Teachers Notebook: The Core (Ball) of Your Practice
Using a yoga core ball with yoga postures challenges the body’s stability, improves balance, and builds true strength from physical integration. Here’s how it works.
Yoga tells us that true strength comes from physical integration—coordinating movements in different parts of the body—and connection. We become much stronger when the whole body works in unison than when we isolate a muscle or muscle group. In order to do that, we must engage the core. Last month we learned what exactly “the core” is, why it’s important, and how we can create a yoga sequence that engages it most efficiently. Now, we’ll introduce the yoga core ball, create an understanding of how it can help you experience what muscle activation and dynamic tension feel like in the body, and learn how to pass this along to your students.
How does a core ball do that? Several ways. First, it allows you to stimulate the muscles of the core—the pelvic floor, abdominals, obliques and low back muscles—all of which are essential for good posture, balance and movement control. Second, a core ball not only helps engage the primary muscles being used in a pose, it activates the smaller, stability muscles as well. And finally, it’s a great way to practice balance.
The key to all these benefits lies in the core ball’s ability to turn on our body’s proprioceptors. Proprioceptors are specialized sensory receptors that relay information about motion and body position. These proprioceptors detect subtle changes in movement, position, tension and force within the body. As a result, the core ball helps us to be more aware of our position and movement in space, while also providing challenge to stability and balance.
How to Use a Core Ball
Size of the Core Ball
A core ball 4 to 5 inch in diameter is ideal, especially in postures that place the core ball in between the thighs to focus on knee and hip alignment. A block can be an adequate substitute for a core ball; however, the core ball provides more stability challenge and therefore will engage more muscles overall.
Placement and Efficient use of the Prop
It is important to sequence postures so that a prop is used in multiple poses in row. This will create efficient use of the prop and allow for easier transitions. To facilitate this, have students place any props on the side of their yoga, mat within reach, before class begins. See below for a sample class that incorporates the core ball.
Communicating the Benefits to your Students
Incorporating yoga props into your practice will give you the opportunity to access greater mobility, strength, and freedom in all types of poses. When teaching, remember to remind your students of these benefits, and also adjust your cueing to address the specific muscular activation achieved with the prop. For example, when placing the core ball in between the thighs in chair pose you will want to cue activating the core as well as engaging the adductors.
With the Prop and then Without
A prop is a useful tool to teach alignment and awareness. To obtain maximum benefit from the prop, teach the pose with the prop and then perform it again without the prop, so that students can create additional body awareness.
Postures Using a Core Ball
There are a number of ways to incorporate use of a core ball your yoga practice. The following poses are perfect to teach balance and focus and for reinforcing posture, and will help develop the strength and stamina needed to truly build core strength in your yoga practice.
From hands and knees, place the core ball behind the right knee. Inhale and draw heart center forward as you lift the right heel toward the sky. Exhale and begin to round the spine while drawing knee toward the chest. Continue to flow on this side a few times. Switch sides. Focus on core engagement to keep the body weight centered.
Place the core ball between the inner thighs, just above the knees. Coming prone on the mat, draw arms alongside the body. Inhale to lift chest, arms, and legs away from the mat. Focus on engaging the inner thighs and core to support the back.
Incline Plank to Boat Flow
From a seated position with legs extended in front, place the core ball between the inner thighs. With hands underneath the shoulders, engage the glutes and hamstrings to lift the hips away from the mat into Incline Plank. Engage the core and adductors to further strengthen through the body. Slowly lowering hips back towards the mat and lifting legs into Boat Pose with knees bent. Continue to flow between the two postures with the breath.
Single Leg Bridge
Lying supine with knees bent and feet in line with hips, place the core ball underneath the right foot, lifting the left leg into the air. Exhaling, press into the right foot to lift the hips away from the mat coming into a single-leg bridge without arching the back. Hold for 5-10 breaths then switch sides. Option to flow the hips up and down from the mat on one side before switching sides.
Bicycle Legs with Core Ball Pass
Lying supine, engage the abdominals to lift legs so that knees are stacked over hips and shoulder blades are lifted off the mat into a crunch position. Move the legs as in a bicycle crunch where one leg extends out to 45 degrees while the other stays bent, alternating with the breath. Once the leg movement has been established pass the core ball underneath the bent knee. Utilizing the core ball will help encourage more engagement of the abdominal muscles to keep the upper body lifted.
Sample Yoga Core Ball Practice
Now let's put them all together in this sample sequence, using the core ball.
Start with a standard YogaFit Standing Warm-up, including Sunflowers with core ball (circle the core ball in the flow), Sunbird flow with core ball, and core ball between inner thighs during modified half series flow. And then, after 4 to 6 standard Sun Salutations, do the following:
1. Warrior 1 to Warrior 2 to Side Angle to Twisting Lunge and then 3 legged dog. Repeat on the other side. (No core ball in this sequence)
2. Flowing Warrior 2, passing core ball between front and back hand, to Reverse Warrior, with core ball in lifted hand, and into Triangle with core ball in bottom hand. Repeat on the other side
3. Chair, with core ball in between thighs, into Airplane, with core ball in between thighs
4. Open and close side plank flow to Low lizard pose to Pyramid to Balancing half moon to Prayer Twist Lunge and into 3-Legged Dog. Repeat on the other side. (No core ball in this sequence)
5. 1 to 3 Vinyasa flow with core ball in between the thighs
6. Eagle Flow into Warrior III
7. Kneeling Camel to Locust, with core ball in between the thighs
8. Butterfly to Seated Straddle to Incline Plank to boat flow, with core ball in between thighs (flow 5 times)
9. Bridge (option for Wheel) into Bicycle Legs with Core Ball Pass
10. Supine Single Leg Bridge, holding right side then left side
11. Supine Spinal Twist and then rest in Savasana