Well-trained abdominal muscles are pliable, not chiseled or hard, and adapt quickly to change.
When we talk about core power, abdominal muscles come to mind. But our core is much more than that. It connects us to our feelings and moods via the nerves of our gastrointestinal system and our enteric nervous system, or “belly brain.” We might feel off kilter when our gut health is out of whack or disconnected from life when our bellies are hard and tight. We can also experience upset stomachs when we feel stressed, depressed, or sleep-deprived.
Here’s a fuller view of your core, or the space between the diaphragm and pelvic floor, wrapping around the torso—also known as “the midsection” and “abdominopelvic cavity.”
It includes numerous muscles, superficial and deep: rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, transversus abdominis, multifidus, erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, and distal latissimus dorsi.
It is home to most of your viscera: stomach, spleen, small and large intestines, liver, gall bladder, kidneys, pancreas, bladder, and reproductive organs.
Your core muscles help control your posture and body position. For instance, the rectus abdominis works primarily to stabilize your rib cage in relation to your pelvis. The transversus abdominis and multifidus work with the pelvic floor and diaphragm to stabilize your lumbar spine. Your core muscles also produce and transfer force during dynamic movements such as vinyasa yoga or running, maintaining spinal stability in order to protect your nerves, disks, joints, and connective tissue. Try these asana to explore abdominal stabilization:
It is never too late to start over. Here, a story of professional transformation, guided by yoga. Plus, tips for teaching to older adults and a practice to keep us all healthy and agile as we age.
Jana Long is a yoga therapist, wellness educator, meditation facilitator, mentor, and managing director of Power of One Yoga School of Ayurveda & Meditation Arts, and cofounder and executive director of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance. She is the author and editor of Yoga as a Peace Practice, a curriculum and social movement that brings contemplative practice to individuals and communities impacted by violence. She inspires and empowers people 60 years and older to revitalize their bodies and spirits with yoga practices specially designed with aging bodies in mind.
In 2008, I was a 56-year-old director of news technology services in the newsroom of the Washington Post and began to hear rumors that retirement buyouts would be offered to select employees. The whisper was that this round of buyouts would deeply cut the workforce. I saw the writing on the wall and gave serious thought to my future.
By the end of the first quarter of 2008, the talk of buyouts transformed from rumor to reality. With 19 years on the job, I was eligible. The time had come, and I was ready for my pink slip. I decided to turn this transition into an opportunity to realize some of my dreams, which included teaching yoga. I had already begun to build the bridge to this new life. In 2005, I had completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training and earned an Ayurvedic practitioner certification.
Jana Long’s top six tips for leading a class with adults over 60.
Give a warm welcome
Organize a free “meet and greet” before you start a class. I often emphasize how yoga for older people provides a great opportunity to socialize with peers at a time in their lives that might feel isolating. Many older people are first-time yoga practitioners, so share information, demonstrate some foundational postures, and allow time for a Q&A.
One of the biggest barriers to older people participating in yoga classes is their trepidation about not being able to “keep up.” Sequence postures and transitions logically from standing to kneeling to sitting to reclining, rather than arbitrarily moving from standing to floor postures.
The pace of classes is important. Slow transitions and pauses between postures will allow students to have moments to experience bodily sensations. This opens them to an interoceptive experience of the breath and body. This is one of the fundamental aspects of self-realization, which is why we practice yoga.
Encouragement is key. I help people in class rethink their language. The words “can’t” and “try” are eliminated. The mere suggestion of a new posture might raise resistance and a lot of grumbling. Rather than declaring that they can’t do a posture, or they are trying to do it, encourage them to know and accept their limitations and to follow their intuition.
Project your voice without overdoing it
Hearing declines in many older people. Invite anyone who has that challenge to come closer to you, or move around the room as you instruct the class. Please do not infantilize your speech; seniors do not like to be talked to like they are children!
In her new book, Revolution of the Soul, social activist and yoga teacher Seane Corn details how ill and awkward she felt during her first yoga class and what kept her going back for more.
After hearing about yoga for years and witnessing the changes it made in David Life, owner of Life Café in New York City, where I waitressed, and Sharon Gannon, the head waitress, I’d decided to see for myself what the hoopla was about. I’d come to Integral Yoga, where everyone dressed in white and everything was absolutely pristine. Except for me. I looked down at my gray sweatpants, grease stains on the thighs from where I had wiped my hands after working on my motorcycle. I hadn’t showered and knew without a doubt that black eyeliner and mascara lay smeared under my eyes. I was a bit of a mess.
I was told to sign in and remove my shoes, so I kicked off my black-leather Screaming Mimi combat boots and tossed them toward the rest of the shoes on the floor, but I left my socks on. Going barefoot in a public place that wasn’t a park or beach kinda grossed me out, plus I often cut and peeled the skin off my big toes and heels when I was anxious and I didn’t want anyone to see that.
