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Yoga for Core Power | Five-Pose Yoga Fix

Sure, you may know that building core strength improves balance and can alleviate low-back pain, but the real reason we quiver through plank is because it tones and defines our abdominal muscles. While almost every yoga pose engages the core in some way, these five poses and variations will fire up the abdominals, obliques and back.

Before you begin, take a few moments in easy seated pose to clear your mind and focus on your breath. Then, bring your hands to your belly, take a deep inhale and feel your stomach expand. Exhale, and fully engage the core as if you were trying to get your belly button to kiss your spine. Hold onto that engagement with every exhale throughout this short practice.

CAT/COW WITH ABDOMINAL WORK

Cat and cow are a match made in yogic heaven. Cat stretches the back and strengthens the abdominals. Cow opens the chest and strengthens the back. Together, they warm up the spine and relieve back and neck tension. Add this abdominal variation, and you’ll warm up the core even more.

The move: Take 3–5 rounds of cat/cow to warm up the spine. Find a neutral spine and, as you inhale, extend the right arm and left leg in opposite directions. As you exhale, pull the right elbow toward the left knee as you round the spine in cat. Inhale and lengthen the arm and leg in opposite directions. Repeat 3–5 times, then switch sides.

SCORPION PLANK

Plank is a total-body strengthener that works the upper body, back and core. This variation takes it to a whole new level.

The move: Press up to plank on your hands. Hold here for five breaths then move into scorpion plank. Inhale, bring your right knee to the outside of your right elbow. Exhale, send the right foot back. Inhale, bring your left knee to the outside of your left elbow. Exhale, send the left foot back. Repeat 3–5 times on each side.

SIDE PLANK CRUNCH

Side plank is a core crusher, toning the abs, back and oblique muscles. Adding a crunch adds a whole lot of oomph.

The move: Open to side plank on your left (with your right hand supporting you). If your wrists are weak or tired, come down onto your forearm. Hold here for five breaths and then add a crunch. As you inhale, lift the top leg, bend the knee, and draw it toward your top elbow. Exhale and straighten the leg, inhale to crunch in. Repeat 3–5 times. Rest in child’s pose and repeat on the other side.


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BOAT TWIST

Boat is the ultimate core pose. It works the abdominals, the back, the oblique muscles, the hips and thighs. It improves balance, aids digestion and will hopefully make you feel strong and powerful.

The move: Come into a seated position, bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor. Gently hold onto the backs of your thighs and lean back slightly. Lengthen through your spine and pull your abdominals in to avoid collapsing in your chest. Lift both feet so they create a straight line between your heels and knees. You can hold onto your thighs or let go, extending your arms out parallel to your legs. Keep your chin off your chest, and keep your abdominals engaged. Hold here for five breaths.

Take it up a notch with a twist. Extend the arms out in front of you, palms touching. Inhale here and, as you exhale, twist to the right, taking your hands to the outside of you right knee. Inhale to center and exhale to the left. Repeat 3–5 times on each side.

LOCUST

This backbend strengthens the spine, opens the shoulders and chest and improves posture.

The move: Start lying on your belly with your forehead on your mat, arms by your sides and legs extended behind you. As you inhale, lift up your head, chest, arms and legs. Concentrate on lengthening your spine rather than how high you can lift. Keep your gaze forward so that you avoid compressing your neck.

Deepen your chest and shoulder opening by interlacing your hands behind your back and pressing your knuckles toward your heels. Or increase the work by taking your arms by your ears like super yogi. Hold your variation for five breaths. Release into child’s pose.


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The Art of Turning Tension into Power

Growing up in Minnesota, I spent my summers on the lake. Some of my favorite memories are of being pulled on an inner tube behind a boat — the smell of gas from the boat’s engine, the smooth-as-glass water and the initial thrust on the tow rope as the boat lurched my tube forward. To me, that’s summer.

What I learned from those picturesque summers (other than which uncle you didn’t want driving the boat), was the power a taut rope has. Or, in other words, the potential energy that comes with a little tension.

THE POSITIVE SIDE OF TENSION

It sounds counterintuitive, but there is so much potential in your tension. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is so much power in your pain. Just like the tension in a towrope can pull a bunch of giggling kids over water, the tension in your life can actually be a catalyst toward your happiest moments.

