Everyone has their own idea of what a strong core is. Though six-packs are nice to look at, true core strength comes from working the inner abdominal wall – the transverse abdominis and erector spinae – that creates a girdle of support in the torso.
Knowing how to engage these muscles is the first chore. Thankfully, the mindfulness and breathing practices present in yoga can not only help you connect to your body, you can also tone your abs.
Before starting any of these asanas, or poses, take a moment to warm up your body with some cleansing pranayama (breath work). Lay supine on your back, heels in line with your ischial tuberosities – your sitz bones – and knees bent to face the sky. In this position, find pelvic neutral.
Pelvic neutral is where your tailbone is neither tipped forward nor back, so there is a natural curve of the spine, your shoulder blades are flat against the earth, and your neck is long. Begin to engage the core by imagining either sides getting corseted together.
The pelvic floor pulls up towards the belly button as the belly button sinks towards the spine. Your ribcage should feel as if it is connected to your hip sockets. Hold for a moment then release with a deep exhale. Repeat several times to warm up the core.
Learning how to control these deep abdominal muscles is key to straightening your posture and working the core. Now, use that same ‘zipping up’ sensation during these ten yoga poses for flatter abs:
1. Boat Pose
A favorite of yogis everywhere for working the transverse abdominis. Boat pose has a multitude of variations to suit your core and hip strength. Work through the various levels to find which one works best for you.
To get into Boat Pose, begin seated on the ground, knees drawn up towards the chest. Again, the heels should be in line with the sitz bones. The spine is long, and your cranium floats above it. Take your hands behind the thighs.
Never clasp ahold of the region right behind the knee, as the area is very sensitive and prone of injury if too much pressure is applied. As you inhale, begin to tip back onto the coccyx. Engage the core, trying to guide the quadriceps and ribcage into a V position.
The modified version is holding onto your legs while keeping the knees bent and working the spine. Lengthen a bit further, stretching the legs away from you while staying balanced on the sacrum region. If you feel you can release the legs, let the go. Reach the fingers for your toes and note how shooting energy through these regions helps keep the core strong and the breath even.
Hold your boat pose for 20-30 seconds. Gather yourself then repeat 2-3 times.