Think you need to do endless crunches to get strong, sexy abs? Think again. Yoga not only engages the rectus abdominis (aka the six-pack), but also the deeper core muscles that keep the body steady while holding balance poses.
The core is not just one muscle, it is a group of intertwining muscles in the torso that work together to support your spine and pelvis. The muscles of the core—such as the intercostals, obliques, iliopsoas, and serratus anterior—provide balance, stability, and the power to lift and move the body effectively and efficiently.
Establishing a consistent yoga practice can strengthen all of the core muscles, which can improve your posture and mobility, as well as take the load off of your lower back. Remember, breathing deeply during these exercises—particularly on the exhale as the muscles contract—also engages the core and builds a stable center.
Here are five yoga poses you can try right away to strengthen your core. If you do these key yoga moves for just a few minutes a day, you’ll be on your way to attaining that solid core you’ve been dreaming about.
1. Boat Pose (Navasana)
There are two versions of this pose, both of which will test the strength and stamina of every muscle between your hips and shoulders.
How to: Plant your sits bones (the bones directly under the flesh of your butt) firmly on the floor, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the ground. Sit up straight (your chest should remain higher than your knees) and brace your core as you raise your lower legs until your calves are parallel to the floor. Keeping the stomach in, spine straight and chest lifted, extend the arms forward just outside the knees, palms facing each other. For a greater challenge, straighten the legs. Hold for 8-10 breaths.
Modified Boat Pose: Bend knees and bring shins parallel to the floor.
2. Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
This pose is taught in almost every yoga class, and with good reason: It engages nearly every part of the body, strengthening the core, opening the hips and shoulders, and stretching the legs.
How to: Stand tall, placing your hands on your hips and positioning your feet three to four feet apart. Point your right toes toward the front of the mat and your left toes toward the side of the mat, with the heel of your front foot aligned with the arch of your back foot. Extend your arms out to the sides. Shift your rib cage to the right, then keeping the spine straight, reach your right hand toward your right ankle and your left hand to the ceiling. To work the core muscles even more, extend your arms straight above your head holding a block between the hands. Hold for 8-10 breaths. Raise your torso back up, switch foot positions, and repeat on your other side.
3. Dolphin Pose (Makarasana)
This pose bears little resemblance to anything a dolphin might do, but it can strengthen your core, arms, and legs, and elicit a deep stretch in your shoulders, calves and hamstrings.
How to: Begin in a plank position with your weight resting on your forearms instead of your hands. Your shoulders should be directly above your elbows, and your palms should be flat on the mat. Take a deep breath, and then exhale, lifting your hips and lowering your heels toward the floor. Hold for 8-10 breaths.
4. Eagle Pose (Garudasana)
Eagle pose requires focus, strength, and flexibility, and will strengthen your legs, glutes, core, and back. It will also stretch your shoulders and hips.
How to: Stand tall and focus on a point on the floor about three feet in front of you. Extend your arms straight out in front of your chest, and then “entwine” your arms, wrapping your left arm under and around your right, and gripping either your right hand or right forearm with your left hand. Bend your elbows until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor. If you’re new to this pose, bend your knees and place your leg on top of your right, so that your feet and knees are stacked. If you’re ready for a challenge, lift your left leg over your right leg and wrap your left foot behind your right calve. Hold for 8-10 breaths, switch sides, and repeat.
5. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
Performed regularly, this pose can help open your chest and upper back, improve your posture, strengthen your spine, wrists, and arms, and stretch your abdominals, making it the perfect pose to cap off this yoga workout.
How to: Start by laying on your stomach with your legs together and straight, your elbows bent and your wrists under your shoulders. Press down with your palms and the tops of your feet to lift your chest up toward the ceiling while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Continue lifting until your arms are straight and your thighs come off the mat. Hold for 8-10 breaths.