Your core muscles are one of the most important muscle groups to focus on and build up, especially when it comes to living an active, healthy lifestyle. The core is involved in almost every movement you make, and it serves as the central support for your body both in motion and at rest. Because you use it so often, strengthening your core allows you to get the most out of exercising—particularly when it comes to your yoga practice.
The stability and endurance you need to hold positions for long periods of time, as well as move fluidly from pose to pose, derive from your core muscles. They support your body as it expands and contracts, balances and bends, inhales and exhales.
By focusing on building your core muscles, your entire body will feel stronger and more balanced, and your practice will improve as a result. After all, the mind, body, and spirit are all interconnected. By strengthening your core, you’ll be able to move through your practice with even more fluidity and grace, and will feel the mental and spiritual benefits of yoga more fully.
With that in mind, here are four yoga poses that will support and strengthen your core muscles, helping you get the most out of your practice.
Plank pose doesn’t require any crazy twists or bends, but it’s one of the most effective core strengtheners around. A key part of chaturanga, move into this pose from downward dog or start on your belly. Straighten your arms and push into the ground as your legs are extended behind you, feet on the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles and make sure to keep your back flat.
Three-legged downward facing dog.
You already know downward facing dog. This time, just lift one leg high the air, and extend as though your heel is reaching for the wall behind you. Then, move through your vinyasa. Try to keep your hips level and your core strong. But make sure to keep it balanced! If you lift your right leg, be sure to do your left the next time around.
In boat pose, you’re essentially making the letter “V” with your body. Start sitting on the floor with your knees bent and your feet planted. As you start to lean your torso backward, lift your feet off the floor and straighten your legs in front of you. Then, extend your arms forward at knee height. Hold the pose for 10–20 seconds and then build from there.
Dolphin pose is another great core strengthener, and also stretches out your back. Start in tabletop pose, with your knees directly below your hips. Place your forearms on the ground in front of you, and place your hands together, hand over fist. Curl your toes under and lift your hips. Think of this pose as downward facing dog, but with your forearms on the ground. Rest your head on the floor, but don’t use it to hold up your body.
These four yoga poses are simple core strengthening poses to do on your own or in class. If you’re new to yoga and this is one of your first times practicing, be sure to take it slow, and don’t push your body if it starts to hurt. It won't be easy initially, but as you continue your practice and your core grows stronger, you’ll feel the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits grow.