If I´ve learned something after a lifetime of body work, it´s that strengthening our core is vital, not to get six-pack abs (I don´t have them), but to protect our back and help maintain our balance. I´ve had two babies and I´m 56. Although I practice yoga daily, I still have loose skin around my middle. I usually don´t wear a shirt in class to hide it because at this age (or any age, really) who cares?
However, I´m able to stand up from the floor without using my hands, and if I trip, I can usually recover pretty fast without falling or injuring myself. Hoping I can help others feel just as strong and confident, here are four yoga poses that are also used in general fitness classes that can help any of us have a strong core and good balance at any age.
I used to dislike this pose so very much, until I did it enough times over the years to be able to hold it with no pain! If you´re just starting out, place a block under your foot and practice simply resting it on the block, to get your hips to open and get used to the pose. Raise your arm out to the side and breathe in and out a few times, until you can no longer hold it without losing the intended shape. As you get stronger, by engaging your abs and your shoulders, you will be able to lift your leg higher. You can also modify the pose by bending the extended leg at first. Switch sides and try to balance it all out by holding the pose for the same number of breaths on each side. I promise it gets easier with practice!
Knee to arm
In all of these exercises, form is more important than how high you lift your leg. My best shot and yours may look different, but it´s still our best. Once you´re in plank pose, making sure your arms are straight and your abs are engaged, lift your leg and bring your knee to your arm, on the same side. At first you will most likely not be able to lift your knee as high up, but it´s important that you keep your frame strong. As long as you´re feeling your muscles engaged, it is of no consequence whether your knee is touching your arm or whether it is hiked up or not. Hold the pose for a few breaths and get back into regular plank. Switch legs.
Also read: My yoga journey in my fifties
Start out in regular plank, just as above, and then make sure your abs are engaged, and your legs are held strong. You should feel your kneecaps lifting as you engage the legs. Then lift just one leg at a time and hold it up (you should also feel this in your glutes). Breathe (breathing is most important and will help you hold tough poses) in and out deeply, for as long as you can hold the pose without losing the shape. Once again, how high you lift your leg is of no consequence. Form is most important. Switch legs.
Begin on all fours and do the traditional cat-cow sequence by arching your back, dropping your belly and lifting your chin as you inhale, and then rounding your back and dropping your head as you exhale. Then engage your abs further and try lifting your knees off the floor. You may continue with a cat-cow sequence or simply hold the pose right here. Either way, if your arms start to bend or you´re shaking too much, then gently drop your knees back to the floor and do traditional cat-cow until you feel stronger.