Core stability is inherent to the practice of yoga asana. Though we don't work explicitly on strengthening deep core muscles, the use and support of them are integral to most yoga poses. The core helps us centralize our movements allowing them to be stronger and more stable.
Oftentimes we mistake hard abs for core strength, but in yoga we want to cultivate a deeper understanding and connection to our own core.
The adductors are the muscles of the inner thighs. Often addressed in the instruction of asanas, the inner thighs are required to inwardly or outwardly rotate, depending on the pose. Also, they can be pulled up toward the inner groins to assist the deepening of the groins into the body. Adduction moves the legs toward the mid-line of the body; connecting with the adductors helps us draw the action of the asanas into the body's core. When you walk, you may turn your feet out or feel like your moving in different directions. If you bring your awareness to your inner thighs, have the sense of them moving toward the space behind you, your gait feels more centred.
One way to explore this is by lying on your back with the knees bent. Place a block between the inner thighs and guide them in toward the block. Don't squeeze the life out of the block. Although we want to tone the inner thighs we don't want them to get 'grippy'. Now place your fingers an inch in from the pelvic rims. Do you notice a toning of the lower abdomen? The transversus abdominus are deep abdominal muscles that connect the pelvis to the ribs and help with pelvic stability.
If you don't feel the connection, don't worry about it. Just know that by toning the adductors you are connecting to your core, including the stabilizing transversus abdominus, whether you feel it yet or not.
Supta ardha pavanmuktasana
Connecting to this 'core line' is helpful in a variety of poses. Supta ardha pavanamuktasana is an easy way to make the connection to this core line.
Lie on your back in supta tadasana (a reclined mountain pose). Even with both legs extended imagine you've got the block between the thighs. Keep your kneecaps lifting, your buttocks moving toward your heels. Now pull your right knee in toward your chest and hold the chin or back of the thigh. Do you feel how the inner thighs want to splay away from each other? Now imagine the block and travel along the core line as though both inner thighs had a block to press in to. Notice how working that way keeps you more centred and connected to your core. Do this with the left leg.
Do the above actions again with the right leg. Stretch tremendously through the left leg. Pull the left kneecap up and anchor the left thighbone down. Keep connected with both inner thighs. Gather them toward the imaginary block. Then widen your elbows and lift your shoulder blades off the floor as though you wanted to take your heart centre to the ceiling. (If you feel strain in your neck, leave the head on the floor and almost lift off and your abdominals should still engage). Hold for one breath, then lower. Change sides. Repeat three to six times.
Urdhva prasarita padasana
You can also connect with your core in variations of urdhva prasarita padasana. Start with your buttocks several inches away from the wall, so that if you were to put your heels on the wall the legs would be at about sixty degrees. Now draw your knees into your chest and lengthen the buttocks toward the wall.
Take your legs up to ninety degrees. Imagine the block between the inner thighs, gather the legs into the core line. Maintain this connection as you lower your right heel to the wall. When you take the right leg back to join the left make sure the back ribs touch the floor, that the low back does not take the brunt of the work. If you feel it in the back, bend the knees and bring the legs into the body.
Also, feel your abdomen. Is it bulging? Can you keep it wide as you draw the leg up? If not, move a little closer to the wall.
Do the other side.
If working one leg at a time is easy, try lowering both heels to the wall simultaneously. Keep your arms stretched overhead and your back ribs down. Breathe. Again, notice if the work moves into the back at all.
Repeat several times. Each time the heels come to the wall, let the touch be light. Also, connect to your core line. Imagine the block between the thighs and act as though the two legs were one.
When you are finished spend some time relaxing the abdomen. Though we want strength in our abdominal muscles we also want to maintain a softness too. Otherwise, our breathing can become restricted and our abdominal organs constricted. Lying on the back with knees bent and hands on the belly offers you a connection to this softening. Feel how the belly moves with the breath. Widened out on inhalation. Relaxed down on exhalation.