A long, long, long time ago… I learned a core strengthening move before I even understood what a “core” was and how important it is for our body’s entire physical structure.
When I did my yoga teachers training, we had a very strict regimen of two hours of yoga in the morning and two hours of yoga in the afternoon. This was based in traditional yoga practice that was hundreds of years old. During every class, after our initial relaxation, or Shavasana, our teachers would lead us right into a set of exercises meant to stretch and strengthen our bodies before we practiced the 12 basic postures that were the foundation of our learning.
Long story short… these exercises were seemingly simple, but had the tremendous ability to be very challenging and effective at building strength. One particular exercise has stayed with me to this very day, and I wanted to share it with you.
This is an exercise that can be done anywhere. It requires no equipment and is one simple movement. My teachers would say, 10-20 of these every day does a body good. They were right!
After doing a years worth of these exercises in one month, I was strong enough to stand on my head. Literally!
Hatha Yoga, by nature, is not an aggressive workout. Looking back, I realize that these small, simple exercises made a profound contribution to my overall strength. The Core is really the foundation of whole body strength.
Even today, as my tummy is a little softer now than the yoga days of yesteryear, I find this exercise still a benefit to me. I also love that when time is short, whether morning or evening, I can do a few of these and ensure one small thing was done to strengthen my core, and build my back strength and posture, that day.
Here’s the exercise…
DOUBLE LEG RAISES
1) Lay on a yoga mat, exercise mat, towel, carpet or rug.
2) Tuck hands under the boney prominence at the bottom of your back, with the palms down on the ground. Try and also get the forearms under the body, if possible, for extra support.
*Most demos of this exercise show arms and hands along side the body, however, this could lead to back strain for those just starting out. Tucking your hands under your body as I’ve recommended will help stabilize your low back. As you get stronger, you can try different arm/hand positions.
3) Relax neck and bring chin down. Keep neck long and relaxed during exercise to prevent arching and putting strain on the neck.
4) Prepare mentally for the exercise. Engage your abdominal muscles. Draw them in towards your spine.
5) Inhale, lift both legs off the mat and raise them up so the soles of your feet face the ceiling (keep toes pointed towards your head).
6) Exhale, lower both legs to the ground.
7) Before the feet touch the ground, Inhale, and left both legs again and repeat.
8) Do this for 5-10 reps to start.
Over time, as you get stronger you can gradually add more, eventually building to 20. To add more challenge, the hands can be placed along side the body or with fingers interlaced behind the head.
* Modification: You can build up to the double leg lift by starting out with doing one leg at a time. Example: Left leg stays on the mat, while Right leg lifts and lowers. Then Right leg stays on the mat while Left leg lifts and lowers.
** Pressure in Back? During this exercise, your spine should stay neutral and not arch off the floor. Also, there shouldn’t be any strain in the back during the entire exercise from beginning to end. If this is happening, start with the Modification. If it’s happening even with the modification, bend the resting leg, so that the foot of that leg is on the floor. This little change can help reduce any pulling on the muscles related to the lower back.
This is a great little exercise that can be done any time and any where. It can be a great addition to a work out, or a daily little exercise that will help to build core strength.
Check out this link for a visual demo of the exercise: Double Leg Raises.