most of our emotions. Becoming aware of, and getting in touch with, it helps us keep centred in our daily lives. Strengthening the core (stomach muscles, working the deepest muscles, the transverse abdomens) also helps protect the lower back and reduces the risk of back problems. It improves posture, opening up the entire upper back and shoulders. Digestion too improves as the digestive organs get massaged.
Try these few exercises, with attention centred on your abdomen. And, while practising these asanas, integrate your breath with the movements.
The asanas should be done on an empty stomach or 3-4 hours after a meal.
• LEG RAISES
How to do it: Lie flat on the floor, feet together and arms by your side.
Contract your stomach muscles and your back flat into the floor. Now your abdominals are engaged. Take a few breaths here, keeping your attention on your stomach. Then with an inhalation bring one leg up all the way to 90 degrees and with the exhalation bring the leg back down. Do not touch the leg to the floor, let it stay a few inches above. Next, with an inhalation bring it back up. The movement should follow the breath. Keep an even pace, not jolting the leg up or down. The stomach is engaged at all times.
Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Count: Do this 10 times with each leg.
After you are done, rest for a few minutes. Relax your breathing and your body. Be aware of any sensations you might experience in the abdominal region and in your body.
Once you feel stronger, practise this by bringing both legs up together.
How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs stretched straight in front. Press your hands on the floor a little behind your hips. Lift through the top of the sternum (lift your chest) and lean back slightly. As you do this make sure your back doesn’t round and you are on your sit bones (the bones under the flesh of the butt).
Exhale and bend your knees, then lift your feet off the floor, so that the thighs are angled about 45-50 degrees relative to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone into the floor and lift your chest towards the ceiling. If possible, slowly straighten your knees, raising the tips of your toes slightly above the level of your eyes. If this isn’t possible remain with your knees bent, perhaps lifting the shins parallel to the floor.
Take your hands away from the floor and stretch them along the legs, parallel to each other. Spread the shoulder blades across your back and reach out strongly through the fingers.
If this isn’t possible, keep the hands on the floor beside your hips or hold on to the back of your thighs.
Pull in your lower belly and keep the stomach muscles engaged. Concentrate on your breath. Draw the breath up from your navel to the throat on an inhalation and back down from the throat to the navel with the exhalation.
Count: Stay in the pose for 10-20 seconds. Gradually increase the time of your stay to 1 minute. Slowly bring the legs down with an exhalation and sit upright on an inhalation.
• CYCLING LEG RAISES
How to do it: Lie flat on the floor, feet together, arms by your side.
Push your stomach muscles into your back and your back flat into the floor. Take a few breaths here, keeping your attention on your stomach (assume the starting position of the leg raises exercise). With an inhalation bring one leg towards your chest and then up to 90 degrees and back down. Have the other leg follow the leg in a cycling motion. Let the inhalation and exhalation time cycles be equal. Continue to keep the stomach muscles engaged by pushing your abdominal wall into your back and the back into the floor.
Count: After 10 rotations change the direction of the legs, starting by taking the leg up by 90 degrees. Repeat 10 more times, then rest and let your breath return to normal.
• SPINAL TWIST
How to do it: Lie flat on the floor. Bring both your knees up to 90 degrees (shins parallel to the floor) and then twist them over to one side, the head moving in the opposite direction. Try and keep both your shoulder blades on to the floor.
Relax all your muscles, except for your abdomen muscles, slightly pull in your navel and concentrate on your breath. Breathe gently here, just observing your natural flow of breath.
Count: Stay for 30-60 seconds and then bring your knees back to the centre and drop them over to the other side.
After you complete the other side, bring the legs back to the centre and lie in Shavasana. Rest for 5-10 minutes, be aware of all the sensations in the body. Start to relax all the muscles in the body and let your breath return to its natural state.
Maya Rao is a Mumbai-based certified Ashtanga yoga teacher who conducts private classes.
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