Better posture, relief from back pain and a stronger lower body are some of the benefits that students in our new core class noticed after taking the first two eight-week sessions. And getting tighter glutes in the process isn’t a bad bonus.
Sunset Yoga Center launched the first Foundations of Core Stability class in September 2012. Based on the overwhelmingly positive response, the next term we added an advanced class for those who wanted to continue where the first class left off. We recently checked in with instructor Julie Burtis and a few of the “graduates” who attended the first Core 1 and Core 2 sessions to see what they thought of this unique approach to strengthening the core.
From One-on-One to a Group Setting
After studying a variety of approaches to core strengthening to address her own back issues, Julie began working with Kazuko Mumma, a fitness trainer and clinical exercise physiologist who is certified in both Qigong and Pilates. Kazuko’s unique approach emphasizes coordinating the breath with movement in order to generate a strong contraction of the core muscles. She also teaches exercises to develop the buttock muscles so that the back doesn’t overwork in exercises such as plank position and squats.
“The way she was working with the breath just blew my mind,” said Julie, who was also surprised by how much the glutes should be engaged: the core isn’t just about the abdominals.
Julie knew firsthand that the approach worked one-on-one, but she wasn’t sure how well it would translate to a group setting that relied on a commitment to practicing a minimum of four days a week at home. Not everyone who signed up for the first class was a fan of the slow, deliberate start, but Julie noticed a vast improvement in those who stuck with it.
“I saw that as students developed the ability to coordinate the exercises with their breath, their quality of movement changed. The exercises began to look fluid and strong,” Julie said.
One of the exercises involves rolling a large exercise ball in various ways. Over time, the movements smooth out and become less “jerky,” and that’s when students notice improvements such as better posture.
One-of-a-Kind Core Strengthening
“I think this is probably the only class like it,” Julie said. “I’ve seen it work for just about anyone who’s willing to try it.”
This approach to core strengthening has won over students who have sampled other methods.
“I have taken core strengthening classes in the past but always felt that I just could not do it,” said Gail Moses. “Some of the exercises made my back hurt, or I was just too weak—and plank was always elusive. So I was somewhat apprehensive that this class might be similar.
“I found this class much safer, as having a physical therapist teach it means she has the knowledge to be sure we are not using the ‘wrong muscles’ to complete the exercise. She is very focused on correct, safe form. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to take a class such as this from a physical therapist and yoga teacher in such a small setting.”
Dagmar Dickey appreciates the portability of the exercises. “I love that I’m learning exercises that don’t require me to lift weights or do any type of running,” she said. “I love that we are learning some exercises that can be taken with us whenever we travel, even if we can’t bring our ball along.”
Julie starts slowly with basic moves and encourages students to work at their own pace. The class steadily builds from week to week, and students are required to maintain a regular home practice to keep up with the “steady building.”
According to Julie, the class is good for people who want to refine their core strength or who are feeling back tension. “A lot of people don’t have the strength to protect their spine in other core exercises,” she noted.
After undergoing foot surgery, Gail was unable to bear weight for almost six months, and she lost a lot of strength in her lower body, which was affecting her recovery.
“Walking up any inclines caused hip pain and just seemed to set back any progress I was making,” said Gail, an avid hiker. “I have significant nerve damage from my original injury that profoundly affects my balance on that side, so standing poses in yoga had been slow come back to me.”
She was drawn to the core class because she wanted to start strengthening her lower body without inclines or bearing weight.
“I was consistent in my home practice and saw steady improvement,” Gail said. “I am clearly stronger in my lower body. My hiking is going easier, inclines are easier.”
Learning to engage her glutes and abdominals instead of relying on her hamstrings and quads has introduced a new ease to Gail’s standing yoga poses. She notes improvement in her bridge and table poses but says they remain a struggle.
Pam Gates can vouch for the pain-relieving aspect of the class. She had taken Nuvana’s Back Care class to work through some back issues. Over the past year, she developed posture problems that caused pain on her left side when she lay down at night. She went through a round of physical therapy, where she discovered that her left side was very weak, and signed up for the initial core class. Pam has found relief with this unique approach to core strengthening. But she notices when she takes a few days off because the pain starts to return.
“I feel way better and can tell I’m getting stronger,” said Pam, who likes that she can practice at home and appreciates the accountability of a weekly class.
Experiencing back pain isn’t a prerequisite. A former yoga student of Julie’s, Dagmar signed up for the class immediately upon seeing it advertised. “I don’t really have any issues I was trying to address,” she said, “but I thought, ‘Hey, it’s strengthening my core, and that’s got to be a great thing!’”
Dagmar practices faithfully and reports that her “body still feels achy—the good kind that makes you know you’re really working something out—after a workout.”
For the past 12 years, Dagmar’s exercise routine has included mainly yoga and walking. Although she didn’t have any specific complaints she was hoping to address, the class has already helped her yoga practice. “The pinching I would sometimes feel in my back during certain standing poses has really diminished,” she said. “I always related it to me not holding my body exactly right, and I’m hopeful the Core Stability class is helping me to get those muscles in shape so that I can get into those standing poses more properly.”
‘A Real Gem’
Students praise Julie’s Iyengar-style commitment to proper form and her knack for intuitively seeing what each individual needs. “She good about not pushing us too fast and wants to make sure we’re doing it correctly, “ Pam said. “I just think she’s a real gem.”
Gail agrees: “As is typical of Sunset instructors, Julie is excellent: patient, encouraging, and she helps each of us move forward at our own pace. She provides individual assessment when we are stuck or having trouble with a particular exercise. She is so knowledgeable. I just can’t say enough great things about this class!”
“I especially love that Julie is so knowledgeable in this field,” Dagmar added, “and that she is so very patient and caring with each and every one of us. If you want to find an easy way to get into developing your core muscles, this is a great class!”
Depending on interest, Julie hopes to continue the class and may even add a third level for students who want to continue.