Yoga for core strength
Yoga places great focus on the abdominals and core strength. However, in yoga, building core strength means more than just achieving a perfectly toned six pack. Your abdominals are literally your core – your centre – so it’s essential we keep this area strong. A yogic perspective recognises that a strong core works to improve balance, flexibility and stamina as well as your overall practice.
When it comes to yoga asana practice, the more core strength you have, the greater sense of balance and stability you can attain in each posture. Yoga is all about achieving a position that is comfortable and which you can maintain for an extended period of time as a way to cultivate the mind and body in preparation for meditation. Core strength is a way to foster this as well as for improving stamina and resilience.
The abdominal region is also governed by the manipura chakra. The manipura is located is behind the navel or the solar plexus. This chakra is considered the centre of dynamism, energy, willpower and achievement which releases prana throughout the entire body.
This chakra is also associated with the pancreas and other abdominal organs. Engaging the abdominal muscles through yoga asanas helps improve the function of these organs, stimulates the manipura chakra and helps achieve balance, energy and fosters a greater sense of willpower in the individual.
Yoga asanas for core strength
Noukasana (also known as Navasana or boat pose)
This asana can begin for either sitting or supine position. I prefer from the supine position as it gives the abdominal a bit of extra work. So from supine raise the legs at a roughly 45 degree angle and follow by raising the upper body and arms. The arms should be extended and parallel to the ground. This position should resemble a letter V with the arms outstretched and shoulder level. This asana is also a balancing position and so will really engage the abdominals making it particularly effective for increasing core strength. Balance in this position and try to keep the back as straight as possible. If you’re feeling confident, in this position, grab hold of the feet and bring the chest as close to the legs as possible all while keeping the back straight.
Ardha matsyendrasana (half spinal twist)
Begin seated in dandasana. Bend the right knee and place the right foot over the extended left leg. Place the right hand behind the spinal column. Bring the left arm over and press the elbow against the bend right knee. The left hand can be rested on the chest. Inhale and lift and open the chest. Then twist and look over the right shoulder. The spinal twist massages the abdominal organs. It also helps improve circulation, digestion stimulate the lymphatic system thereby aiding with detoxification. The twist also strengthens the spine and the abdominal muscles.
Paschimottanasana (forward bend)
Begin seated in dandasana with the toes flexed and pointing upright. Inhale and raise both hands over the head and on an exhale, cut from the waist and slowly bring the hands to the feet or as far down on the legs as possible. Keep the back straight and try to bring the chest as close to the legs as possible. Paschimottanasana again stimulates the abdominal muscles and massages the abdominal organs. The pose also places gentle pressure on the abdomen to help relieve constipation.
This breath technique is actually a cleansing technique that translates literally to ‘forehead shining’. It works to stimulate the frontal lobe of the brain however it also has beneficial effects for the abdominal. Kapalbhati involves alternating between short, forceful exhales and slightly longer and slower inhales. On each inhale the abdomen should expand. Then forcefully exhale, pushing the air out of the lungs and contracting the abdomen. On an inhale the contraction will be released, allowing more air into the lungs. As you are breathing through the nose on each exhale, the nose should make a slightly sniffing sound. This exercise will work the abdominal so when starting off, go to your capacity. Try to do 40 cycles and increase the number as you become more accustomed to the practice.