Yoga tends to get a bad reputation because people think it’s all about stretching and bending your body into a pretzel; and while the later may be true (you’ve seen those Instagram pics) it’s also better than just doing crunches all the time! While many types of traditional yoga practices are based on mindfulness and spiritual mantras, yoga is also a great ab workout. These 5 poses here offer a ton of core strength. I mean, there’s a reason you can’t hold them for long before collapsing onto your mat. Start with these poses to begin to strengthen your core and tone your abs without doing any crunches.
1. Boat Pose
Boat pose is amazing for your entire core because it works the muscles in your upper and lower abs at the same time. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Then, press your hands on the floor behind your hips and lift your legs off the floor, leaning back slightly and lifting your hands in front of you. Your tailbone should now be on the ground with your legs and arms forward in the same direction. You can either hold it there for maximum time, or hold it for a few breaths, release, and then repeat for reps (10-12).
Bend your knees at first if you’re not able to extend them fully.
2. Warrior III
It might sound weird to do an ab exercise while standing up, but the whole point of the Warrior III is to challenge your balance by standing on one foot, and then stabilize using your core. Start standing up with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Then, turn to your left and step your feet wide, bending your right knee over your right ankle. Press your weight into your right foot and lift your left leg out behind you while your arms extend out in front of you. If it feels wobbly or awkward to be on one foot, that’s the point. Engage your abs and squeeze tight to stabilize yourself for as long as you can—at least 30 seconds before switching legs
Keep your arms in prayer position to help with balance.
3. Side Plank
Side planks may seem basic, but there’s a reason you do them in every yoga, Pilates, and workout: they do the trick. The idea of the side plank is to stack your feet on one side of you while your forearm is on the ground and your hips are lifted. You want to engage your oblique muscles. Hold the pose on each side of your body for 30 seconds and remember to keep your obliques and hips lifted and squared the entire time. The other option is to support yourself with a fully-extended arm, which takes some burn off your abs but adds an additional balance component—still good for your core.
Stacking your feet is standard, but lowering your back leg for stabilization is a modifier.
4. Chair Pose
Chair pose tends to feel like a quad workout (and it is), but if you’re doing it right and taking your time, you can feel this in your core too and it’s great for your abs. Standing hip-distance apart with your arms straight over your head, sit down into a mini squat without moving your arms at all. Bring your hips as low as you can and engage your core muscles so that you don’t lean too far forward. Take deep breaths and hold the pose for a minute if you can.
Keep your weight in your heels, lift your toes off your mat to remind yourself if need be.
5. Elevated Plank
Planks are basic and sound boring, but by elevating your feet onto a higher surface, (like a yoga block, wheel or a bench) you can get a deeper burn in your abs and really engage all your muscles at once. The idea is to have your feet elevated behind you and your body in one straight line. Try to think about pulling your belly button toward your spine and slightly lifting your buttocks; making sure your back stays straight the entire time. The burn will kick in pretty quickly but that just means you’re doing it right. Start with 30 seconds and work up to a minute.
Just like with side planks, dropping to your forearms puts more stress on your abs, but is also more stable.
Parsvottanasana comes from the Sanskrit words Parsva meaning side, Ut meaning intense and tan meaning to extend, stretch or lengthen. Hence the name Intense Side Stretch Pose. This pose is also called Pyramid Pose, which emphasizes the powerful foundation and strength created in this pose.
Getting into the pose:
Caution: Do not practice this pose if you have a hamstring injury. If you have a shoulder or wrist injury, do not practice the full version of the pose. Women who are pregnant and those with back injuries or high blood pressure should practice the pose against a wall. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. As with any exercise regimen, including yoga, talk with your doctor before practicing.
Uttanasana, or intense forward-bending pose, is a component of Sun Salutes and vinyasa, as well as, a dynamic part of the transition between standing and Chaturanga Dandasana. In Sanskrit, Ut means Intense, Tana means stretched and Asana means a yogic pose.
Uttasana is often dismissed as an uninteresting and basic pose; yet it offers a wealth of opportunities to develop muscle actions that support other standing poses like Warriors and Pyramid Pose. Practicing this foundation pose brings numerous benefits. Uttasana is also an inversion. Albeit a much more accessible inversion than head stand or handstand but with many of the usual benefits and more. Personally, I lovepracticing Uttansana because the weight of the head hanging heavy is enough to give my neck a gentle stretch. The stretch decompresses the spinal joints allowing a little stretch of the muscles and ligaments as well as a burst of nourishment.
