A strong core is the foundation for just about any yoga pose. It helps with everything from balance to stamina, supporting you as reach new layers of poses. If you are looking to ignite the power of your abdominal muscles, work on these poses to build up your strength.
Phalakasana — Plank Pose
Plank Pose, or Palakasana, comes with a lot of power. It is considered a more effective abdominal workout than crunches or sit-ups, as it activates the entire torso, from your hips to your shoulders, rather than solely your lower abs. As an added bonus, it doesn’t only workout your abdominals, but it also engages your arms, legs, back, and spine.
Begin in a table top position on your hands and knees. Your wrists should be stacked underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Your palms should press firmly into the mat.
Tuck your toes and step your legs back, so that you are in a straight line from your head to your heels. Your neck should be active but relaxed, with your gaze down at the mat.
Bring awareness to your hips, and make sure they are in line with your body, rather than sinking or coming up too high. Ensure that your shoulders are still stacked over your wrists, and focus on pressing through the thumb and index fingers.
Continue to press your thighs up towards the ceiling, while still maintaining a straight line, and drive your tailbone towards your heels.
Try holding for at least 30 seconds, but hold for longer if possible to build up more strength and stamina. To release, carefully lower back down to your knees.
Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana — Dolphin Plank Pose
Like Plank Pose, Dolphin Plank, or Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana, is another position that fires up the core while working out other key muscles in the body. It is also a great option for those with wrist issues, as it puts less pressure on the hands.
To get into Dolphin Plank, start from Plank Pose as instructed above. Slowly shift your weight slightly forward, and ensure your shoulders are aligned over your wrists.
Carefully lower onto your forearms, with your palms pressed into the floor and forearms parallel. Keep your neck relaxed and active, with your gaze down to the floor. Your shoulders should still be stacked over your wrists. Press your thighs up towards the ceiling and draw your tailbone towards your heels, ensuring that you are in a straight line.
Hold the position for at least 30 seconds, and carefully release back down to your knees.
Utkatasana — Chair Pose
When you think of Chair Pose, or Utkatasana, you may immediately think of an intense leg workout. However, it is also an effective workout for activating the core.
Start in a standing position, with your feet parallel to each other. They can be touching, or hips-width distance apart for more support.
On an inhale, reach your arms above your head with your palms facing together.
On an exhale, bend your knees. Focus on getting your thighs as parallel to the ground as possible while you drive your hips backwards and towards the ground.
Your torso should be slightly leaning forward, with your spine elongated. You should continue to drive your tailbone down. Be mindful of keeping your shoulders away from your ears, and firm your shoulder blades together. Ensure that you can still see your toes past your knees.
Stay in this pose for approximately 30 seconds to a minute, and release into standing.
Vasisthasana — Side Plank Pose
Side Plank Pose, or Vasisthasana, takes the standard plank to the next level, adding an element of balance and stability. It also specifically targets the obliques -the muscles on either side of your torso.
Begin in a Plank Pose, creating a straight line from the back of your neck to your heels. Step your feet together behind you so that your big toes touch.
Bring your weight into your right palm, and then roll your body to the right, balancing on your right palm and outer edge of your right foot. Your left foot should be stacked on top of your right, with both feet active and flexed.
Send your left arm up, actively reaching through your fingertips. Bring awareness to your hips, and ensure that they are not dipping low. You can bring your gaze to your upper thumb, or straight ahead if you feel unbalanced.
Continue to firm up through your arms as you lift your hips and lengthen your spine to create a diagonal line. For an added challenge, you can lift your top leg to hover above your bottom leg.
Breathe through this pose for about 30 seconds, and then release back down into plank. You can immediately switch to the opposite side, or go to Down Dog or Child’s Pose to take a moment to restore.
Paripurna Navasana — Boat Pose
Boat Pose, or Navasana, works deeply into the abdominal muscles, as well as the hip flexors and back. It allows for many modifications as you work on your strength and build up to Paripurna Navasana, or Full Boat Pose.
Start seated with your legs out in front of you. Place your hands behind your thighs as you bend your knees, keeping your legs together and bringing your feet closer towards your glutes. Your toes should remain on the ground, but the rest of your foot should hover above your mat. Slightly lean your torso back, until you feel your core muscles engage.
