A strong, stable core helps protect your internal organs, improve your breath capacity and respiratory health, and support your spine. Below are 5 yoga poses for core strengthening. They will build up your core—from your abdominal and back muscles, to your thighs and your glutes. Check them out, below.
1. Bird Dog
This simple but challenging exercise promotes spinal alignment and stabilization, and also recruits your abdominal muscles, especially your transversus abdominis—the muscle that wraps around your torso like a corset. It also entails contralateral movement, and improves your overall balance and coordination.
Begin on your hands and knees. Keep a neutral spine by hugging the lower belly and ribcage in, drawing the shoulders away from the ears, and lengthening the neck towards the top edge of your yoga mat. Press down onto your left shin, then lift your right leg and straighten your right leg behind you. Keep the right foot active, by pressing the right heel towards the back of the room. Then, press down onto the right hand, and lengthen the left arm forward as though you would like to shake someone’s hand.
Keep the spine long, while bracing the abdominals. Stay here for a few breaths. If you would like an added challenge (as well as more dynamic movement), you can bring the right knee and the left knee in towards the chest and round the spine. This will wake up your internal obliques and your rectus abdominis muscles, which are also part of your abdominals. Do up to 8 reps, before switching to the other side.
Ah, the classic high plank—it is the blueprint pose for many other yoga poses, including arm balances and inversions. It’s a bodyweight exercise that works the entire body, and strengthens the arms, shoulders, abdominals, glutes, and thighs. It also strengthens the erector spinae, a set of muscles that run the entire length of the back and up to the base of your skull.
Just like bird dog, you can enter plank pose through your table top or all fours pose. Press down firmly on the hands, so that you feel your forearms, biceps, and shoulders firm up. Hug the ribcage in. Straighten both legs behind you, pressing on to the balls of your feet. Squeeze the inner thighs and the glutes, pull the belly in, and actively push the ground away from you. Stay here for up to 8 breaths, or you can hold this for 30 seconds.
There are many variations to your plank, such as your forearm plank and your side plank. You can integrate these different variations in your workouts, or when you practice yoga for core strength at home.
3. Chair Pose
Chair pose or utkatasana is also known as “fierce pose”—and for good reason. It is extremely challenging! However, it really works your glutes and your thighs—which are actually part of your core muscles and connected to your abdominals.
Stand on your mat, with your feet as wide as the hips. Shift your weight onto your heels, and then sit your hips down as though you were sitting on a chair. Keep a neutral spine by drawing the tailbone just slightly in and lengthening your vertebrae from the lower back up to the neck. Keep your palms in prayer, or extend the arms up forward and up. Squeeze the hamstrings and the inner thighs together. Release the shoulders away from the ears, and squeeze the upper back muscles. Breathe. Hold this pose for 6 to 8 breaths, then stand up.
4. Triangle Pose
For seasoned yogis, trikonasana may feel easy. However, with proper alignment and muscular engagement, it can really serve as a yoga pose for core strength. Since this shape improves overall posture, it also helps boost your metabolism, improve organ function, and support digestive health.
Stand with your legs wider than your hips. Keep your legs straight, with a slight bend in the knees. Turn your right foot out, and position the left foot at an angle so that your right heel is aligned with the arch of your left foot. Straighten the arms, hinge at the hips and lengthen the spine, then take the right hand down onto the in-step of your right foot or onto your right shin. Extend the left arm up towards the sky.
Press through the big toe mound of your right foot, and the outer edge of your left foot. Squeeze the thighs. Pull the abdominals in, and then rotate your ribcage up to the sky to activate the obliques. Lean the upper body back and continue firming up through the shoulders. Stay here for 6 to 8 breathes, before pressing down onto the feet and coming upright. Repeat on the other side.
4. Boat Pose
The cherry on top of these yoga poses for core strength? Navasana, or boat pose. It strengthens your quadriceps, hip flexors, lower belly, and even your shoulders. It also stretches out the hamstrings, just like triangle pose (making it a good release after chair pose!)
Sit down on your yoga mat, with your knees bent and soles of the feet flat on the mat. Lean the upper body back, bring each hand behind each thigh, and then use the hands to support your legs as they float up from the mat. Hold here. Engage the abs, and broaden the collarbones. For an added challenge, extend the arms forward while keeping the legs up. You can also try straightening the legs and pointing the toes up, which will really activate the hip flexors. Stay here for 6 to 8 breaths, and then release.
Don’t forget to cool down properly after doing these very challenging poses. Make sure to release the spine and the shoulders, and a couple of backbends and twists should help release the abs.