Practicing yoga has numerous benefits, both physical and mental. A consistent practice helps you find better balance, flexibility, and strength – in the body as well as the emotions and mind. You may have also heard that yoga helps develop core strength, which is essential for stability and proper functioning of the physical body. If the idea of doing crunches or sit-ups doesn’t appeal to you, though, we have good news: there are several ways to strengthen your core that you can incorporate in your yoga practice that do not involve doing crunches.
What Is Your Core, Anyway?
While it’s common to think about just the abdominals when you hear the word core, your core is actually comprised of all the muscles that surround your trunk, including:
- Pelvic floor
- Hip flexors
- Middle and lower back
Having a six pack doesn’t necessarily mean you have a strong core – it means the surface abdominal muscles have become defined, but doesn’t always indicate strength in the entire core. This is why crunches, while helpful, aren’t necessary to develop true core strength.
Try These Yoga-Based Exercises For Core Strength
There are many elements of a yoga practice that can help develop core strength. Here are a few that touch on not just the abdominals, but all the stabilizing muscles in your trunk:
Reverse Tabletop to L-Sit
This set of poses, when linked to the breath and repeated in succession, help strengthen the abdominals, hip flexors, pelvic floor, and posterior chain (the backline of your body).
- Start in a seated position with your knees bent, feet hips’ width distance apart, and your hands three to four inches behind your body and just outside the outer glutes. Your fingers should point toward the front of your mat and your elbows aim straight back (don’t allow the elbows to flare to the sides).
- Inhale to press into your hands and lift your pelvis, keeping your knees bent.
- As you exhale, drop your seat and press your glutes between your arms, straighten your legs, flex your feet, and squeeze your pelvic floor.
Complete at least five repetitions. Rest in child’s pose to release the low back, wrists, and shoulders.
Holding planks of any kind will help strengthen the core, but the forearm plank offers the added benefit of strengthening the shoulders while eliminating pressure from the wrists.
- From a tabletop position with shoulders stacked over wrists and hips over knees, step your feet back to a high plank pose.
- Lower one forearm down at a time. Make sure your forearms are parallel and that your elbows are directly under your shoulders.
- Draw your navel up and in on an exhale while hugging your ribs in and pressing into your mat with your forearms.
- Hold for at least five slow breath cycles.
Forearm plank can be executed with knees set down as well, given you continue to focus on drawing the abdomen in and pressing the ground away with your arms.
A spinal balance (sometimes referred to as a “bird dog” in the gym world) can be done as a static hold, or with additional breath-based movement adding a belly-down crunch-like action to intensify.
- Begin in a tabletop position. Extend your right leg straight out behind you with your foot flexed and all toes pointed down so that your low back stays flat.
- Extend your left arm straight forward with your thumb turned up as if you were about to shake someone’s hand.
- With every inhale reach your hand actively forward and press back through your right heel, and with every exhale draw your low belly in and hug in your ribcage.
- Alternatively, you can crunch your elbow toward your knee on every exhale breath and re-extend your limbs as you inhale.
- Repeat using the opposite leg and arm.
Rest in child’s pose after completing five breath cycles on each side.
The Tools You Need For Your Yoga Practice
Yoga strengthens more than just your core – with a consistent practice you’ll begin to see mental and emotional benefits as well. Whatever you’d like to focus on, we offer a variety of mats, props, and other gear in our online store to support a long-term practice. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you have about our products – or your practice!