A flat midsection is the stuff of dreams for most of us. If abdominal toning and fitness are high on your wishlist too, yoga should be able to help. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Yoga is One Of The Best Routes To A Strong Core
While consistency with diet and exercise is non-negotiable, if you want a lean and fit body and those washboard abs, strengthening your core muscles has a vital role to play in any fitness regimen. Your core muscles run from your back to your hips and include the abdominal muscles, the pelvic muscles, muscles in the lower back, and muscles along your sides. These muscles, closest to your bones, pelvis, and spine, take care of alignment, balance, fluidity, and safety while you move. A strong core is essential for everything from sports to daily activities like lifting things or reaching down or up for something. By working on your core, you will improve your posture as well – and that translates to a trimmer midriff. It will also protect you against lower back pain, a common problem today.1
Luckily, yoga ticks all the right boxes when it comes to building core strength. Yoga will also give your whole body a workout through stretching and strengthening poses, balancing poses, deep breathing, and meditation. In fact, as one study found, regular practice of yoga significantly improves flexibility, balance, abdominal strength, muscular strength, and endurance.2
Here are a few yoga asanas that you can work into it your daily routine to strengthen your core muscles and build stronger abs. Remember, like any other exercise routine, it is important to warm up before you begin your yoga practice. It is equally important to relax and cool down with the corpse pose (savasana) to end your routine. You will also need to breathe deeply and normally through each pose, taking care never to hold your breath.
1. Downward Facing Dog Or Adho Mukha Svanasana
Possibly one of the most widely recognized yoga poses, this asana rejuvenates, stretches, and strengthens almost every part of your body. When you do this pose, you tend to work the muscles in the upper arms and legs and the back – from the shoulders all the way to the hips. A strong back means a strong core and, in turn, stronger abs.3 This asana also improves digestion and can help reduce headaches, backaches, fatigue, stress, and anxiety.
- Start by lowering yourself onto the floor on your knees and hands.
- Position your knees hip-distance apart and directly below your hips. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, a little ahead of your shoulders.
- Exhale and slowly raise your knees from the floor. Your knees will now be straight but don’t lock them.
- Inhale and push your sitting bones upward, forming an upside down “V.”
- Press your hands into the ground.
- Hold the pose for a minute or so, all the while breathing normally.
- Exhaling, bend and lower your knees and get back to the starting position.4 5
2. Plank Poses
Two more variations of the plank pose include:
- Side plank pose (vasisthasana): In addition to strengthening your abdominal muscles, this asana also strengthens your obliques. These are the muscles along the sides of your torso.
- Dolphin plank pose (makara adho mukha svanasana): This asana strengthens and tones your core, arms, and thighs.
Plank poses are a part of any beginner’s yoga routine. However, they are no less powerful. Other than strengthening the spine, shoulders, arms, and wrists, plank poses improve your posture and build stamina and core body strength. They work all the core muscles, including the abdominal muscles. They also prepare your body for other challenging yoga poses.6 7 Here are two variations you can try. Plank poses should, however, be avoided by anyone with carpal tunnel syndrome or arm or wrist pain, since the arms and wrists have to bear most of the body weight.
Plank Pose Or Phalakasana
- Lie down on your stomach.
- With palms resting on the floor, bring your hands toward your shoulders.
- Inhale and raise your body so your back and legs are all in a straight line, and your shoulders are directly above your wrists. Do not let your tailbone sink.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds, breathe normally. You can increase the time gradually.
- Exhale and lower your body to the floor again and relax.8 9
Upward/Inclined Plank Pose Or Purvottanasana
This is a variation of the basic plank pose. Other than its ability to strengthen the core, this asana stimulates the thyroid gland, improves respiration, and stretches the organs in the abdominal area.
- Start with dandasana or the staff pose. It requires you to sit up straight with your legs stretched out in front of you. Place your palms on the floor and a few inches behind your hip, fingers pointing forward.
