Yoga To Strengthen Your Core
You might call me a masochist, but I love ab exercises. Lately, though, I’ve been slacking off. Not because I don’t want to do this important strengthening work, but like everyone, I seem to be too damn busy!
Making time to meditate, practice asana, pranayama and, oh yeah, work, is not easy. That’s why I’ve got a list of powerful yoga poses that pack a punch.
These are intense and not easy, and they will definitely NOT be a waste of time. My suggestion is to work them into your already-existing yoga practice. Then you will have abs tucked neatly into your routine without having to add yet one more thing to your to-do list.
Leg Extensions & Lifts
Ok, so this one has a caveat: you have to be able to get a ninety degree angle between your legs and your torso. If you have tight hamstrings or a delicate low back, this is going to be tough, or even harmful. If you’re close, place your hands under your pelvis to elevate your hips and take the strain off your lumbar region.
Phase One: Leg Extension
- Lie on your back, stretch your arms overhead and raise your legs to vertical
- Squeeze your legs together, stretch up through them and spread your toes
- Draw your navel to your spine but continue to press your tailbone down to lengthen your back and hollow out your groins as much as possible
- Pull your front ribs down and breathe into your chest
- Hold for 1-5 minutes —after you can do that easily, move on to phase two, below
Phase Two: Lower & Lift
- From phase one, exhale completely
- Take a big breath as you lower your legs about half way to the floor (go lower or higher depending on your fitness)
- Exhale as you contract your belly to bring your legs back to vertical
- Repeat until you can’t take anymore!
My favorite ab strengthening exercise is to move back and forth between Full Boat pose and Half Boat pose. Either one is a killer, linking them will really get you your money’s worth.
Phase One: Full Boat
- From a seated pose, rock back to balance on your sit bones
- Raise your feet off the ground *start with bent knees and shins vertical*
- Hold the back of your thighs with your hands as you lengthen up through your spine
- Then, stretch your arms alongside your legs, parallel to the ground
- Now, release your legs and straighten them on a diagonal, so you form a “V” shape with your body
- Stay here for 30 seconds to several minutes
Phase Two: Half Boat
- Once you can hold Full Boat, practice Half Boat on it’s own or link them together
- From Full Boat pose, begin to round your back by pulling in your stomach
- Roll down slowly through your spine *at the same time* as you gradually lower your legs
- As you transition, bring your hands to your head
- Your low point should be where you can still come back up safely (i.e. you aren’t going to collapse to the ground)
- For your ending position have your feet and head at about the same height
- Make your body a hollowed out, canoe shape
- Either hold there for 30 seconds to a minute, or rock back up to Full Boat and pulsate between the two 5-10 times
Plank Pose Pulsations
Plank pose in and of itself is a core strengthening exercise. Add in a little controlled movement and you will definitely feel the burn. The key is to hold your torso totally still while moving your legs. Trust me, it works!
Phase One: Plank Pose
- From hands and knees step your feet back to the top of a push-up position
- Have your shoulders stacked directly above your wrists (if your wrists or hands hurt, practice on your forearms with your elbows under your shoulders instead)
- Bring your legs and feet together, then squeeze them strong and straight
- Draw your shoulder blades onto your back —it will feel like your chest melts down—so your back is not rounded up towards the sky
- Now tighten your belly and breathe into your chest and back
- Hold for one minute, or move to phase two
Phase Two: The Pulsation
- From phase one, keep your knees tightly squeezed together
- Bend them until they almost kiss the ground but are still hovering; you’ll need to rock onto your tiptoes to do so
- Keep your arms, head and shoulders as still as possible
- Your hips will shift a little bit, but keep that movement as minimal as possible
- Then straighten your legs back to the starting position
- Pulsate between bent and straight ten times
I believe your body is very intelligent. It knows what is healthy and what hurts. The trick is to listen! If you have back pain or cramping hip flexors while doing any of these practices, back off. Go easier or make a modification, like bent knees. Better to do fewer reps in good alignment (you can always increase the number over time) than to crank out some big set that is strengthening your misalignments.