We can all recall a moment in our lives where tension hit us like the initial thrust on a boat’s tow rope — a common example is one of receiving bad news. We all experience our own “tow line jerks,” as I call them. These momentary bursts of energy can either send us sailing into the water, dumbfounded and shook up, or they can catapult us on the ride of our lives.

How you react to these energy shocks is what’s known as your positioning. Your potential in life is all about where you have positioned yourself. Which brings me to the real takeaway of this article: the three positions of turning tension into power.

POSITION 1: LOCATING

The first step in using tension for power is locating the tension. Just like if my head hurt I would tell you I had a headache. If all my energy is going toward a career path I don’t really enjoy, I might say the location of tension is my career choice. Unnamed tension and stress is like an alarm clock, it continues to ring and ring and ring until you stop hitting snooze and finally wake up to it.

POSITION 2: LEARNING

Once that rope snaps tight and your tube lurches forward in the water, you’re not out of the water yet (pun intended). The same boat that pulls your tube throws off a wake behind it — in the center of the wake, there’s peaceful water just like the eye of a storm. But, the second the boat turns, the tube is thrown outside of the wake into rough water. This is the key to position 2: if you have learned how to use the tension in the rope, you can maneuver your way back into the safe zone that is the wake. The driver of the boat and the waves that come at you are all out of your control. But, your skillset is something you have the ability to build. The tension in the rope that almost threw you off when the engine revved forward is the same tension you can now use to get into the position you want to be in.

The next time something small bothers you or adds tension to your rope, like someone cutting you off in traffic, use it as a moment to learn your triggers and build your peaceful skillset. Small moments of training yourself will help you understand how to use your rope when you’re thrown into rough water.


READ MORE > HOW TO USE PAIN AND DISCOMFORT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE


POSITION 3: LEAVING

Of all the wonderful memories I have tubing, one not so pleasant one is the ache in my hands and arms after riding around the lake too long. This brings us to the final position: learning when and what to leave behind.

Once you begin to learn and understand your tension and pain, you come to a crossroads. You begin to see that there are people in your life, attitudes and beliefs you’ve been protecting but they keep pulling you out of your peaceful wake. If you do not let these people or things go, you will continue to encounter rough water.

Along with locating and learning comes accepting responsibility for the part you may have played in creating it. Shedding things that no longer serve you is hard, but the less weight you carry, the freer you will be.

The tricky part about the power in your tension is it doesn’t get easier immediately. It’s not an instantaneous sensation. That’s often why most people stay stuck. Nothing is permanent, which means just because you’ve progressed through all three positions once doesn’t mean you can’t get thrown back to position 1. It’s all a process. There is no permanence; there is no finality. In creating your positioning and using your tension — but by going through the process and opening up to the possibilities — there will be moments of smooth water that lead up to the ride of a lifetime.


GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT YOGA SESSION

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A Flexible Lifestyle: The Power of Stretching

Ever since I was 8 years old, I understood the importance of stretching. As a dancer, athlete and performer, I can say without a doubt that stretching plays one of the biggest roles in my success. In ballet class, we’d spend the entire time active stretching at the barre. We would stretch before and after every class. After so many years, I became hard-wired to “active/dynamic stretch” to prep for dancing, then stretch after dancing to recover and get rid of toxins and lactic acid build up. It was ingrained and automatic, and one of the best healthy habits that I’ve held onto.

Stretching is not just sitting in a position and holding it there until you want to cry. It starts with observing what’s tight or achy, then researching various ways to lengthen and stretch the muscles in different ways. Lastly, and most importantly, there’s breathing.

BREATHE AS YOU STRETCH

Learning how to breathe before, during and coming out of a stretch is what people neglect the most. Use your breath to increase the intensity of your stretches. Move into your stretch on an exhale. Every time you inhale, hold the stretch. On each exhale, try to go further into the stretch, without forcing or tightening your muscles. Basically, sometimes there’s a point in a stretch where your body reflexes out of it, focus on breathing out and through that to retrain your muscles to tolerate more flexibility. The appropriate time to be in a stretch is actually two minutes!  

