Take just 10 minutes a day to build awesome core strength with these key yoga poses.
You'll develop long, lean muscles that hug onto your bones and make you feel great. Rather than building muscle bulk, yoga builds core strength through simply organizing your body to hold and move, just by using your own weight.
Your breath is a key component to working with your core. Imagine the torso is like a cylinder — on the inhale it softens, expands and lengthens and on the exhale it firms and contracts in circumference, but keeps the length. When you breathe out, the loss of air volume increases the pressure in the cylinder, compacting the body's center point gravity, allowing it to move as one unit initiated by the belly.
This cylinder area of the torso, includes the front of the body, the back of the body and underneath — the pelvic diaphragm and iliopsoas muscles). The core is not one specific muscle, but a range of different muscles that work together as a team to support your spine and pelvis, to provide balance and stability, and generate power to lift and move the body as a single functional unit.
Core muscles in this "team package" include:
- Front body: transverse and rectus abdominus — muscles that run from just below your sternum to your waist
- Back body: erector spinae, latissimus dorsi, iliocostalis, and multifidus, spinalis, longissimus
- Side body: internal and external obliques — muscles that run down along your sides, from your ribs to your upper hips; and quadratus laborum – flank muscles along the sides of the abdomen
- Hip flexors; inner thighs, gluteus maximus and medius, hamstrings, and rectus femoris
Try this 10-minute sequence with 8 powerful yoga poses to fire up and strengthen your core today!
Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
Build strength in the legs and the core as you squat with your weight over your heels.
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose) and inhale as you raise your arms with the inside of your upper arms beside your ears, palms facing in and shoulder-width apart. Soften the shoulders into their sockets. Exhale and bend your knees, to lower the thighs parallel to the floor as you sit back. Keep the knees tracking towards the middle toe.
Be sure the torso stays long as the tailbone reaches to the floor and the crown of your head reaches away from the tailbone. Hold for a few breaths and inhale to straighten out of the pose, releasing the hands down into a prayer.
Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1)
Warrior opens the front of the body, extends the spine and builds strength and balance.
With an exhale, step your left foot back, toes angled at about 45 degrees, keeping both heels in line with each other. Inhale to raise your arms above your head and parallel to each other and exhale to soften the shoulders away from the ears and bend the front knee at 90 degrees. Keep the knee in line with the middle toe.
Try to square the hips as much as possible to the front of your mat, and gently draw the thighs in toward each other. Even out the weight between both your feet as you lift up and out of the pelvis, with a slight back arch. Keep the neck soft as you gaze forward, or up at your hands for a deeper stretch. Stay for your duration of breaths and inhale to straighten the front leg, then exhale and step the back foot to meet the front foot, with your hands in prayer.
Dolphin Pose (Makarasana)
Dolphin awakens the front of the body and opens the heart. Build shoulder strength while getting a deep stretch.
Lower to the floor on your forearms and knees, with your knees directly under your hips and elbows under the shoulders. Leave your hands pressing firmly into the mat with active fingers or clasp the hands together — hands clasped makes this pose easier for tight shoulders.
With your toes tucked under, exhale to lift your knees off the floor and lengthen your hip creases. Let your shoulders open as you soften the armpits towards the mat and your head between your upper arms. As your heels press down, lift your inner thighs up toward the pelvis.
Dolphin Plank (Makarasana Variation)
Dolphin plank will fire up the front of the body as your core lifts you to support the spine. Feel the belly engage as you hug into the midline and tone your midriff.
Walk your feet back until your shoulders are directly over your elbows and your torso is parallel to the floor. Feel your belly switch on, as the front body lifts to hold the torso. Gently press your elbows in towards each other and reach the sternum forward. Hug your shoulders into their sockets and nestle the shoulder blades into the back. As an extra challenge, lift one leg but keep the pelvis neutral. Keep the legs active as the heels press toward the back of the mat. Keep the neck soft with the gaze between the hands.
Side Plank Variation (Vasisthasana Variation)
Side plank will tone the flank muscles, AKA the "love handles!" Feel the side-waist activate to the lift the body.
Shift to face the side of your mat with your weight shared between the side of your foot and your forearm and hand, your forearm should be parallel with the top of your mat, fingers active.
Either bend the bottom leg and distribute the weight between the knee and the foot or stack one foot on top of the other onto with the weight on the outer edge of the foot.
Lengthen the tailbone to the back of the mat and gently firm up the belly. Feel the line between the heels, hips and shoulders. Inhale to reach the top arm to the ceiling and exhale to soften the shoulder blades toward each other on the back body.
Keep the neck soft and gaze straight out or if the neck is not strained, challenge your balance by looking up at the hand. As an extra challenge, bend and lift the top leg with the knee pointing straight up.
Tone your arms and shoulders in a plank, like the top of a push up. The shoulder blades activate at the back of the core and hug into the spine to support the back.
With hands and knees shoulder width apart and fingers wide, keep the toes tucked under. Wrists are no further back than shoulders, and fingers grip the mat while the shoulders hug into their sockets as you reach the sternum forward.
You can either keep your knees on the ground or if you can, lift the knees and straighten the legs without the hips sagging. Keep the legs active with the heels pressing toward the back of the mat. Your neck stays soft as you gaze down at the floor.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
No more wobbly upper arms if you practice Chaturanga! Drop the knees to the floor if you feel yourself sagging in the hips or shoulders — it's a tough pose!
From plank with lifted knees, hug your shoulders in and keep your shoulder blades firm against the back ribs, pressing your tailbone toward your pubic bone. Exhale and slowly lower yourself to hover above, parallel to the floor. Prevent the bottom from poking up by pressing the tailbone towards the back of the mat, keeping it tucked under.
Keep the underside of the body switched on and the sternum reaching forward. Elbows should gently activate, hugging in towards each other.
Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
Boat pose engages the deep muscles of the abdomen and will improve your posture and stability. Feel the belly firm and keep lifting from your chest to avoid slumping the shoulders.
Sit on the floor with legs bent and toes resting on the floor. Grip your hands behind your thighs, close to your knees and hug the thighs into the hips whilst lifting the chest forward and up. Lean back a little to balance on your sit bones and keep this length in the torso throughout the pose.
Exhale and lift your feet off the floor, so that the thighs are at right angle to the floor and your shins up to parallel to the floor. Press your belly gently towards the spine.
Hold here, or for a stronger action straighten both legs and if you can maintain a straight back extend the arms parallel to the floor. Keep the shoulders hugging back into their sockets.
- Repeat poses on each side
- Engage the transverse abdominus (the muscles that wrap around the torso)
- Hold each pose for 5-10 slow breaths to challenge yourself, but be sure to release with awareness before you lose proper form
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the author