The core strength required for Boat Pose (Navasana) became much more accessible to me when I started working with a prop. This approach made the pose less challenging by gradually building up strength and muscle memory over time. I was better able to identify and feel exactly which parts of my body had to engage, in order to sustain it.
All too often, students collapse into their shoulders and round their backs when attempting to straighten their legs in this pose. Boat Pose relies on strength in the back, legs and core, so it takes time and patience to strengthen these areas in order to fully execute the pose. These simple strength building modifications can help you achieve better posture in the pose (and off the mat as well!), promoting a healthy spine and of course, strong abdominals.
Here are three steps to float (not sink!) your Boat Pose:
Step 1: Core Activation
Place a foam block vertically between your knees and place your fingertips on the floor. Lift up out of your lower back, to keep your back as straight as possible. Press the soles of your feet into the floor and strongly squeeze the block between your knees. Breathe naturally here for up to 10 breaths.
As you squeeze the block you will feel an engagement of your inner thigh muscles (adductors), and the pit of your belly (low transversus abdominis and mula bandha, the subtle root lock).
Keeping your back straight activates the muscles deep within your back (erector spinae and multifidis). These are also your deep core muscles.
Keep practicing this step until you are comfortable for 10 breaths. Only move on if your breathing is easy and you're not straining.
Step 2: Use Your Hips + Lift
Lift the legs so that the shins are parallel to the floor. The arms are now in line with the legs and are shoulder height. Keep squeezing the block strongly between your knees, and draw the knees in toward the torso using your hip flexors (the psoas major and iliacus). Lift up out of the lower back.
If this feels hard, place your hands under your thighs for support. Stay for up to 10 deep breaths, and move onto the next step when you feel you can breathe easily.
Step 3: Extend, Lift + Float
Remove the block and enter the full pose with bent legs first. Then extend them long. Repeat the action of squeezing the knees and inner thighs together while lifting up out of the lower back and chest.
Draw your chest and legs closer toward each other. Stay here for 5-10 steady breaths in and out. Congrats, you did it!
Carol Trevor is a dedicated yoga practitioner, RYT-500 certified yoga instructor, and teacher trainer in the United Kingdom. She believes in yoga for all, inclusive of age, shape and ability as an enriching part of everyday life. She is also qualified in sports massage. Connect with her through her website and Twitter.