Sadie Nardini on Yoga Injuries & Core Strength
Yoga rock star Sadie Nardini busts a few “core strength” myths, dishes on alignment, and discusses vinyasa-related injuries.
Sadie Nardini has an unmistakable presence. She has the fired-up looks of a high-voltage rock frontwoman and she’s certainly no stranger to controversy; her decision to publicize why she was ditching vegetarianism for a healthier diet fueled a massive conversation online about what a yoga practitioner “should” or “shouldn’t” eat. She’s taught yoga for 20 years, studying with alignment-based yoga teachers like Leslie Kaminoff. While her style of yoga—Core Strength Vinyasa—sounds like a sweaty power yoga class; it’s not. Sadie aims to make “core strength” a conversation much more about alignment and even self-surrender, than about killer abs.
I aimed to find out why.
What do you think the most common misconceptions are when it comes to building core strength?
That core strength comes from strengthening or working the abs—when in fact, the abs are meant more for breathing and moving rather than spinal stabilization.
Core strength does not come from strengthening or working the abs.
If we want to stabilize the spine most efficiently we want to look at the deeper core muscles that are found closer to the spine or even on the spine—like the psoas and the quadratus lumborum. Those two muscle groups are extremely crucial to developing proper core strength, but most teachers never teach them.
What problems do you see in yoga classes when that’s not a focus?
In vinyasa classes, injuries are becoming more common, and misalignment in vinyasa-flow yoga is epidemic. I see major mis-instruction happening in almost every class I attend. It’s surprising. Many teachers are teaching from a place of misinformation, so the students follow that and their bodies aren’t moving properly and they get hurt.
Misalignment in vinyasa-flow yoga is epidemic, and injuries are becoming more common.
A lot of common instructions like turn your hips forward in Warrior I are extremely damaging to the body. Take a skeleton, put it in warrior I, put the back foot at 45 degrees, and then just turn the hips forward, and watch the knee joint twist horribly. When I do this in a class, it’s like [Macaulay Culkin in] Home Alone—their hands are on their cheeks and they’re screaming (laughs) and it’s amazing to watch. But that’s a really common instruction.
Just undoing some of these urban legends [of misalignment] is really my main goal. I think a lot of people see me as this fun, rock star of yoga, but when they get into a room with me they’re learning deep, real, yoga principles. (laughs).
So how does that kind of anatomy of movement affect our everyday life—why does it matter?
Let’s say your boss really stresses you out. And whenever you’re at work, your shoulders are tight because you’re not in a good space. You’re anxious there. So you end up getting these really locked-up shoulders. Which then start radiating because they are connected to your back-body line, and cause a tight neck, tight low back, tight hamstrings.
And one day in class you tear your hamstrings in a class and you think it’s because of the hot room. But it’s actually because of your relationship and disagreement with your crappy boss. (Laughs) So you gotta go back to the source and correct that [emotional alignment] from dysfunctional to functional. From limiting to loving. With compassion for yourself.
Once you stop putting up with whatever makes you anxious, once you start moving away from the drama, and start maintaining a sense of peace and ease within your life, you’ll start seeing your body transform.
I get that. I just started realizing how much I physically stick my neck out. It’s obviously bad for my shoulders—but I do it whenever I’m agitated, or annoyed, or feel defensive.
I do my own thing. My belly will get really tight if I get pissed off and I can feel it if I get nervous or anxious. It’s a reminder to me that I am not trusting in my own strength, and I feel like there is something to defend or something to lose. Whenever we believe that we start to tighten up.
Keep a soft belly, and a strong core.
I think it’s important to have an element of surrender within our strength, to balance our shtira with some sukha. Give ourselves a chance to feel some of that freedom as well as the power. That’s why I say the abdominal muscles are really supposed to be resilient for breathing and movement.
Because that’s what gets tight when we feel defensive—we stop breathing when we feel threatened.
Yes, exactly! I always have students at the beginning of class tighten all their abs and then try to inhale. You can’t. That’s why I tell my students to keep a soft belly, and a strong core.
Do you have any other tips or advice for yoga practitioners and teachers?
I would say 95% of every yoga pose is really aligned before you get to it. It’s what happens on the journey. Most people get into a pose and then start trying to align. That doesn’t work—you’re already in full expression. You’re locked out of your deep core align, you’re locked out of your pelvis.
I think it’s the most lost opportunity for teachers to not understand how to build a pose from the ground up. But to instead wait until they get there and then save students from carnage (laughs) and it doesn’t work.
So I’m helping teachers of all styles learn how to create a pose before it looks like a pose.
Before they have to give an assist that might not be very helpful?
Yeah. A lot of teachers—Kripalu, Ashtanga, Kundalini, of all styles—starting to include these deep core alignments and transitions write to me to say that they’ve doubled their class sizes. Because students can feel that it’s a more effective method, they’re sore in places they’ve never been sore—people seem to like that—but they know that they’re working smarter. They can feel that and they feel more natural. And they don’t feel the pain that they used to in their joints during yoga.
Other people have other teachings, but that’s mine.