Best Yoga Positions to Strengthen Your Core
Posture, digestion, back safety, and so many other aspects of life require a connection to the core. Having a strong and fluid core is a key to emotional stability and overall empowerment. One of the most holistic and sustainable ways to cultivate a strong core is through a dedicated Yoga practice. Most of the Yoga Asanas (postures, positions, or “seats”) contribute to core strength in subtle ways. But there are a few that specifically strengthen the center. Remember to breathe deeply throughout each pose, and it is best to practice these within a complete sequence.
Otherwise known as Plank pose, Phalakasana firms the arms, legs, and center. It looks like a standard high push-up from the outside, and is held for 5 to 7 breaths. To build core strength, pull the navel in towards the spine while drawing the tailbone towards the heels. Keep the palms flat on the ground to protect the wrists, reach through the inner heels and inner palms while hugging the arms and thighs towards the midline.
Chaturanga Dandasana is a four-limbed staff pose that looks like a push-up, except the body is at the height of the bent elbows. To really work the core in this one, come into it from the ground. Lie on your abdomen and set the palms alongside the lower ribs (your palms must stay flat the whole time to protect the wrists). Press through the inner heels. Use the core to lift the entire body just to height of the elbows, extending through crown and heels. Be careful to keep the neck and jaw relaxed, and to draw the tailbone towards the heels to keep the lower abdomen engaged.
Dolphin builds core strength while also working shoulders and legs. From a hands-and-knees tabletop position, set the elbows on the mat. They should be directly under the shoulders and aligned with the wrists. Turn the toes under and use the core to lift the thighbones towards the sky. Walk the feet towards the hands without moving the shoulders, sliding the shoulders away from the ears while squeezing elbows towards the midline. Use the core to lift up out of the shoulders. For a dynamic version, keep the elbows and shoulders in place as you walk the feet away from the hands and then back in, transitioning between Plank pose on the elbows and dolphin.
Sometimes called Side Plank pose, Vasisthasana strengthens the obliques. From Phalakasana, roll onto one hand, turning onto the side of one foot and extending the opposite arm towards the sky. Keep the supporting palm rooted and the hips in line with the shoulders and heels. Draw the navel towards spine and lengthen the entire body.
Boat pose is the most direct core strengthener. From a seated position, lift the legs as you shift your weight forward onto the sitting bones/upper thighbones. Lengthen the spine, keep the shoulders back, and draw the navel inwards. Extend the legs for more intensity. Do not collapse the chest or let the spine round.
Strengthening the lower back is just as important as working the front of the core. Lie face down and draw the straight legs towards each other as you press down through the pelvis and shins. Use the core to lift and lengthen the torso. Extend your arms straight forward as you exhale, reach the arms out to the side and back alongside your legs as you inhale and lift the chest. Repeat 8 to 10 times.
Integrate by opening and stretching the core. Backbends such as Bhujangasana (Cobra) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) will improve the flexibility and tone of the core and keep the back safe and supple. Twists also help detoxify the organs and balance the strengthening and stretching work.
In addition to core-specific Asanas, the entire body must be worked regularly for weight loss, muscle development, and overall strength. These poses should be practiced as part of a whole body routine. Always consult your health care provider before beginning any new fitness regimen, and practice with a qualified Yoga instructor whenever possible.