Having a strong core enables us to stand tall, sit up straight, be centered and walk our talk with purpose. Often, when we think of “core strength”, we think exclusively of abs. Yet core strengthening is about much more than attaining a toned six-pack. We must also pay attention to the back of the core, as well as the oblique abdominals — the muscles on the sides of the lower torso. With sustained practice, these poses will increase the strength and stability of your whole core — front, sides and back. Here are our recommended yoga poses for core strengthening of the abdominal muscles and lower back:
Yoga Poses for Core Strengthening of the Abdominal Muscles and Lower Back
- Balancing Pose with Leg Extended
Starting from Mountain Pose, feel your feet on the ground and stand up tall. Lift up one leg, holding on to either the knee or foot with the hand. Alternatively, place the hands on the hips and hold the knee or extended leg out in front of you, using just the strength of your core. Hold for five deep breaths, then switch sides and repeat.
Again, starting in Mountain Pose, reach your arms overhead and begin to tilt the body diagonally, extending one leg back as you reach the arms forward. Bring your torso and back leg horizontal, parallel to the floor. Flex the back foot and leg to help with your balance. The arms can reach back or out to the sides for the airplane variation. Hold for five deep breaths, then stand up, rest and switch to the opposite side.
These are excellent postures for strengthening the lower back. Lying down on the belly, place your palms on the ground next to your chest. Point your toes, pressing into the tops of the feet. Keep your elbows close to the body as you press into your hands and feet to lift the head and torso up into a backbend. Keep a bend in the elbows, even if you are lifting up into a high cobra. Lift your heart toward the sky and lift your gaze upward as well. Keep your legs on the ground. If you have any lower back issues or soreness, widen your feet in order to release pressure from the lower back in this pose.
- Half Bow and Full Bow Pose
Starting from lying on the stomach, reach your right hand back to hold your right foot. Inhale, pressing the hand into the foot and lifting the head and chest. The left arm and leg extend forward and back, respectively, but can stay on the ground. Take six full breaths in this pose, then switch to the opposite side.
For full bow, reach both hands back to grasp the ankles or feet simultaneously. Lift the chest and gaze upward. Breathe deeply, allowing yourself to rock slightly on the abdomen. This pose massages the internal organs and develops strength in the low back and flexibility in the spine. According to the yogic proverb, “you are as young as your spine is flexible.”
Begin on the hands and knees, spreading the fingers wide and placing the wrists directly under the shoulders and knees directly under the hips. First, extend the right leg back and the left arm forward, growing as long as possible. Hold four breaths. Then, reach the arm out to the left and the leg out to the right. Bend the right leg at the knee if needed. Hold this core-strengthening variation for another four to five breaths. Release, rest in child’s pose for a few breaths, and repeat on the opposite side.
Begin in a seated posture with the soles of the feet pressing together. Hold your feet in your hands and lift the feet up a few inches off the ground, engaging your core to keep from rolling backward. Extend both legs out straight with the feet lifted, creating a V shape. Then, bring the feet together with the legs straight, if possible. Release the feet from the hands but maintain the position, and —voila!— you are in boat pose. Modifications include bending the knees and/or holding onto the legs in this pose. Keep your back long and avoid collapsing the spine.
Lying on the back, bend the knees and place your feet on the ground. Reach down and you should just be able to graze your heels with your fingertips. Then, pressing into the feet and arms, lift the pelvis slowly. Bring the chest toward the chin. Variations include lifting and lowering with each breath cycle; rolling the shoulders slightly under the torso and interlacing the fingers; or placing the fingers on the low back and the thumbs on the sides of the waist. When you finish, pull both knees into the chest and rock gently from side to side to massage the lower back muscles.
Starting from standing Mountain Pose, shift your weight to the right leg. Turn the left knee out as far as it goes, opening the hip. Bring the sole of the left foot to your inner ankle, calf or thigh, avoiding pressing directly into the knee. Once you feel a good foundation in the foot and legs, reach the arms up like branches or bring the palms together. Keep breathing deeply. Focus your eyes on a still point to assist with the balance. Lift up the corners of your mouth and smile. Be lighthearted. It’s just yoga. Have fun with it. After several long deep breaths in the tree pose, move the foot away from the leg and keep the knee lifted and opening out to the side for the core strengthening tree variation. Spend another five long, deep breaths in this position. Release, shake out the legs and switch to the opposite side.
Do these exercises daily or every two days, and soon you’ll notice your core is stronger and more toned, helping you move more productively through your days. We are only as powerful as our core. Own your power!
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