Beginner’s Tip: If you cannot touch the ground, hold onto the backs of the legs wherever the hands fall (except for the knees) or cross the arms in front of the body holding onto the elbows. Let the head hang with gravity. If this is still too intense, take tension off the hamstrings and low back by bending the knees. Working with the breath, try “inhaling, bending”, “exhaling, straightening”. Deepen the Uttanasana pose to increase the stretch on the backs of the legs, stand in the forward bend with the balls of your feet elevated an inch or more off the floor on a sand bag or thick book or lean slightly forward and lift up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your heels a half-inch or so away from the floor. Draw your inner groins deep into the pelvis, and then, from the height of the groins, lengthen your heels back onto the floor.
Caution: Uttanasana requires patience and practice. It can take a while to reach the deepest variation of the pose. Those with back injuries can practice this pose with bent knees, use a block for support under the hands, or substitute Half Forward Bend instead.
Dandasana may look like a simple pose, but it's important to make sure that you're doing it the correct way because it is the foundation of all seated poses. Dandasana comes from the Sanskrit words Danda – meaning “stick”, and Asana – meaning “posture”. This pose is best known as the base of all asanas in seating position, forward bends and twists.
It's easy for your everyday posture to slump forward since most of us suffer from poor posture, and staff pose helps correct us. When the spine is straight and the shoulders back, our breathing naturally becomes deeper and more regular. The nervous system relaxes and the mind and body become in alignment and harmony.
Caution: People with high blood pressure should not perform this pose. In case of any wrist or lower back injury avoid this pose.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold comes from the Sanskrit words Prasarita meaning separated. Pada meaning legs or feet. Uttana meaning intense stretching. The literal translation is “wide-stance forward bend’. This pose can also be translated as “spread out feet intense stretch”. When practiced with compassion, inversions such as this pose, can be very beneficial to your well-being. They reverse blood flow, which usually has to fight against gravity on its way back to the heart, thus improving circulation. Similarly, they help to move the lymphatic system, which runs parallel to the vascular network but doesn’t have a pump. Flushing that system means increased immunity and decreased illness.
The best beginner's tip for Wide-Legged Forward Bend is to place a soft padded yoga block or a soft folded blanket in front and place the crown of your head on the block of the blanket. Since beginners are usually not able to bend completely and place their crown on the floor, this helps maintain balance while still improving your stretch.
Do not hold this asana for more than 1 minute, especially if you are a beginner.
If you have low blood pressure or vertigo avoid this pose for longer times and perform for 2 to 3 breaths only. Come out of the pose gradually to avoid dizziness. Pregnant women should not perform this pose at all, especially during the 3rd trimester because of the excess belly weight..
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) is named after the great yogi Matsyendranath. The name, Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, comes from the Sanskrit words ardha meaning half, matsya meaning fish and, indra meaning ruler and asana meaning pose. Ardha Matsyendrasana is a pretty deep spinal twist in its full expression, but it’s how we approach and prepare for the posture that really makes the difference in how we feel in it.
This yoga pose usually appears as a seated spinal twist with many variations, and is one of the twelve basic yoga poses (asanas) in many systems of Hatha Yoga and part of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series. When we mindfully twist our bodies we restore circulation, begin to correct posture, and rejuvenate the spinal column. Practicing twists in yoga also compress the internal organs and glands of the torso, forcing out toxic waste. When pressure is released, fresh blood rich with oxygen flows back to the organs which aids in digestion.
Half Lord of the Fishes Modifications:
Caution: People suffering from severe back or neck pain should practice with caution, and with close supervision. Those with slip disc problems should avoid this pose completely. Those with internal organ issues may find this pose difficult and painful. Should be avoided by pregnant women as it can press the fetus.
Many people today have tight hips and inner thighs due to prolong sitting at work and/or school, cars, and sitting at home. For many adults we have lost that easy flexibility in our hips and feel tight and restricted when attempting this pose. Regularly practicing hip-openers, such as Baddha Konasana, will counteract this stiffness, reduce pain, and bring more ease and grace to your overall movements.
Baddha Konasana comes from three Sanskrit words: Baddha meaning “bound” Kona meaning “angle” and Asana meaning “pose. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) has many names; Cobbler’s Pose, Butterfly and Diamond. Bound Angle, Butterfly and Diamond describe the shape of your legs while in the pose. Cobbler is derived from the way that Indian cobbler’s traditionally sat with shoes held between their feet as they worked. Whatever name you choose to call it, it is a great pose with many benefits.
Begin in a sitting position.
Press the soles of the feet together, and pull feet towards pelvis
Open the tops of the feet like a book. The bottoms and pinky toes should continue to touch, like the binding on a book.
Sit straight - don't round the back. Slowly begin to fold forward at the waist .
Added move: fold over feet with heart open, eyes looking up to the sky
Added move: fold over feet, arms extended to the floor and forward, gaze to the front of you
To come out of the pose, place your hands beside you on the floor. Press firmly through your arms and as you lift up, extend through the chest and bring yourself back to a seated position.
If you have issues with your knees, use blocks or cushions under your thighs to support your legs.