THE BENEFITS OF STRETCHING

Being limber helps your body have more range of motion so that you can assume new and different positions without the risk of tearing or straining something. My boyfriend is a professional skateboarder and has no prior knowledge of stretching and how it can help prevent injuries. So I’ve taught him to loosen areas where he’s been really tight — and he had no idea! It was really cool to coach him through loosening his hips and to see how much it has helped him.


READ MORE > 8 MUST-DO STRETCHES TO PREVENT AND RECOVER FROM WORKOUT INJURIES


As a professional dancer, we don’t have guided warmups before auditions, rehearsals or even live performances. Our bodies have to be 100% ready when we step on stage. There’s a lot of prep before a performance so we can do our ultimate best each time without getting injured.

HOW I STRETCH

I love coming home after a long eight-hour rehearsal and stretch out the day. I’ll just plop down on the floor with a foam roller and some lacrosse balls and close my eyes. I’m not that talented at meditating, so I use stretching to help me calm my mind. I’ll find my breath and wring out any residual stress. It’s like a mental cleanse before hopping into bed then starting a new day.


READ MORE > 5-POSE YOGA FIX FOR DESK DWELLERS


Stretching isn’t just for those who are really active. It helps everyone. Even on a 9–5 workday when you don’t leave your desk once and you’re too tired to go to the gym, you go home and stretch! Stretch while reading or while watching TV. After sitting in that chair all day your back needs to be lengthened, your shoulders and chest opened from hunching over, your hips loosened and wrists unlocked. You will feel like a new human, trust me.


Shop Dani Vitale’s favorite Under Armour gear.


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Is Power Walking Still a Thing?

While there’s no exact point in time that marks when power walking started, or a precise definition, it’s often referred to as aerobic or fitness walking, and it’s a spinoff of race walking, which became an Olympic sport in 1904.

Lately, though, it seems power walking isn’t as popular as it once was — or is it that when people say walking, power walking is just implied. We did a little digging and spoke to experts to get the lowdown on the state of power walking.

THE BEGINNINGS OF POWER WALKING

Even before race walking, there was what we called pedestrianism. “Individuals would walk for distance or sometimes speed,” says Michele Stanten, American Council of Exercise board member, author of “Walk Off Weight.” “It was a popular spectator sport in Europe back in the 1800s and early 1900s.” Then came Volksmarches, explains Stanten, which were non-competitive distance walks, popular in the ‘60s, followed by the creation of charity walks in the ‘70s, where these events were used to help support a greater good. “The popularity of power walking rose in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” says Stanten. “It’s actually even when I started walking along with running and aerobics.”

There’s not an exact definition or reason to explain the rise of power walking, points out Stanten. “During this time period, we all learned that exercise did not have to be extreme — we didn’t all need to run 10Ks or marathons to have cardio fitness,” says Michele Olson, PhD, CSCS, an adjunct professor of sport science at Huntingdon College. “Walking, which is a very body-friendly form of cardio, was something anyone could do, and it was cost effective. The only type of equipment you truly need is a pair of quality exercise shoes.”


READ MORE > WALKING WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AFTER THIS WEEKEND: INTRODUCING EVERWALK


POWER WALKING FOR FITNESS

If done correctly, power walking counts for fitness — it can even be your sole form of exercise. Just try walking on a treadmill at 5 miles per hour for an extended amount of time without letting your form be affected. You need to have a fast gait and efficient movement, explains Olson, but that can be learned.

“Walking workouts often include interval and fartlek training, where you speed up, go off-road, up and down hills, incorporate walking lunges, walk sideways and backwards,” says Olson. “Recent studies even show that if you walk 15,000 steps a day you can stay fit, lose weight and fight off heart disease.” However, most of these studies talk just about walking — not power walking. So is it just implied that you should be power walking, or is just plain walking enough?

IS POWER WALKING STILL A THING?

From a public-health standpoint, the goal is to get all people moving, and even regular walking is a very good option for that. “That’s where the focus has shifted — pedometers and the research on steps throughout the day have shown us that all walking counts,” says Stanten. “But there are still reasons to promote power walking, especially to all the people who are already doing some walking.”

In short, if you love power walking, you should power walk loud and proud. Trends may come and go, but anything that keeps us moving — and walking at any speed — is worth doing.

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