Recently, the subject of core work/engaging the core in yoga practice has come up in the blogosphere, sometimes tangentially, sometimes more directly. For example, Megan's recent insightful post on the difference between yoga and Pilates has sparked an interesting conversation on the relative merits of the two disciplines. In a recent article in Elephant Journal, Sadie Nardini also suggested that many yogis have superficial practices, i.e. practices that do not engage and come from the core, but basically consist of disparate and disjointed movements of various parts of the body. Nardini claims:
"...there’s a lack of depth to many people’s practices, physically, but also on every other level of being. If we’re not touching our cores on the mat, it’s likely that we’re challenged by issues of inner strength and stamina outside the studio too.
Many yoga practitioners are practicing from the outside in and the sky down, instead of the much more powerful directions of inside out and earth up. And I’m glad they are, at least when they come to me, because it’s so incredible to turn a pose inside out and watch people finally, and near-instantly begin to rock their Crow poses, handstands, Warriors and so much more."
Why is it so important to work and move from our core in asana practice? Nardini offers one obvious answer:
"If you want to do yoga when you’re 90–or even in a year, you’ll be smart to stop relying on outer body muscles and your joints to do this practice."
All this talk of moving and working from the core is really compelling and impressive (I'm not being sarcastic--I really mean this!). However, being a semi-hermetic Midwestern Ashtangi who mostly practices by himself, except for short trips here and there to study with senior teachers, and whose knowledge of anatomy is far from extensive, I can only approach this issue from the perspective of my own Ashtanga practice and experience. So the question I would like to pose here is: Does the Ashtanga method, especially its focus on engaging the bandhas, possess the resources to give a practitioner a core-centered practice? Or, to pose the same question more straightforwardly: If one practices only the Ashtanga method (and practices it correctly, of course!), would one be able to achieve the kind of core-centered practice that Nardini talks about? Or does the Ashtanga practice need to be supplemented with another mind/body practice in order to achieve such a result (What would this supplementary practice be? Pilates? Taichi?)?
From my as-yet-limited experience with Ashtanga, I personally feel that if one pays close attention to the breath, drishti and bandhas in practice, the core will take care of itself. I feel this from my experience in developing my jumpthroughs and jumpbacks (JTJB). I feel that, over the last couple of years, my JTJB has become less muscle-intensive, and my breathing during JTJB has also become less constricted (although it is still not as relaxed as when I am standing in Samasthihi; but maybe I'll get there some day :-)). The other day, for example, as I was jumping through into I-forgot-what-asana-in-primary-series, I could actually feel a certain softness in my triceps; I could feel that what was really "powering" my jumpthrough wasn't sheer arm-power, but something... deeper than that. I take this as a sign that, if I keep mindfully working on my bandhas in all postures and transitions, my practice will one day become almost completely core-powered and be much less muscle-powered than it is at present.
Does any of this make any sense? I hope it does; I'm basically just writing off the top of my head (then again, I almost always write off the top of my head these days; but this is a topic for another post).
I guess I'll leave you with the question which started this post: Is Ashtanga practice by itself sufficient for a core-centered practice?