Keep an elongated spine in the posture, and avoid hunching forward. If you want to take the pose further, begin by lifting one leg and then the other off the ground, creating a ‘V’ shape with your body. You can then let go of the backs of your legs, extending your arms out in front of you.
Ensure you are still keeping an elongated spine in this layer of the posture. Find your balance on your sits bones, and continue to breathe in this posture for about 20 to 30 seconds. Release on an exhale, grabbing hold of the back of your thighs and placing your feet on the ground.
Dandayamana Bharmanasana — Bird Dog Crunches
Bird Dog Crunches allow you to simultaneously work on your core and stability, as well as strength in your glutes, hips, and legs.
Start in a table top position, with your knees under your hips and wrists under your shoulders. Extend your right leg behind you, parallel to the ground. Extend your left arm forward, keeping it straight and parallel to the ground with your palm facing in.
Keep your neck long with your gaze down as you actively extend through your arm and leg. Your spine should be in a neutral position, being careful not to over arch your back.
On an exhale, bring your left arm and right leg in towards center, so that your knee and elbow draw towards each other to touch around your mid torso. On an inhale, return to the extended position.
Repeat this movement for 10 reps. Return to table top, and then repeat the exercise with the opposite leg and arm extended.
Ardha Pincha Mayurasana — Dolphin Pose
Dolphin Pose, or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana, tones the core while giving a deep stretch to the hamstrings and lengthening the spine.
Begin in plank pose. Lower down onto your forearms and clasp your hands together. Start to bring your feet forward in small steps towards your arms, allowing your hips to raise. You should eventually make an upside-down ‘V’ shape.
Keep your head aligned between your upper arms, with your gaze looking back towards your feet, and be sure to keep your neck relaxed but active. Be aware of your spine, keeping it elongated as you reach your tailbone up and back. Actively press your heels towards the floor to fully feel the stretch in your back legs.
Remain breathing deep in this position for about 30 seconds, before releasing back through plank, or by simply coming forward to a kneeling position.
Bhujangasana — Cobra Pose
Cobra Pose, or Bhujangasana, engages the abdominal muscles and helps to open up the shoulders and back. It also provides a great stretch to the front of the body, which can be restorative after working your core.
Start lying on your stomach, with your legs together. Bring your hands up towards your shoulders, placing your palms firmly into the mat and your elbows close to your sides.
On an inhale, lift your head and chest, without putting much weight into your palms. Ensure your legs are active and tops of your toes are pressing into the mat.
If you’d like to go further, on the next inhale, lift your chest and abdomen up as you press through your thighs and straighten your arms. Be mindful of keeping your shoulders away from your ears and not placing too much weight into your palms.
Hold for 30 seconds, and release back down on an exhale.
Utthita Parsvakonasana — Extended Side Angle Pose
Extended Side Angle Pose, or Utthita Parsvakonasana, both stretches and tones the abdominal muscles, while also strengthening your legs and building up stamina.
Start in Warrior II, with your right leg in front. With your hips facing the side, tilt your torso forward towards your right leg, and place your right elbow on your thigh. Extend your left arm up above your head, and send it towards the front of the room.
Continue to elongate your spine in this pose, and don’t allow yourself to dump too much weight into your right arm. If you would like to take it further, you can straighten your bottom arm along the inside of your right thigh. You can hold it in space, use a block to support you, or bring it down to the mat if your flexibility allows for it.
Hold the pose for about 30 seconds, and then release and repeat on the opposite side.
If you’re looking for a pose
Bakasana — Crow Pose
that will challenge the strength of your core, give Crow Pose, or Bakasana, a shot. This pose engages your core, while also testing your balance and arm strength.
Start in a forward fold, and walk your hands out in front of you, placing them firmly on the ground. Begin to shift the weight forward into your hands as you bend your elbows.
Place your knees on the shelves created by your upper arms, with the knees sitting in your armpits. Start to play with your balance, bringing one toe off the ground, and then testing the other.
If you feel stable, bring both feet off the ground, with your big toes touching as they are lifted. Keep your core engaged and continue to push through the ground. Bring your gaze about a foot in front of you, rather than behind you, as it will help you maintain your balance.
Hold the position for about 30 seconds, going back into it if you fall out. Release by slowly rocking back into your squat.
Strengthening your core can lead to benefits both on and off the mat. Take the time to target the abdominal muscles with these poses, and see how both your practice and everyday life changes.
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Originally published at https://yogapractice.com on August 27, 2018.