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Turn on the core

asana bandha core integration moola bandha mula bandha Apr 11, 2022

By: Emily Davies

We do crunches, pilates, yoga, strength training... but for so many of us, the core is a puzzle that we just can't seem to figure out...

Why is the core so elusive?

In this short instructional video, I teach you MY FAVORITE (physical therapy) move to synergize and strengthen the core: LEG LIFTS.

I begin most of my yoga classes with this exercise so the core is warm. When the core is warm & working, it can be more supportive of the weight of the body during the yoga practice.

When we move with a connection to our core, it takes pressure off of the joints like the wrists, shoulders, and ankles because we are moving from and integrated with our power center. Our physical center of gravity is our energetic storehouse of our personal power. 

An activated core creates an uplifting weightlessness allowing the yogi to glide and float through yoga forms, reducing pressure on the extremities.

I recommend doing this Leg Lifts exercise before a yoga practice (not necessary for yin or restorative) or any exercise, or on it's own! Try three sets of ten leg lifts.


In my 18 years of yoga-life practice,  and 10 years of teaching and working personally with clients in yoga and sexual wellness, what I've come to understand is this:

When it comes to the soft tissues of the core, it's a little bit about strength, a little bit about pliability, and a whole lot about SYNERGY.

Synergy happens when groups of muscles fire together. Muscles work in groups to support the architecture of the body and complete the tasks at hand - whether it be to pick up a toddler or do a proper chaturanga dandasana.

Chaturanga Dandasana

One reason why the core is so elusive is because of the LACK of synergy of the muscles in this area.

This is likely from our normal, modern sedentary lifestyle but could also be due to pregnancy, surgery, trauma, obesity, or other reasons.

When the muscles don't know they are supposed to work together, the brain can't create the mental picture of this part of the body.

We can't comprehend it because the chain links are broken and it's confusing for the brain to try to make sense of.

If we also layer in the factor that for one reason or another, many of us are deeply "checked out" psycho-somatically of the hips and deep belly it makes this attempt to "know" the core from the top-down futile. 

When I started to zoom out and not just look at the muscles... but FEEL the entire system of body & breath and consider the core from the perspective of function - that's when the lights really started to turn on for me, and I hope this lens helps you, too. 

What is the core?

In my experience, it's most helpful to consider the entire trunk as your core. Not just the belly.

Think of the core as 360 degrees around from the shoulders to the hips, like a cylinder - with pressure releases in the neck (Jalandhara bandha for the yogis in the room) and pelvic outlets (moola bandha).

The core is like a cylinder of tissues wrapping around a bony structure that is an entire pressurized system. For more info on the pressure system, read my blog on IAP (Intra-abdominal pressure).

There are an infinite amount of resources out there teaching the different muscle groups of the core, and I encourage familiarizing yourself with these pieces and trying to feel each part of them in YOU.

My job is to help you think about it a little differently - not in the individual pieces (because don't our brains love to break down all the details?) but instead how it works as a system. 

That being said, it is very helpful to know that the exercise I'm teaching in this video works specifically to retrain the TVA (transverse abdominis) to synergize with the levator ani (the pelvic floor) but as a part of the lower 360 degrees of the trunk.

Even though we're focusing on those two muscle groups working together, part of our focus remains on the posture of the shoulders, neck, and ribs BECAUSE it is all part of one system.

Quality over quantity

In this instructional video, I invite you to put your hands on the low belly and pull the perineum up & in and navel back. When you begin lifting the legs, the low belly should not pooch. If it pooches, you've dropped the muscles. Go slow until you get it right. Quality over quantity.

If I were to redo this video, I would use a folded blanket under my head, so BONUS if you're reading this you get that little tidbit of knowledge :).

And the reason we start so slow is because I want you to connect in. I want you to learn to move from an embodied place. Let the mind and nervous system settle into the body and into the present moment. We want to wake up feeling & function in our tissues to move intelligently and in a connected way.

One other important piece of the puzzle for this move is finding your neutral pelvis. Once you find your neutral pelvis you can lock into a much more stable core & hip function, it's better for the entire body in general. I'll dive into this in an upcoming workshop I'll be doing called Pelvic Discovery. Register here for the May 7, 2022 event.

Asana is about integration

The longer I practice yoga, the more I feel that asana is helpful for the obvious reasons of flexibility, strength, and connection - but the maybe not-so-obvious medicine of asana is it's ability to retrain chains and groups of muscles to work together, thereby reinforcing your body's resilience, neural wiring, and physical stability from head to toe.

Don't you LOVE asana?? Me too. And here I'd like to offer so much gratitude to my original teacher, Indu Bala Bhardwaj, of It's Yoga Cincinnati. She is a teachers teacher, dedicated yogi for over 50 years, a gymnast, ballerina, and is ALWAYS learning more about the body, as well as holding a deep well of yoga wisdom. When I practice with her, I quantum leap in my practice.

Of course, I didn't always understand synergy. When I first started practicing yoga it was all about synchronization of breath & body, flexibility and stamina.

Over time, it was about proprioception. Then interoception. Then energy.

Then I learned that I was breaking pieces of "me" apart so they can be rebuilt and that I go through phases of breaking down to rebuild in cycles. Now I try to alchemize that process in one practice - break down WHILE pulling all my pieces back together.

Obviously I'm not talking about tearing my actual tissues apart - it's physical tension or numbness, with emotional baggage that's ready to move... to release what's ready to go and pull all of that newfound energy into my central channel stored in my Hara.

Where are you in your phase of practice? Send me an email, I would love to know more about you. 

Our physical center is our energetic powerhouse. When we train the core, our container of energy is much more stable. The physical benefits are more obvious - like better balance, toning the pelvic floor, and less back pain - but we can simultaneously welcome the energetic benefit of learning to contain our creative, primal energy, reduce leakages of this energy, and practice using it with more intention.

And practicing leg lifts is a wonderful way to train that spiritual, sexual core...