A curious thing about the traditional asana practice is that it tends not to develop great core strength, even though so many of the poses require you to use core strength. With the exception of Navasana (Boat Pose), there aren’t that many asanas that focus specifically on the core muscles. Some poses, like Trikonasana (Triangle) and Parsvakonasana (Extended Side-Angle), do give your obliques a nice workout, but very few poses help to develop strength and conditioning in the main abdominal muscles.
In this video, I demonstrate a basic core strengthening sequence. (I’ve sped things up in the demo in order to preserve a smaller file size, but you should get the idea.) It goes as follows:
1) 5 breaths in Navasana.
2) 5 breaths in Ardha-Navasana (Low Boat Pose — Heels and legs off the floor, shoulders and upper back lifting up, fingertips extending towards the feet; to protect the neck, I sometimes do this pose with my hands behind the head).
3) From Ardha-Navasana, press the palms together and split the legs wide. (Heels stay 2 inches off the floor.)
4) Crisscross the legs, alternating each time which leg crosses over the top. Repeat 20 times, moving with the breath.
5) From Ardha-Navasana, extend the right leg towards the ceiling, while keeping the left leg hovering 2 inches off the floor. Hold for 5 breaths.
6) Lower the right leg, letting it hover 2 inches off the floor. Extend the left leg towards the ceiling. Hold for 5 breaths.
7) On the inhales and exhales, alternate the legs. Repeat 20 times (10 times on each side).
8 ) From Ardha-Navasana to Navasana.
9) From Navasana into a simple cross-legged sitting position, and then lift up, holding here (feet/ankles off the floor if possible) for 5 breaths.
10) Release and fold forward.
Even though we shouldn’t be focused on getting a six-pack or anything like that, it is useful, I think, to incorporate core exercises into the flow, which will in turn improve one’s overall practice. As you build up core strength, you’ll notice improvements in everything from Half Moon Pose to Chair Pose to Side Plank, not to mention all your arm balances and inversions.
Many thanks to Raghu and Brock for inspiring this sequence.
Disclaimer: I am not a certified yoga instructor, and the ideas and opinions expressed here are not intended to be formal instruction on yoga poses. If you plan to start up a yoga practice, or if you have one and plan to do any of the yoga poses described in this blog, please seek out an experienced, living, breathing yoga teacher to guide you with hands-on instruction.