This sequence by Sarana Miller, a teacher of Iyengar and Forrest Yoga, taps into your core, the literal and symbolic centre of power. But this isn’t a “get a sixpack in six weeks” deal. Instead of focusing on the rectus abdominus (the sixpack), you’ll work the deeper layers of the abdominal area, such as the transversus abdominis.
Switching from the sixpack to the deeper layers takes subtle awareness, so be patient even if you can’t access the muscles right away. (When everything else fails, try laughing, says Miller, since you use the transversus to laugh or cough.)
It’s important to persevere, but don’t work to exhaustion or you’ll end up using your lower back and hip flexors. Plan on doing just a few repetitions each day, and your body will respond quickly. The result of all your hard work? A stronger core and more ease in all your poses.
Before You Begin
Mula Bandha (Root Lock). Engaging Mula Bandha, or the perineum, strengthens the pelvic floor and contains your energy. Sitting in Virasana, roll your sitting bones back and engage Ashwini Mudra (the anal sphincter muscles). Bring your pelvis back to neutral. Now try to feel the perineum, the area right in front of the anus. Engage Mula Bandha by lifting the perineum (the action is very similar to a pelvic squeeze). Do 30 lifts 3 times, breathing naturally.
Engage Your “TA”. The transversus abdominus (TA) is the deepest of the four layers of abdominal muscles. It runs from your lower ribs to your pubis and acts like a girdle, wrapping around your body. Lie back with your feet on the floor. Place your first two fingers on your frontal hipbones and move them an inch toward your navel. Exhale and engage the TA by drawing your belly back toward the ground. Take 5 breaths, keeping it engaged.
Lie on your back, engage your TA, and reach your arms up. Lift your legs off the floor, with your knees over your hips and your shins parallel to the floor. Keep your TA drawing in as you move your arms and legs back and forth a few inches, like a baby reaching up to play with a mobile, for about 30 seconds and then rest. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
With your TA engaged, breathe normally as you slowly tap your right toe to the ground and return to neutral. Do the same with the left foot. Repeat 4 times. A sore lower back or hip flexors means you’re relying on them instead of your TA to do the work. Reduce the number of repetitions and try it again tomorrow.
Bring both feet to the floor. Place a block between your thighs. Reach your tailbone toward your heels and lift your hips into Bridge Pose. This doesn’t have to be your highest version of Bridge; focus on keeping the TA engaged. Stay for 3 to 5 breaths. Repeat 2 to 5 times.
Come onto your hands and knees. Place your elbows under your shoulders and press your palms together firmly. Come into Dolphin, feeling the abdominal area hollow out and the perineum lift. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths.
Walk your feet back until your body is parallel to the floor. Keep pressing your hands together and hug your inner legs toward the midline. Hold for at least 3 full breaths, using your TA for stability.
Lie on your belly and bring your arms to your sides, palms facing up. Draw your lower belly toward your spine and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels to engage your TA. Lift your chest off the floor, drawing your heart forward and spreading your collarbones wide. Now lift your legs off the floor. Keep your neck completely relaxed. Stay for 5 breaths.
Come into Downward Dog. To feel Mula Bandha and the TA in this pose, roll your sitting bones toward the ceiling. Then draw your tailbone toward your heels and hug your thighs as if you’re holding a block between them. Exhale, then draw your lower belly toward your spine. Stay for 5 breaths.
Step your right foot forward between your hands into a low lunge. Bring your hips over your back knee. Press the top of your back foot into the ground and tuck your tailbone. Place your right hand on a block and reach your left arm up. Bend to the right to create a stretch in the left side of the belly. When you’re ready, inhale back to centre, then step back to Downward Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Stand in Tadasana with your back to a wall. Place your feet around 5cm from the wall and hug a block between your thighs. To feel Mula Bandha, roll your pelvis forward and take your thighs back. Then draw your tailbone toward your heels and squeeze the block. Bring the lower ribs toward your spine as you reach your arms up, palms facing the ceiling. Come onto your tiptoes, using the wall for support.
Now it’s time to put it all together—upside down. Place your hands around 5cm from the wall. Come into Downward Dog. Inhale as you kick up. Use your core muscles to help you reach your heels higher up the wall. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths, then come into a forward bend and relax.