Through yoga’s poses, or asanas, we align our bodies to encourage energy to flow freely throughout the body. As anyone who has begun taking yoga knows, this can require a considerable amount of both strength and concentration, and a big part of this is centered on developing strong core muscles to support control over your body.
On it’s face, building out the core is an attractive goal for any fitness aficionado. However, a good yogi will remember that Hatha Yoga is meant to purify the body, improving our physical awareness and ability to control our vessel. It’s not about developing an ultra-toned abdominal, but rather about fine tuning the connection of mind and body. Keep that in mind when setting a stronger core as your goal.
Pose 1: Ardha Phalakasana (Low Plank)
About the Pose: Low Plank Pose is ideal for increasing abdominal strength, and it does so by directing your body to lengthen the spine and balance on your forearms and toes. Also builds low back muscles, shoulders and upper arms.
- Begin in Bharmanasana (table pose, like a pushup with your knees down). Slowly lower the forearms to the floor, and step both feet back to align yourself in a normal push-up position.
- Focus on creating a good foundation in your hands, spreading your fingers apart with the middle finger remaining pointing directly ahead. Press the forearms down onto the floor.
- Tuck the tailbone under and align your torso, hips and legs, engaging your abdominal in the process.
- Direct the crown of the head forward and with the toes tucked, and then press the heels back to engage in the full stretch.
- Hold for 1-4 breathes, and to release, bend the knees and enter Child Pose.
Pose 2: Eka Pada Navasana (One Leg Boat)
About the Pose: Centered both on the abdominal and improving balance and concentration, the One Leg Boat is an excellent way to improve your core strength while working on maintain control and steadiness of the body. It will also engage the upper thighs and legs,
- Begin in a seated position, perhaps using a blanket beneath the bottom for comfort if the mat isn’t enough.
- First, extend the right leg forward, followed by bending the left foot inward to the right thigh (both legs are still on the floor at this point)
- In parallel with floor, inhale the arms over the extended right leg. Palms should face each other.
- Slowly lean back and with an inhale, lift the right leg up, pressing out through the heel. Your Dhristi (yogic gaze) should land on the big toe of your foot.
- Notice your shoulders: are they relaxed? If not, draw them away from the ear and toward the spine to lift and open your chest.
- Hold for 3-6 steady breaths, and maintain the lift in your chest. Release with a slow exhale as you bring the leg down to the floor and let the arms down.
- Repeat on the left side.
Pose 3: Paripurna Navasana (Upward Boat)
About the Pose: You’ll notice an immediate similarity in appearance to our One Leg Boat pose. Also similar is the focus on the abdomen and building of balance, but this also helps lengthen and straighten the back.
- While seated and your legs extended forward, begin by bending the knees and placing your feet flat on your mat.
- Provide a foundation for yourself by placing your hands just behind your hips, pointing forward, with your elbows bent away from you.
- Slowly lean back to life the heels an inch or two from the mat. Open the cheat by bringing your shoulder blades together,
- Begin to straighten the legs with extending out through the heels as the focus. Bring your legs up as high as you’re comfortable with.
- Release your arms, keeping them parallel to the floor with the palms facing down. Keep the chest open.
- Hold for 3-6 steady breaths, and maintain the lift in your chest. Release with a slow exhale as you bring your legs down to the floor and let the arms down.
Pose 4: Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3)
About the Pose: A challenging pose for beginners, Warrior 3 strengthens the ankles and legs, abdomen, improves balance and posture, and even works the shoulders and muscles of the back.
- Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Exhale and fold forward to Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold).
- Next, slowly exhale as you step your left foot back into high lunge positions. Maintain a right angle with your right knee. Be sure your midline of your torso is aligned with the midline of your right thigh – this will serve as a foundational point in maintain the balance of the pose
- Slowly lift your arms to your right knee while lifting your torso.
- Still in lunge, lift your arms and hands, keeping them parallel to the floor and in sync with each other. Palms should be facing each other.
- Next, while maintain straightness in your right leg, begin to lift your left leg up from lunge position, and bring it mostly parallel to your arms with the top of your foot facing the ground.
- Hold position for about 3-5 breathes, and release by exhaling back into the lunge and bringing your hand down to the floor on either side of the right food. Exhale and bring your left foot forward.
Pose 5: Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)
About the Pose: With a distinct focus on the arms, wrist, and abdomen, the Four Limbed Staff Pose is a great way to build your core and improve dexterity and balance when using your hands as a foundation.
- Begin in Uttanasana (which is where we started with Warrior 3!)
- Jump your feet back and align yourself in a push-up position.
- Like with Low Plank, focus on creating a good foundation in your hands. Spread your fingers apart with the middle finger pointing forward, pressing into the palms and straightening the arms.
- Tuck the tailbone under, aligning your torso, hips and legs, and press the crown of the head forward and extending the heels back.
- Exhale and begin to slowly lower down to the floor, holding your straightened body just a few inches from your mat.
- Hold position for 2-4 breathes, and release by pushing up to plank pose or exhaling down to the floor.
- Press the crown of the head forward and with the toes tucked, press the heels back.
A Focus On the Core
Remember that your core is a dynamic center of your body. Strengthening it will improve both your ability to master these poses as well as many others. Most importantly, when focusing on your abdominal workout in order to improve your flow, remember that the goals don’t always align with traditional fitness goal (like a toned 6-pack). Instead, you’re looking for a heightened sense of physical awareness of the body more than an aesthetically pleasing abdominal.
What poses do you practice to help build your core? Are you struggling with any of the above? Tell us in the comments below!