A strong core can help us move through life with more ease and less injury, so that we are more readily available to others.
While most people may think that the core is only in your stomach region, it also includes your back muscles and the sides of your torso as well. This sequence of yoga-inspired moves focuses mostly on the abdominal region, but also engages and strengthens your back muscles.
And as a bonus, these poses will help activate those smaller muscles needed for the most supportive posture of all — standing tall and confident from the inside out!
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
Begin by stretching out your stomach and shoulders in Upward Facing Dog, to prepare your body for the contractions and strength-building it’s about to endure. Push the floor away from you and arch back, engaging your stomach muscles and legs.
Hold for 5 deep breaths in preparation of what's to come.
Boat Pose (Navasana)
Lift your torso and your legs up. Find the front edge of your sitbones and press them down into the floor. Do not lean on your tailbone because it will create a rounding of the back.
Lift the sternum so your back is flat and straight. Lift your legs up and press the knees in toward each other. You can begin with bent legs if your back starts to round. Now, try straightening your legs again.
Bend your knees once more and then straighten, as long as your back stays upright. You’ll feel this in your core, hip flexors and thighs. Take 5 deep breaths, then cross your ankles and hug your knees in without letting your feet touch the ground for another deep breath or two.
Supported Alternating Leg Lifts
Next, lower to your forearms so that your elbows are right under your shoulders with your palms pressed down. Lift your sternum so your back is flat, but keep your tailbone slightly tucked under.
Extend your legs out in front of you and lift your right leg up perpendicular to the mat. Lift your left leg an inch off the floor. Spiral your thighs in toward each other. Hold for 5 breaths, then switch sides. Keep pushing the forearms down into the floor when the leg is lifted.
Supported Isometric Hold
Lower both of your legs an inch off the floor and continue spiraling the thighs in toward one another. Keep the spine nice and straight. Engage your abdominal wall and hold here for 5 breaths.
Optional Modification: Lower one leg to the ground if you feel any pain or discomfort in your lower back.
Half Boat Pose (Ardha Navasana)
Keep your legs lifted an inch off the floor and release your elbows. Lie down on your back with your head lifted and arms overhead for a Half Boat Pose. Keep pressing that lower back down into the floor. Hold here for 5 breaths.
Optional Core Boost: From Half Boat, exhale up to full Boat Pose. Repeat this up to 5 times, then pause for a full breath while lifted. Try not to use the momentum of your arms as you move up and down. Use your core and a straight back as much as possible. When you’re finished, cross your ankles without letting your feet touch the floor and hug them in. Take 2 breaths.
Reclined Leg + Chest Lifts
Slowly lower your left leg down to the floor and lift your right leg up perpendicular to the floor. Spiral your thighs inward and engage both legs. Lift your arms up to reach for your right foot and keep your head and chest lifted to feel the contraction in the abdominals.
Hold here for 5 breaths and move onto the next pose before switching sides.
Reclined Leg Lifts With Support
Lower your forearms and head to the floor and take 5 deep breaths here, keeping your right leg lifted. Now, lower the right leg and lift the left, and do Reclined Leg + Chest lifts on the other side. Now lower yourself again, keeping the left leg lifted for 5 breaths.
When you've completed these last two moves, release both legs down and take 2 breaths to relax.
Roll up to seated position and come to your hands and knees. Extend your legs behind you and finish the sequence with Upward Facing Dog to counter-stretch.
Bonus round: If you feel inspired, do another round of the same sequence and hold each pose for 8-10 breaths depending on how your body is feeling.
When you’re finished lie on your back in Savasana. Turn your palms up and relax your fingertips. Disengage and surrender the whole body, and reap the benefits of all your hard work.
Rina Jakubowicz is known for her vibrant and uplifting approach to yoga. She is an international bilingual yoga teacher, Reiki practitioner, motivational speaker, author, and TV show host. She has been a teacher of teachers for over ten years, presenting at Kripalu Center, Himalayan Institute, Omega Institute, as well as in countries across the globe such as Chile, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Andorra. Rina is one of Gaiam TV's newest featured teachers, the yoga expert on Univision's Tu Desayuno Alegre, and a regular contributor for Yoga Journal Online and MindBodyGreen. She is Yoga Journal's March 2015 cover model. Rina founded and owns two Rina Yoga studios in the Miami area and was selected as one of South Florida's Business Leaders Movers and Shakers in 2011. She also created the yoga app, Snooze Yoga, and a pioneering yoga curriculum for children and teens, Super Yogis' Schoolhouse.