Want to unleash the true potential of your middle? Turns out crunches—yes, the exercise you’ve avoided for years in favor of holding Plank—are key to a stronger core and more stable yoga practice. Here’s how to do crunches so they serve you in every pose and help you score the core of your dreams.
Yogis know that a strong core is crucial. Physically, it’s what helps you stay balanced, move from one pose to the next with muscular integrity, and maintain a healthy spine. Emotionally, your core is arguably your most important body part: It’s the way you show up spiritually and ethically in the world. And given that the practice of yoga is really about connecting to your truest self, core work is key to developing an even stronger sense of self.
Despite all this, it can be tempting to rush through core work or see it as merely a necessary evil. I know it’s not everyone’s favorite portion of yoga class—I hear your grunts when I’m teaching!—but here’s another way to look at it: By working your core with intention, you’ll be better able to recruit your core muscles throughout your entire practice, helping you engage the back body during forward bends (preventing over-rounding and over-stretching of the low back) and the front body during backbends (avoiding pushing past what your body can manage).
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my years of practicing and teaching is that how we work in poses is as important as the poses themselves. Doing the yoga crunch outlined below will engage your core muscles in such a way that you’re able to find that same “work” in each pose of the Safe, Core-Supported Backbending Sequence, not only helping you strengthen your core but also preparing you for your fullest—and safest—expression of each pose.
The Yoga Crunch, Explained
For years, abdominal crunches have gotten a bad rap. Yes, they only work the front-body core muscles, and the core muscles wrap around the entire midsection. That’s why Plank Pose gets so much love: It engages all of the core. However, knowing how to isolate the front core muscles (specifically the transverse abdominis (TA) and psoas) is incredibly important—especially when it comes to backbends. Learn how to isolate your TA and psoas in a yoga crunch and you’ll be better able to isolate those same muscles when you’re moving in the opposite direction (read: backbends), which is the key to lifting the chest and avoiding “dumping” in your low back.
Enter the “Carpenter Crunch,” so named because it was invented by my teacher, Annie Carpenter, the creator of SmartFLOW Yoga. This four-part move focuses on shortening the front body (called spinal flexion) so that when you do the backbend sequence that follows, you can move into spinal extension with greater safety and ease. Do the 4 steps of this crunch 10 times before you start to flow.
Master the Yoga Crunch in 4 Steps
Step one: Find a neutral spine
Begin by lying on your back, knees bent and feet hip-width apart and flat on the ground. Inhale and reach your arms to the sky; exhale and press your bottom ribs into the mat. Keeping your ribs pressing down, interlace your fingers behind your head.
Keep everything the same as in step no. 1, and as you exhale, curl up, rounding your torso (from your shoulders to your tailbone) off the ground. As you curl up, press your navel down toward the ground and bring the bottom of your ribs closer to your pubic bone. This rounding creates spinal flexion.
Keep everything the same as in step no. 2, and as you inhale, extend your legs straight from your hips so they’re at a 45-degree angle to the ground (or lower, for a greater challenge). Firm your legs, lifting your kneecaps as you reach through your feet. If you feel any discomfort in your low back, bend your knees or try one leg at a time.
On an exhale, bend your knees and return your feet to the ground. At the very end of your exhale, round your back even more, curling higher and flattening your low back to the ground. Then, return to step no. 1.
In two decades of combining still photography with performance and moving image, Catherine Yass has refused to be confined by one medium
What is photography? Over the past few years contemporary photographers have incorporated sculpture, performance, moving image, analogue processes and digital technologies into their practice, stoking a sometimes-heated debate about where exactly the medium begins and ends. But for Catherine Yass, such experimentation is nothing new.
In a conversation with BJP and DACS, the not-for-profit artist rights management organisation, Yass explained that she doesn’t, in fact, consider herself a photographer, but an artist who works with photography.
Born in 1963, she’s noted for her vivid, glowing photographs shown against light boxes, as well as her films and installations. Her subjects are often vacant urban spaces, construction sites, monuments of the modern industrial age and the people and institutions who commission her.
“The way we are positioned by and position ourselves in relation to our surroundings both reflects and affects our state of mind and our sense of ourselves in the world,” she says. “The built environment is a form of communication and an expression of society.”
In her Decommissioned (2011) series Yass photographed a car showroom and a dance studio prior to their demolition. When the buildings were destroyed she placed the pictures around the site and retrieved them a few weeks later, transformed by the work going on around them. Lighthouse (2012) captures the sun as it moves behind the north-eastern face of a 1970s lighthouse. At once strangely familiar and yet unfamiliar, these ethereal works are created by combining positive and negative images.
“I use analogue film and process or cross-process it, sometimes loading it the wrong way around to produce unexpected colours and a negative image,” says Yass. “This is overlaid on a regular image and has the effect of solarising it. The space becomes warped with colours, not obeying the laws of perspective but increasing in intensity as they recede into the distance. Space and time are distorted to disorientating effect, pulling you in and out of the image and suggesting different psychological, spatial and temporal dimensions.”
It was while studying at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1980s that Yass had her first forays into photography. Initially her pictures were documentary in its purest sense – she saw her 35mm SLR as a straightforward tool with which to record her performances and temporary installations in black and white – but she became intrigued by the medium itself.
“I enjoyed being in the darkroom and gaining an understanding of the different meanings you can put on an image, based on how it’s cropped or how dark or light it is. It made me distrustful of photography but also gave me an understanding that it was a language. It was adding another layer to the performances.”
Over time the performances became something she did for the camera. “I would make photographs of a little performance. One example was a photograph of myself walking past some formal railings, and I ‘de-alienated’ them by tying pink J-Cloth ribbons around the print and re-photographed it. I was trying to make it look realistic so, for example, if you tied a shoelace around a railing it would look like I’d really done it but also you could tell I hadn’t. I wasn’t trying to disguise anything.”
This in turn led organically to moving image. “The time in the photograph, the movement within and between two photographs as well, is so conceptually different from a moving image and yet they’re a tiny millimetre apart. I started filming things but slowing them down by incredible amounts so they were almost still. That was a little jump into the moving image and I got more excited by it.”
Yass’s film Descent, shot by lowering a camera to the ground from a crane in Canary Wharf, featured in the solo exhibition of the same name at Asprey Jacques Gallery, London, which earned her a Turner Prize nomination in 2002.
Having the freedom to try out new things is vital to Yass, which is why she values copyright as a way to help support her practice financially. Since 2014 she has been claiming royalties for the secondary use of her work through DACS’s annual Payback scheme, which is currently open for application until 01 May. “Just as I might pay someone for hiring a camera or a meal cooked in a café, DACS provides a way of being paid for the use of my work,” says Yass.
Any photographer or visual artist whose work has ever been featured in a UK book, magazine or shown on TV can make a claim for Payback royalties online. Last year more than 35,000 visual artists, the majority of them photographers, received a share of £5.5m.
“I’ve been claiming Payback for a few years now – it can help to cover pre-production tests and experiments that don’t necessarily get budgeted into production costs,” says Yass. “I am really excited about going back to stills and experimenting with taking photographs without using a lens,” she adds. “It’s very early stages, I don’t know if it will come to anything.”
Apply for DACS’ annual Payback scheme before 01 May. DACS collects and distributes royalties to visual artists and their estates through three royalty schemes: Payback, Artist Resale Rights and Copyright Licensing.To find out more about what you can claim for, please read DACS’ FAQs or visit DACS for more information.