If feel that your spine is rounding as you fold forward or if you have any discomfort in your lower back, elevate your hips slightly by sitting on a small cushion or folded towel.
If your hips are tight, increase the angle at your knees by moving your feet further away from your body.
Caution: Never press on your knees in this pose! Doing so can cause injury to your groin and knees. Avoid jerking, pulling, pushing, or forcing any movement in this pose. Let your movements be slow and smooth.
Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) is the third or the warrior poses named after the mythical warrior, Virabhadra. Warrior III is an intermediate balancing pose in yoga. This pose is the most challenging of the Warrior poses, taking into account strength, flexibility and balance. In this pose you are balancing on one leg and reaching the arms and leg in opposite directions parallel to the floor.
With all balancing asanas you must find your drishti (focal point) about two to three feet in front of you. This keeps your mind clear and aware throughout the balance. As well, with all standing postures you must work from the ground up, create stability in your ankles, knees, legs, and hips. By taking your time and setting up for poses, especially balancing poses, you must keep the body calm and focused. This pose can be frustrating at first, but don’t give up. You have to ease your way into it. Yoga is all about going at your own pace. Use modifications until you feel completely comfortable. 😊
Getting into the pose:
Modifications & Variations
Caution: Do not practice this pose if you have high blood pressure or heart problems. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
Baby Cradle pose or Leg Cradle pose, is a seated hip-opener that also stretches the hamstrings and calf muscles. It is a slight variation of pigeon pose and is sometimes also known as rock the baby pose. Although this pose is considered a beginner level yoga asana, its benefits can be profound. This asana is a wonderful yet gentle preparation for meditation and for more challenging asanas, such as full lotus and pigeon pose.
How to do Hindolasana
1. Begin in Dandasana / Staff Pose.
2. Inhale and lift your right leg up.
3. Place your right foot on your left forearm, and your right knee on your right forearm.
4. Clasp for fingers and bring your right shin close to your chest.
5. Twist your upper body to right side and then to your left side.
To come out of this pose, release your foot and sit in Dandasana / Staff Pose.
Repeat the sequence on your left side for the same length of time.
If this pose causes your lower back to round, or doesn’t feel good for your knee, try a seated figure four stretch instead, planting your feet on the floor and your palms or fingertips on the floor behind you. Lean back (keeping a long spine); cross your right ankle over your left thigh, keeping your right foot flexed; and walk your hands back until you find a position where you’re able to maintain a gentle curve in your lower back.
Caution: Do not attempt this pose if you have knee or hip injury.
The hips are the center of the body, connecting the upper body and the legs. Ancient yogis name this location in our bodies as the resting place of kundalini-shakti energy. When our hips are strong, balanced and flexible, they are the foundation for a yoga practice and a life that hold those same qualities.
Lizard Pose or Utthan Pristhasana in Sanskrit, comes from the words Utthan meaning “stretching out” and Pristha meaning “back of the body.” An alternate translation of Pristha is “page of a book,” an appropriate description as we hold many of our emotions in our hips. Lizard pose opens the hips and hamstrings while strengthening the inner thigh muscles of the front leg. The hips store an abundance of emotions so this stretch not only helps the muscles but also helps to release that stored energy allowing for healing and strength. Tight hamstrings are an indication of feeling stuck in our lives so this pose also helps us take on new strides and abound to new wonderful moments in our yoga journey.
How to do Lizard Pose
Begin in Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), step your right foot forward between your hands. Heel-toe your foot towards the edge of your mat, so that your foot is slightly wider than your shoulders.
Let your hips grow heavy, so that they settle forward and down. Begin to walk your hands forwards until you are able to come down on to your forearms (You may place your forearms on the ground, or on a block). Either rest your hands palms facing down on the mat (as seen in the picture), or bring your hands together in prayer position.
Extend your heart forward, lengthening the spine. Try to soften the heart and draw the shoulder blades together, taking heed not to round your back.
Keep your right knee hugging towards your midline to get into the inner hip and thigh area of your right leg. You can keep your left knee lifted with your leg active, or for a more restorative version, you can lower your left knee (as seen in the picture).
Don’t worry if the forearms can’t come down onto the mat just yet. Work on softening into the hips as much as possible, and try placing a block underneath the elbows as you begin to find more openness in your hips. For those with sensitive knees, place some padding underneath the knee such as a rolled up yoga towel or fold your yoga mat over for extra cushion for the knee. Repeat other side (if needed).
There’s a tendency to drop the head and collapse through the chest in Lizard Pose. Keeping the head and neck aligned with the spine by lifting the chin slightly and sending the gaze forward allows for more extension along the body (rather than contraction).
Caution: Those suffering from hip, groin or knee injuries should avoid this pose. Also, those who have had any recent surgery of the abdomen, thorax, hips or legs should not attempt this pose.
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