When most of us think about yoga, our first thought is of improving our flexibility. Other benefits include added strength, balance, and mindfulness, but one of the biggest bonuses to a regular practice happens in your mid-section. Today, we’re going to outline some of the best yoga poses for core strength!
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Locust pose is one of the best poses for beginners to build core strength. In yoga, it’s important that we don’t compare our practice to others’ practice and that we keep in mind that we all start from somewhere.
Locust pose can be accessed by coming down onto our mat, stomach down, and allowing our hands to lie down by our sides (imagine how you might lie during a massage). From here, we’re going to pick our chest and head up by activating our abdomen and the muscles of our back. Our chest should lift first, followed by our head.
When starting out, be careful not to try to bring your head and chest up too high too quickly. You want to be gentle with your body in starting. Even a slight back bend and chest lift may activate muscles that many of us don’t use on a regular basis.
Boat Pose (Navasana)
Getting into Boat Pose isn’t overly complicated. But the major thing you want to avoid is dumping into your abdomen and lower back. Focus on keeping a broad chest, tightening your lower abdomen muscles, and activating your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
This is an ab-burner, so take it easy on yourself at first. You’re better off trying this pose in short, small increments at first, rather than trying to hold it for an extended amount of time right off the bat!
Many people think of plank as a prolonged push-up position. But our hands (in proper plank) should be closer together than they would normally be in a push-up position. Furthermore, we want our body to essentially become a board; one straight line from ankles to the crown of our head.
A lot of your adjustments in plank will come at your hips. As you experiment, you’ll be able to feel when your hips are dropping or when they’re up too high and your arms are doing more work than your abs. In a true plank position, those abs are certainly going to feel it!
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
Every good yoga pose (like every solid house) starts from the foundation. In chair pose, the big toes of your feet should be touching while your heels remain slightly apart. Your hands float over your head, ideally so that your upper arms are right next to your ears (this may be a challenge for people with tight shoulders, but simply raise your arms as far as you can without experiencing pain).
Once you sit into chair, you might feel your back arching and your tailbone wanting to pull away from your knees and chest. Try to tuck your tailbone under and straighten your back. This will force you to activate your thighs and your abs. In a true chair pose, you should be able to activate your core and lift your toes off the mat without losing balance.
Crow Pose (Bakasana)
Crow pose requires a delicate balance. For starters, your hands should mimic the distance apart that they’ll be in a correct plank pose. In other words, they should be right underneath your shoulders. As you rock forward, your goal is to settle your knees onto your triceps, effectively balancing all of your weight on your hands.
It seems as though crow pose would only be achievable for those with excessive upper body strength, but as is the case with many yoga poses, the key (as you surely have guessed) is your core. When you practice crow, be sure to focus on engaging your abs, especially as you lift your feet off the ground and find your balance point.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Are you sweating yet? For me, side plank is one of the more difficult yoga poses I’ve tried. I can get into position no problem, but shortly thereafter the arm I’m balancing on begins shaking and my breath becomes short.
Like any other challenging yoga pose, breathing helps! Even if you’re taking short, quick breaths in and out through your nose, you’re doing better than losing track of your breath entirely.
In side plank, try to keep your hips from dropping towards your mat. This requires activating whichever side body is closest to the map and pulling your hips up to keep them parallel with the rest of your body. And yes, we’re sweating now!
Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Oh yes, good old chaturanga! Even beginning yogis have probably heard of chaturanga, and if you haven’t, you’ll soon come to love it! In the simplest terms, four-limbed staff pose is a half push-up, but most yoga practices don’t ask you to hold this pose for an extended length of time.
This pose is most commonly used in the process of moving from plank to upward dog, but if you’re focusing on building core strength through yoga, focusing on core activation during that half push-up will certainly do the trick. As an added bonus you’ll also be building those chest, arm, and shoulder muscles!
Bird Dog (Parsva Balasana)
The foundation for bird dog is table-top pose. In table-top, your hands should be underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Your back should be flat with your neck extended and the crown of your head reaching towards the front of your yoga mat.
To move from table-top into bird dog, we’re going to move opposite arm and leg away from our core. In other words, your left arm will extend toward the front of your mat while your right leg extends toward the back of your mat. Try to reach your arm as straight to the front as possible while straightening your leg back and pointing your toes.
Hold here for as long as you need without overexerting yourself. Focus on activating your abs, straightening the arm that’s still on the mat, and making sure your hips aren’t rotating away from your mat (instead, they’re remaining parallel to your mat). Switch sides when you’re ready so that you don’t wind up with a six-pack on just one side!
Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3)
Most experienced yogis have practiced both Warrior 1 and Warrior 2, but Warrior 3 is the most advanced progression and also requires the most core strength of the three. This is a one-legged balancing pose where your body becomes perpendicular to your balance leg. You’re essentially trying to create the letter ‘T’ with your body.
A good way to progress into Warrior 3 if you’ve never tried it before is to station yourself so that you can place your hands on a wall after you’ve folded into position. In other words, whichever leg you’re not balancing on will extend behind you while your arms and hands extend forward and find the wall for stability.
Balancing poses are always great for core strength because (shocker coming!) our balance starts from our core. In Warrior 3, like in all of these poses, you’ll find maximum benefit by placing your focus on your abdomen and making sure you’re activating that area to help with balance and strength.
Forearm Plank (Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana)
The last core pose we’ll talk about today is a modified version of plank. Forearm plank, also known as dolphin plank, is another great version of plank that forces you to focus on your ab and back muscles.
The main difference between plank and forearm plank (wait for it . . . big surprise here) is that, instead of your weight being on your toes and your hands, it will be on your toes and your forearms.
From a standard plank, shift your weight onto your right side, lower onto your left forearm, then shift weight onto that left forearm and lower your right forearm down. Your arms should be parallel (think train tracks here) and all ten fingers should be pointing toward the front of your mat.
As you hold your forearm plank, concentrate on curling your tailbone underneath and activating your entire abdomen. Once you’re comfortable here, experimenting with rocking your weight forward and backward, first placing more weight forward of your hands, and then shifting that weight back onto your toes.
More ‘Slow Life’ Resources!
If you’re interested in yoga and meditations, check out this week’s 12-Minute Calming Meditation Recorded with Live Terrapan. We’ll also be posting a yoga class on Saturday, so stay tuned for that!
If you need to find a new yoga studio close to where you live, or as you’re traveling on the road, be sure to check out Yoga Finder!
If you liked this article, please leave a comment below! If you have a question about anything, feel free to leave that below as well and I’ll do my best to respond hastily. As always, I wish you happiness and health, Namaste!