I refer to 'engaging the core' in a lot of my yoga sessions. But what does it actually mean?

Well, we have what is called our core stability muscle group. It contributes to spine stability in the lower half of our torso. It provides the ability to flex, side bend and rotate the torso. These muscles serve to protect the abdominal organs, the lower part of our spine and ensure the maintenance of good postural alignment. Many of the muscles we use for our core are hidden under those that people would usually train such as ‘the abs’ (Eternal Obliques and the Rectus Abdominis). The muscles that support our core are the Transverse Abdominis, Pelvic floor muscles and Lumbar Multifidus.

The reason why it is so good to know about your core muscle group is because it plays a huge role in protecting your spine and surrounding musculature when we move the body in certain waysboth in static asanas and dynamic movements. For example, during practice of yoga asanas, we engage the core before we move into the asana—this is because our core muscle group most often acts as a stabiliser and force transfer centre rather than a prime mover. It is also important to ensure these core muscles are engaged prior to lifting or moving heavy objects.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of each of the muscles in our core, I wanted to tell you about the Dru Yoga Online video on the core muscle group, which you might like to watch.

Transverse Abdominis
Transverse Abdominis is the deepest layer of abdominal muscles and wraps around the torso from front to back and from the ribs to the pelvis. The muscle fibres of the Transverse Abdominis run horizontally, similar to a corset or a weight belt [Ref. www.sportsmedicine.about.com]. This muscle helps with respiration and breathing, stabilises the spine and helps compress the internal organs. When activated it sends a message to the Pelvic Floor muscles to contract and then to the Lumbar Multifidus.

Pelvic Floor
Pelvic floor muscles support the organs that lie on it, they stretch between the pubic bone and coccyx and from one sitting bone to the other sitting bone (side-to-side) —these muscles are usually firm and thick [Ref. www.continence.org.au]. These muscles are activated when we contract the Transverse Abdominis and in turn send the message to our Lumbar Multifidus to contract.

Lumbar Multifidus
Lumbar Multifidus is a very powerful group of small muscles that attach to the spinal column. They are cone-like in shape and connect to the vertebrae of the spine. These muscles help to take pressure off the vertebral discs so that our body weight can be well distributed along the spine [Ref. www.coreconcepts.com.sg]. These muscles are split into two groups, the superficial muscles, which help to keep the spine straight, and the deep muscles, which play a huge role in keeping the spine stabilised. These two groups of Multifidus muscles are recruited during many actions in our daily living, which includes bending backward, sideways and even twisting our body from side-to-side [Ref. www.coreconcepts.com.sg].