Sure, you may know that building core strength improves balance and can alleviate low-back pain, but the real reason we quiver through plank is because it tones and defines our abdominal muscles. While almost every yoga pose engages the core in some way, these five poses and variations will fire up the abdominals, obliques and back.
Before you begin, take a few moments in easy seated pose to clear your mind and focus on your breath. Then, bring your hands to your belly, take a deep inhale and feel your stomach expand. Exhale, and fully engage the core as if you were trying to get your belly button to kiss your spine. Hold onto that engagement with every exhale throughout this short practice.
CAT/COW WITH ABDOMINAL WORK
Cat and cow are a match made in yogic heaven. Cat stretches the back and strengthens the abdominals. Cow opens the chest and strengthens the back. Together, they warm up the spine and relieve back and neck tension. Add this abdominal variation, and you’ll warm up the core even more.
The move: Take 3–5 rounds of cat/cow to warm up the spine. Find a neutral spine and, as you inhale, extend the right arm and left leg in opposite directions. As you exhale, pull the right elbow toward the left knee as you round the spine in cat. Inhale and lengthen the arm and leg in opposite directions. Repeat 3–5 times, then switch sides.
Plank is a total-body strengthener that works the upper body, back and core. This variation takes it to a whole new level.
The move: Press up to plank on your hands. Hold here for five breaths then move into scorpion plank. Inhale, bring your right knee to the outside of your right elbow. Exhale, send the right foot back. Inhale, bring your left knee to the outside of your left elbow. Exhale, send the left foot back. Repeat 3–5 times on each side.
SIDE PLANK CRUNCH
Side plank is a core crusher, toning the abs, back and oblique muscles. Adding a crunch adds a whole lot of oomph.
The move: Open to side plank on your left (with your right hand supporting you). If your wrists are weak or tired, come down onto your forearm. Hold here for five breaths and then add a crunch. As you inhale, lift the top leg, bend the knee, and draw it toward your top elbow. Exhale and straighten the leg, inhale to crunch in. Repeat 3–5 times. Rest in child’s pose and repeat on the other side.
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Boat is the ultimate core pose. It works the abdominals, the back, the oblique muscles, the hips and thighs. It improves balance, aids digestion and will hopefully make you feel strong and powerful.
The move: Come into a seated position, bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor. Gently hold onto the backs of your thighs and lean back slightly. Lengthen through your spine and pull your abdominals in to avoid collapsing in your chest. Lift both feet so they create a straight line between your heels and knees. You can hold onto your thighs or let go, extending your arms out parallel to your legs. Keep your chin off your chest, and keep your abdominals engaged. Hold here for five breaths.
Take it up a notch with a twist. Extend the arms out in front of you, palms touching. Inhale here and, as you exhale, twist to the right, taking your hands to the outside of you right knee. Inhale to center and exhale to the left. Repeat 3–5 times on each side.
This backbend strengthens the spine, opens the shoulders and chest and improves posture.
The move: Start lying on your belly with your forehead on your mat, arms by your sides and legs extended behind you. As you inhale, lift up your head, chest, arms and legs. Concentrate on lengthening your spine rather than how high you can lift. Keep your gaze forward so that you avoid compressing your neck.
Deepen your chest and shoulder opening by interlacing your hands behind your back and pressing your knuckles toward your heels. Or increase the work by taking your arms by your ears like super yogi. Hold your variation for five breaths. Release into child’s pose.