Keeping your center strong is important in virtually every aspect of your life. It helps you find certainty and direction, even when you feel like nothing in your life is stable. Knowing your “core” self helps you stay on a path that makes you feel good about yourself and your choices. You then have the ability to filter out distractions that tend to pull you away from that sense of centeredness. So, you feel more in control.
The same thing, of course, applies to strength in your physical core. Strong abs mean more than looking good on a beach. Those muscle groups protect your spine and support your entire body. That means you’re less likely to get injured in any physical activity you do, including yoga. It also means you will have the strength to balance better and have better control over your whole body in any pose you do.
Building core strength isn’t just a function of doing a million sit ups. Most conventional abdominal exercises only work part of your core—the most visible muscles. But, you need to build strength in all the muscle groups for the best health boost and the best practice. And, your mat is a great place to work on building that. Yoga works your whole core. In most core-centric yoga poses, you need to keep your whole body engaged, which in turn makes your core function even more efficiently.
Here are five yoga poses to work your core:
1. Plank Pose
Start on all fours. Step your right foot back so that the ball of your foot is on the ground. Then, step your left foot back to match it. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your body should form a straight line from your head to your toes. Draw your navel into your spine. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.
2. Full Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
Start sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Engage your core. Exhale and lift your feet off the floor. If you can, you can extend your legs all the way straight. Stretch your arms out straight from your shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds to one minute, then release.
3. Dolphin Plank Pose
You can come into this pose from Plank Pose or Dolphin Pose. If you are coming into it from Plank, simply bend your elbows so that your forearms are on the ground and clasp your hands. If you are coming into it from Dolphin Pose, step your feet back until your body forms a straight line. Remain in the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
4. Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Start in Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), then flow into Plank Pose. Slowly bend your elbows, keeping them at your sides. Draw your navel into your spine. Hold the pose for 10 to 30 seconds.
5. Scale Pose (Tolasana)
Begin by sitting in Lotus Pose (Padmasana). Press your hands into the floor next to your hips. Draw your navel into your spine. Contract your abdominal muscles and put energy through your hands to lift your hips and legs off the floor. Stay for 15 to 30 seconds, then release.
Remember, practice makes perfect. Don’t expect to master these poses the first or even second time you try. Very few other forms of exercise build core strength in this way, so you might find it challenging at first. The important thing to keep in mind is to use your core muscles as a unit. Don’t think of just sucking in your gut. Instead, feel the muscles of your core pulling together and drawing your navel in and up toward your ribs. It can also help to envision your torso getting taller as you practice.
To make the most out of this practice, it can be helpful to set an intention before you begin. Think about why core strength is important to you. Are there life decisions you need strength to make? Do you simply want to feel more in control of your life? Is it a purely physical need to improve your yoga practice? As you perform these poses, meditate on that question and see what answers come to you.