- Lean back, using your hands to support your body.
- Inhale and raise your hips so that your upper body, hips, and legs are in a straight line. Try to touch the floor with your toes reaching forward. Let the head fall back toward the floor.
- Hold the pose for a while, continuing to breathe normally all the while.
- Exhale and lower your body, returning to a sitting position.10 11
3. Extended Triangle Pose Or Utthita Trikonasana
This standing asana works on the core muscles, arms, and legs. It opens up and stretches the spine, chest, shoulders, hips, calves, and groin. To top it off, utthita trikonasana boosts digestion and stimulates the organs in the abdomen.
- Stand straight with your feet together and your weight evenly distributed.
- Exhale and separate your feet by 3.5–4 feet. Turn your left foot inward by about 15 degrees and your right foot out by 90 degrees. Position your feet so that your right heel is in line with the center of your left foot.
- Inhale and raise your arms to shoulder level and stretch them outward.
- Exhale and bend to the right. Remember to keep your waist straight and bend from the hips. Keeping your arms in a straight line, let your right arm rest on your shin, or ankle, or the floor outside your right foot, depending on how far you can reach. Stretch your left arm toward the ceiling.
- You can keep your head in a neutral position or turn it gently to the left, while gazing at the left palm.
- Breathe normally and hold the pose for a few seconds.
- Inhale and raise yourself, bring your arms down, and straighten your feet. Exhale at the end.
- Repeat the same steps on the other side.12 13 14
4. Warrior Pose III Or Virabhadrasana III
This powerful balancing asana strengthens your core muscles, ankles, legs, and shoulders. It tones the abdomen and improves flexibility, posture, and balance.
- Stand erect with your toes and heels touching.
- Raise your arms above your head, spreading your fingers.
- Step forward with your right foot, bend at your hip, and swing your body into a “T,” with your left leg parallel to the floor. Stretch your arms forward too, parallel to the floor.
- Hold the pose for a few seconds, all the while breathing normally and trying to lift your left leg a little higher with each inhalation.
- Slowly return to your starting position and repeat the pose with the other leg.15 16
While warrior pose III is most effective for core strength, you will need to start with warrior pose I (virabhadrasana I) and warrior pose II (virabhadrasana II).
- Virabhadrasana I is the first of three warrior poses. It engages your abdominal muscles and your hip joint, and helps strengthens your arms, legs, and lower back. It increases stamina and prepares you for the balance required in virabhadrasana III.17
- Virabhadrasana II strengthens your lower core muscles and prepares the body for backbends. It builds muscles in the legs and hips and stretches the groin as well as the shoulders. It is beneficial for the cardiovascular system too.18
5. Boat Pose Or Paripurna Navasana
Also known as naukasana, this asana engages almost all the muscles in your abdominals. It strengthens your hip and abdominal muscles, protects your back, boosts digestion, and stimulates your thyroid, prostate glands, and kidneys. It is a sitting pose that requires you to balance on your tailbone and sitting bones.
- Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Keep your back straight and your arms straight by your hips. Place your palms on the floor with the fingers pointing forward.
- Inhale and then exhale. With the exhalation, raise your legs by about 60 degrees. Lean back by about 30 degrees, taking care not to round your back. You will be forming a “V” while balancing on the “tripod” of your tailbone and sitting bones.
- At the same time, raise your arms alongside your legs, palms facing each other and extended about shoulder-width apart. If that is not possible at first, keep your hands near your hips or hold the back of your thighs.
- Do not hold your breath. Breathing normally, hold the pose for about 10-20 secs, slowly increasing the time you stay in the pose as you get more comfortable.
- Exhale and lower your legs and sit up straight.19 20 21
6. Bridge Pose Or Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
This asana activates your core and strengthens your back and wrists. Its benefits are endless – it stretches your spine, chest, and neck, opens up your lungs, and stimulates your digestive system and the thyroid glands. If menstrual or menopausal problems are part of your life, turn to this asana for relief. It can help reduce stress and anxiety too.