The woman behind the counter, also wearing white, looked calm and sweet. I noticed, when she raised her arm to reach for something, that she had a thick patch of armpit hair. I wondered if Sharon shaved her pits. Note to self: Stop shaving, buy something white and… take a bath.
Nicole Cardoza is making the world a little bit nicer by bringing yoga to kids in schools and altering the face of wellness.
Imagine if all playground disputes were dissolved by group meditation and breath work. What if students could coach themselves and others through the stress of a big test with mindfulness techniques? How many fewer road-rage incidents and hostile Twitter rants would there be if elementary schools gave kids the tools to manage their emotions—to be kinder, wiser, more mindful, well-adjusted people—from the start?
That’s the environment Nicole Cardoza is cultivating through her nonprofit Yoga Foster, bringing yoga into elementary schools by offering teachers the training, lesson plans, and resources they need to practice with their students—many of whom come from low-income families and struggle with grown-up problems like hunger and sleep deprivation. “Yoga is a practice of self-inquiry,” Cardoza says. “And that’s not something that’s often taught to children or in schools.” But hopefully that will change. In just five years, more than 60,000 students in 2,500 classrooms across the United States have benefited from Yoga Foster—improving flexibility, strength, coordination, and concentration, and instilling a sense of calmness and relaxation.
“I love the idea of making yoga equitable and accessible from the get-go,” says the 30-year-old social entrepreneur, “so it isn’t introduced to future generations as something exclusive that comes with privilege—something that only certain people with certain bodies and financial capacities are able to practice.” Kids who take up yoga are much more wellness-conscious as they grow, she says: “They can then continue to advocate to make sure the practice remains as accessible as it was when they were in school and they did it between recess and reading in the …
These yoga teachers are using their platforms to give back to the community in necessary and inspiring ways.
The yoga community has no shortage of selfless souls dedicated to doing good work—after all, being of service is what yoga’s all about. And while we’re the first to throw appreciation toward the stellar work being done by the Giveback Yoga Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project, and the Yoga Service Council, we’re here cheering on the underdogs, too. Here are six up-and-coming yoga-teacher founded organizations that are on our radar—and we think should be on yours, too.
1. Desmond’s Friends
Yoga teacher Megan Vandyke created Desmond’s Friends after losing her son just two hours after giving birth. The fundraiser initially set out to raise enough money to donate another CuddleCot—a cooling system that allowed Desmond to remain with Vandyke and her husband in the hospital for three days rather than immediately being taken to a mortuary—to their local hospital in Murfreesboro Tennessee. “In the US, there are more than 23,000 infant deaths a year—about 6 out of every 1,000 live births, which does not even account for stillbirths,” Vandyke wrote on her GoFundMe page. “[The Cuddle Cot] is about giving parents choices and reassuring them that they can spend time with their baby.” Since reaching their goal for the first Cuddle Cot in July, the couple have set out to establish an official nonprofit to continue their work helping other parents facing heartbreaking loss.
2. Embody Love Movement
Motivated to empower girls and women to love themselves and evoke positive change in the world, the Embody Love Movement spearheads initiatives such as awareness campaigns for school kids that support positive self-talk and non-judgmental attitudes, self-love transformational workshops to teardown media-perpetuated myths and bolster self-worth and purpose, and a summer camp where …
Don’t miss these strategies for supporting spinal health and keeping pain at bay.
Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting 8 out of 10 people, according to the National Institutes of Health. The good news? Yoga-based therapeutics are affordable and accessible ways to alleviate and prevent back pain—acute or chronic—by improving the quality of your movements and by helping the left, right, front, and back sides of your body work together in a balanced way, on and off the mat.
First, it’s critical to understand good posture and put it to use; poor posture often leads to back pain. You can figure out if your vertebral column and pelvis are neutral—critical to good posture—by using several benchmarks. To learn, let’s look at Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
The vertebral column is most stable when aligned in its normal curves. Generally speaking, and in relation to the front of the body, the neck and low back display concave curves (lordosis), while the upper and middle back together display a convex curve (kyphosis), as does the sacrum.
The sacrum is a curved, bumpy bone that angles in toward the body at about 30 degrees, beginning at L5/S1; it does not point straight down.
The pelvic rim, or iliac crest, which marks the top of the pelvis, is fairly level.
The plumb line runs from the center of the ear opening (external auditory meatus), through the shoulder, outer hip (greater trochanter), outer knee, and outer ankle (lateral malleolus).
The cavities (“open” spaces) of your pelvis, belly, chest, and head feel balanced in relation to each other.