What Is Core Flow?

What is Core Flow? 

For the next couple of months on this blog, we’re going to focus on IAM Yoga’s signature class styles: Flow, Core Flow, Detox Flow, Detox Core Flow, and Classic Yoga. We’re also going to do a primer on Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga. In the past, we have covered Hatha and Ashtanga – check out their respective posts for more. The intention of these articles is to help you choose the right class for you at the right time – every day is different, so you will need different styles on different days.

Understanding each style of yoga can also help you choose an intention for each practice that is best supported by the class style. For example, ending up in a fast-moving Flow class in the hot studio when you’re feeling ungrounded or anxious can be counterproductive if you weren’t sure what to expect or aren’t familiar with the sequence. However, knowing what to expect in the class can help you set an intention and a focus that can help you get grounded even when the class moves quickly.

Core Flow is one of our most popular – and challenging – styles of practice. Many students notice a huge development of their yoga practice after strengthening their core through Core Flow classes. The muscles of the core are not only important for yoga; they help support the spine, protect the internal organs, and support bodily functions like defecating, vomiting, and giving birth. Weak or overly flexible muscles in the core and back can cause serious back pain because the joints within the spine will not be protected through movement.

The core muscles are essential to supporting almost every yoga pose. The “core” is made up of muscles through the front and sides of the abdomen as well as muscles that wrap around and run up the back. There are four key layers of core muscle we focus on in a Core Flow class, all of which support slightly different types of movement. The reason the different layers of muscle support different types of movement is that the muscle fibres run in different directions – horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. Muscle fibres can only contract in the direction in which they run (imagine an elastic band that can only stretch to be longer, not wider), so each layer of core muscle contracts in a specific direction. In a well-sequenced Core Flow class, we try to include movements that incorporate all the different directions to strengthen all the layers of muscle.

For this reason, in order to strengthen the entire core, you want multiple types of core exercises. These might include crunches or variations of crunches (if you come to classes with multiple teachers, you’ll see that variations on the basic crunch are nearly endless); plank exercises and plank variations; exercises on hands and knees or lying on the belly that focus on the back muscles; and standing or balancing exercises. When it comes to using your core in real life, there is a myriad of positions you might end up in where a strong core will keep you from getting injured, so strengthening your core in lots of positions will prepare you well. 

Attending a Core Flow class can also help remind you to use your core throughout transitions and not just in static poses. It’s easy to forget how to engage the abdominal muscles in movement, especially when we’re moving quickly through flows… but that is when the injury is most likely to happen. Many people reach a pose and then think about how to engage their core; instead, we want you to keep the core muscles “on” throughout every movement of the class.

So what does it mean to “engage the core” or keep those muscles “on”? There are a few cues that you’ll hear your teachers use regularly that can be helpful. Think of slightly lifting the front of your pelvis or your front hip bones towards the bottom of your rib cage; draw your low ribs in and down without collapsing your chest; imagine drawing the sides of the waist in towards the centre; allow your tailbone to drop towards the floor. This is especially important when it gets harder to do, for example in plank, chaturanga, or upward dog. In those poses, especially while moving quickly, it’s much easier to allow the lower back to arch and to sink your weight into your spine. Unfortunately, collapsing through the lower back can have serious consequences for your spine over time as the discs between the vertebrae can get damaged.

Typically, Core Flow classes will open with tuning into your breath and then move straight into a sequence of core exercises. These will be followed with a series of Vinyasas and standing poses interspersed with more core exercises; final core sequences will likely end the standing sequence and take the class down to the floor for the final 15 minutes or so. Remember that no matter what class you attend, you are always welcome to take breaks and move at your own pace! Core Flow can feel intense, especially if you’ve never taken the class before, and we never want you to feel overwhelmed or scared away.

Practicing Core Flow Classes will support your practice in other styles, although you shouldn’t do Core Flow every day. Your muscles need 24 hours to recover after a challenging practice, so it’s a good idea to choose a different style of practice if you’re heading back to the studio within a day. After you do challenging work with a group of muscles they are damaged, and recovery time is when they knit back together and get stronger.

What you get out of your practice is dependent on both choosing the right style for you and determining the right focus to get what you need. If you have questions about what style is best for your current needs, please approach your teachers or the front-desk staff at any time. Happy practicing!