- Lie down on the floor with your arms alongside your body.
- Now fold your knees so that your heels are as close to your sitting bones as possible, about hip-distance apart. Your arms should remain alongside your body with palms facing downward.
- Inhale and lift your lower back, middle back, and upper back off the floor. Slowly roll in your shoulders so your chin touches your chest. Your weight will be supported by your shoulders, feet, and arms.
- Hold the pose for 15–20 seconds to a minute, breathing normally, and then exhale as you slowly release the pose.22 23 24
7. Dolphin Pose Or Ardha Pincha Mayurasana
This asana works on the abdominal muscles, tones the shoulders, and opens up the spine. It stretches and strengthens the arms and legs and is a stress-relieving asana.
- Start by getting down on your fours.
- Slowly lower your forearms to the floor so that your elbows are directly under your shoulders. Now raise your knees so that they are directly under your hips.
- Lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling and try to keep your heels on the floor.
- Hold your head between your upper arms, don’t rest it on the floor.
- Hold the pose for 5–6 long breaths.
- Exhale and lower your knees to the floor and relax.25 26
8. Locust Pose Or Salabhasana
This asana strengthens the lower back muscles, tones the abdominal muscles, opens the spine, and improves posture.
- Lie down on your stomach with your arms alongside your body and forehead resting on the floor.
- Exhale, raise your head, upper body, arms, and legs from the floor. Your tummy, lower ribs, and front pelvis will be supporting you.
- To go deeper into the pose, brings your arms behind your back and join your hands, interlocking your fingers.
- Straighten your elbows and continue to keep your upper body, head, and legs raised. With each breath, try to raise them higher. Don’t bend your knees or raise your shoulder towards your ears.
- Hold the pose for 10 seconds or so. Breathe normally throughout the pose. Exhale and release.27 28
So there you go! Start with these poses to build core strength and you are sure to see results with regular and consistent practice. If you have any health conditions such as high or low blood pressure, heart problems, back pain, or any injury, don’t rush into yoga without proper guidance. While yoga is therapeutic, it is a very powerful medium and must be practiced with care. In fact, if you are just starting out, it is a good idea to train under a yoga practitioner so you get the nuances right.
|↑1||Core conditioning — It’s not just about abs. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑2, ↑7, ↑16, ↑24||Fowler, Kimberly and Editors of Prevention. Flat Belly Yoga!: The 4-Week Plan to Strengthen Your Core. Rodale, 2013.|
|↑3||Long, Ray. Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions. Bandha Yoga Publications LLC, 2011.|
|↑4||Downward-Facing Dog. The Yoga Journal.|
|↑5||Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward Facing Dog Pose. The Art of Living.|
|↑6||Abs Workout: The Secret Formula for a Flat Stomach. Shape.com|
|↑8||Plank Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑9||Power-packed yoga plank poses|
for stronger arms, spine. The Art of Living.
|↑10||Upward Plank Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑11||How to Practice the Upward Plank Pose (Poorvottanasana). The Art of Living.|
|↑12||Extended Triangle Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑13||Trikonasana – Triangle Pose. The Art of Living.|
|↑14, ↑18||MacGregor, Kino. The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice That Will Bring You Strength, Flexibility, and Inner Peace –Includes the complete Primary Series. Shambhala Publications, 2013.|
|↑15||Warrior III Pose. The Yoga Journal.|
|↑17||Maehle, Gregor. Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy. New World Library, 2011.|
|↑19||Boat Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑20||How to do Naukasana/Boat Pose. The Art of Living.|
|↑21, ↑27||6 Yoga Poses for a Rock-Solid Core. Shape Magazine.|
|↑22||Bridge Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑23||Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana). The Art of Living.|
|↑25||6 Yoga Poses for a Rock-Solid Core. Shape.com.|
|↑26||Dolphin Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑28||Locust Pose. Yoga Journal.|