Today in my series on yoga for your core, I'm highlighting several different variations on side plank pose, or Vasisthasana, to strengthen the obliques—those often neglected (but still super important) muscles on either side of your abdominals. Work in a progressive manner through this sequence; stop wherever your body says to stop, but don’t stop before at least trying. Your effort is the most important thing, not how perfectly or how long you can hold each pose.
Kneeling Side Plank
Start on all fours. Extend your right leg back behind you and plant the right foot flat on the floor. Open up your body to the right, and place all your weight on your left hand, left knee, and right foot. Lift your right arm over your head toward the sky. Push the floor away from you and make sure your spine is extended. Tuck your tailbone under and your ribs down slightly to feel your core activate. Resist the temptation to arch your back. Look at your right thumb. Take 5 deep breaths. Exhale as you bring your right hand down. Repeat on the other side for 5 breaths.
If you feel strong in your modified side plank pose, then try lifting up the knee. Start in plank pose and bring your feet together. Pivot your feet so that the bottom of your left foot is on the floor and your right foot is stacked on top of your left foot. Lift up your right arm and push the left palm into the floor. Make sure your knuckles don’t lift up. Lift your hips so that they are in line with your body; this ensures that your core is engaged. Look up toward your right thumb. Take 5 deep breaths. Exhale and bring your right hand down onto the floor, then switch sides and repeat.
Side Plank With Toe Grab
Repeat the steps from Side Plank Pose and then take it up a notch by lifting the top leg and grabbing your toe in yogi toe lock. (Hook your index finger and middle finger between the big toe and the second toe. Then, wrap your thumb around your big toe and grab your toe with those three fingers.)
In this side plank variation, lift your chest and hips. Tuck your tailbone under so that you aren’t sticking out your butt. Engage both your legs and lift your gaze to look at your big toe. Take 5 deep breaths. Exhale, release your big toe, and place your hand and foot down into plank pose. Switch sides and repeat.
Forearm Side Plank
Once you’ve done all of these on both sides, give your wrists a rest but focus more on your upper body engaging with your core as one unit.
Come to your forearms with your elbows right under your shoulders, Pivot your left forearm so that it’s parallel to the front of your mat. Don’t let the knuckles come up. Press the whole hand flush to the floor. With your legs extended behind you, pivot to the outside of your left foot and stack your legs on top of each other. Lift your right arm up and make sure your hips aren’t sinking. Lift up and push the forearm into the floor. Your gaze is toward your right thumb. Engage your quads and take 5 deep breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Forearm Side Plank With Toe Grab
If you want to take it up a notch, set yourself up like in the previous pose and then lift the right leg into the sky and grab your toe in yogi toe lock. Open the chest and make sure that the lines of your body are straight and long. Lift the hips and look up toward the toe if you can. Go slowly and deliberately. The slower you move, the better for your body. Take 5 deep breaths, then switch sides and repeat.