I often get questions from first-time students about the benefits of yoga, and for some, there seems to be a preconceived notion that yoga is just a simple workout where you don’t break a sweat. And while some forms of yoga take less physical activity—like these facial yoga poses that target anti-aging—others like vinyasa or ashtanga-style classes, are more rigorous and engage muscles you never knew existed!
As a yoga teacher, I love having the ability to sequence classes based on a particular area of the body that I want to target. And when it comes to beginner yogis, I work on a lot of core strengthening poses into our classes. Having a strong core helps not only one’s posture and spine, but it also allows you to be able to move on to more challenging arm-balancing yoga poses like crow pose and eight-angle pose.
So, if you’re looking to give your core a workout, look no further. Check out these 5 yoga moves that target your abs and strengthen your core.
Note: Begin your practice with a few rounds of Surya namaskar to get your body and muscles nicely warmed up before trying the following ab yoga sequence.
Modified Triangle Pose with Lifted Arms
The regular triangle pose (Trikonasana) provides relief from back pain and tension in the arms. The simple modification of extending your arms in front of you like you’re grasping a ball targets your abs as you are engaging your core muscle to keep them lifted and stay in the pose.
Stand lengthwise on your mat with a medium stance, your feet parallel and about three feet apart. Move your right foot 90 degrees, so your toes face the short end of the mat, while your left toes turn about 5-10 degrees inward. Inhale and lift your arms up in line with your shoulders and palms facing the ground. On an exhale, stretch forward, lengthening the left side of your body and reach for your foot with your right fingertips. Stretch the left hand up with the left palm facing forwards, and gaze toward the middle finger of your left palm. Stay here for one whole breath before engaging your core and reaching both your arms towards the front of the room, like you’re holding an exercise ball. Stay here for six more breaths before repeating on the other side.
Warrior III Pose
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III), the most challenging pose in the warrior series, combines balance with strength. This asana helps strengthen both the core and back muscles while helping to clear your mind and improve your concentration.
Begin at the top of your mat in mountain pose (Tadasana), begin to slowly stretch your body forward while simultaneously raising your right heel and leg backward and upwards. Keeping the toes flexed and pointing downwards, take your arms out in front of you, parallel to each other. Your neck is aligned with your spine, shoulders are relaxed, and gaze is focused down on one point on the mat to keep your balance. Stay in this pose for seven breaths before repeating on the other side.
The key to cobra pose (Bhujangasana) is to lift off the mat using your core, thus strengthening it, while keeping your arms light. This asana also improves the flexibility of your spine and relieves pain caused by sciatica and menstruation.
Lie down on your belly, placing your legs together with the tops of all your toes firmly planted on the ground. Put your hands in line with your chest and on an inhale, clench your butt muscles and use your core to lift the upper body off the mat. Make sure your pelvis remains on the mat, your elbows are close to the sides of your body, your chest is open, and your shoulder blades are drawing downwards. Stay here for seven breaths.
Dolphin pose (Matsyakrida) not only targets your abs, but it also improves the flexibility of your spine and helps strengthen your shoulders—great for those of us looking to build our upper body strength.
Begin by kneeling on the mat with your feet tucked under your buttocks. Put your elbows in front of your knees, and place your forearms on the mat, interlacing your fingers where they meet. Tuck your toes and slowly lift your hips to the ceiling, straightening your knees and coming to the shape of an inverted V. Take a breath in and lift your belly upwards and inwards, and on your exhale move your body forward, taking your chin in front of your clasped hands. Inhale, coming back to the starting position. Repeat at least 7-10 more times.
A primer for other back-bending poses in yoga, camel pose (Ustrasana) provides a deep stretch through your front body and helps treat migraines, and pain associated with your monthly cycle.
Start by kneeling with your knees hip-distance apart and tops of the feet resting on your mat. Place your hands on the backs of your hips with fingers pointing downwards as you slowly begin to use your thigh muscles to lean back and reach for your heels, one hand at a time. Open through your chest and push your shoulder blades together as your head hangs backward. Stay in the pose for seven breaths, and make sure to bring your head up first when dismounting from the posture.