Core strength is more than fab abs, though a taut belly sure is nice. A strong core supports your spine – your body’s axis, which has lots of health duties. It also plays a major role in your posture, affecting the health of your joints and how well you breathe.
A fit mid-section requires targeting your deep core muscles, not just the superficial (in more ways than one, wink) abdominal muscles, the rectus abdominis, which boasts the washboard look when toned.
Core strength comes from exercising muscles that span your belly, lower back and in between. So share some fitness love with your transverse abdominis, multifidus, erector spinae, and internal and external obliques – along with your showy rectus abdominis. Several yoga poses, especially when linked, hit your deep core.
Along with the benefits mentioned earlier, a powerful core helps ease you into and better hold yoga arm balances, letting you generate movement from your core (again, your axis, your home base) instead of more distal parts of your body, like your legs. A strong core teaches you how to coordinate your torso, arms and legs. A clear example: Handstand. If you generate most of the movement from your legs, kicking your feet up, you’re likely to topple. That’s because you’re trying to enter the pose with momentum as opposed to strength and control, which you can harness when you generate movement from your core. A strong core also protects your lumbar spine in back-bending poses.
Try the following over time. Just 5-10 minutes a day reaps results you’ll feel within a week. Begin with the first two poses, the easiest. When you can do the first two poses for the maximum noted duration without your core fatiguing, progress to the final two poses, working their stages in tandem.
Come to hands and knees, knees under your hips, palms down under your shoulders. Keep your gaze down slightly so that you don’t strain your neck. As you exhale firm your belly toward your spine. As you inhale reach your right arm ahead so that your bicep is in line with your ear. Exhale and continue firming your belly. As you inhale, reach your left leg back, raising it as far as hip-height. Take 8 breaths or stay until your core muscles fatigue, later building up to 8 breaths. Switch sides.
Bridge Pose, variation
Lie on your back, arms at your sides with your palms down next to your hips, knees bent with the soles of your feet down ahead of your hips. Place a yoga block (or something firm and about the same size) between your thighs in a place that allows you to keep your legs about hip-width apart. As you inhale, gently squeeze the block between your thighs and lift your hips until you feel the muscles in your low- and mid-torso engage. Maintain the natural curves of your spine. Try to engage your pelvic floor a little too. Take 8 breaths or stay until your core muscles fatigue, later building up to 8 breaths. Use an exhale to lower.
Plank & variations
Come to hands and knees, palms down and under your shoulders. Stretch your legs back and tuck your toes as you place them down, keeping a slight bend to your knees, in order to create a plank-like position from your heels to your head. Keep the natural curves of your spine by firming all the muscles that wrap around your mid-section toward it.
Take 5-10 breaths:
Stage 1: In Plank.
Stage 2: Slightly shift your weight forward as you inhale, coming toward your tip-toes, then shift your weight back as your exhale, coming toward the balls of your feet.
Stage 3: Amplify the weight shift by incorporating a circular motion, as if drawing circles with your shoulders.
Forearm Plank & variations
From Plank, drop to your forearms, elbows under your shoulders. It’s more challenging to keep your forearms parallel to each other palms down, but you can start by interlacing your fingers hand-to-hand, pinkies down.
Take 5-10 breaths:
Stage 1: In Forearm Plank.
Stage 2: As you inhale, lift your right foot a few inches off the ground. As you exhale lower it. Repeat with the left foot.
Stage 3: Amplify the leg lifts by drawing your right knee toward your right tricep as you exhale. Inhale the leg back with the foot hovering above where it started, and then exhale to lower the toes so you’re back in full Forearm Plank. Repeat with left leg.
Journalist and yoga teacher Mitra Malek regularly edits and creates content for wellness-focused outlets, including Yoga Journal, for which she is a contributing editor. Learn more at mitramalek.com.