It's not news that in order to increase your sports performance, you need to exercise your core. But if you think that this means doing a bunch of sit-ups, you need to freshen up your strategy. Core exercises should not only strengthen your core, but also teach you to use your whole body in a more functional manner. Your body is more efficient when your power emerges from your strong, stable center taking pressure off all the peripheral and much less stable joints of the body. The end result of learning to move from your core is that you will have better posture, less injuries, and more energy. The holistic viewpoint of Yoga makes it the perfect tool to teach us these lessons.
While doing these exercises, think in terms of your body as a whole. The point of these core exercises is to re-teach your body how to move in a more efficient manner. These exercises are from the upcoming "Yoga for Shoulders: Restore and Strengthen" DVD, so the focus is on how the core relates to the shoulders.
In all of the poses, make sure that when you engage your shoulder blades, that they move into the back and not toward each other. In the Boat Poses, think of all energy emanating from the navel and work on releasing unnecessary effort in the rest of the body:
Half Boat Pose, Ardha Navasana:
Begin in Supine Mountain Pose: lying on your back, feet together and flexed, arms at your sides. Lengthen your spine, relax extraneous tensions, and breathe fully. Exhale as you strongly engage the abdominals and lift the legs and torso without arching the low back or jutting the head forward. Concentrate on only using your middle: don't tense the fronts of the shoulders keeping the collarbones broad. Draw the shoulder blades down the back and then firm them onto the back. Breathe fully and relax the jaws and the face. Stay as long as you can stand it. Release back to the floor and relax fully taking deep breaths. Repeat.
Full Boat Pose, Navasana:
Begin sitting with your legs bent in front of you and feet flat on the floor. Lift in and up with the inner thighs, pelvic floor and navel. Lift up through the spine and the crown of the head. Broaden the collarbones and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Engage the bottom tips of your shoulder blades forward--toward your sternum.
Using your hands on the floor next to your hips for balance, exhale and lift your feet off the floor. Keep all of the above actions going. If you need more challenge, lift your hands and straighten your arms in front of you. Draw the arm bones back in the sockets, slide the shoulder blades down the back, and engage the bottom tips of them forward. Lift up with the back body as much as with the front body. Keep the collarbones broad and breathe evenly. Relax the face and jaws.
To go one step further, straighten the legs. Squeeze the inner thighs. Activate and spread the toes. Breathe and maintain all of the above actions.
Release back to sitting and take some deep breaths and relax all effort. Repeat.
The next pose stretches the front body and strengthens the often-ignored back body and the spine. A strong and flexible spine is part of a strong core:
Locust Pose, Salabhasana:
Lie in a prone position with your forehead on the floor, your feet about hip width, and your arms by your sides with your palms face up. Take a deep breath and release all tension. Lengthen your spine from your tailbone through the crown of your head. Broaden your collarbones, draw the shoulder blades down your back and engage the lower and inner shoulder blades into the back. Inhale as you lift your legs, torso, and arms. Keep the head in line with the spine and take your gaze up. Release tension from your face and jaws. Breathe fully. Exhale and slowly come down and release completely into the floor.
End with Relaxation Pose, Savasana:
Lie in a comfortable postition. Release your body into the floor completely. Stay for at least 5 minutes.
If these poses cause any sharp pains in your body, your body is not ready, and you need an instructor to watch and correct your alignment. Listen to your body and seek guidance if you need.