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If you want to take your yoga practice to the next level (think nailing arm balances and getting hang time in inversions), core strength may just be the single most important thing to get you there!
Without some abdominal strength it is impossible to progress your practice, and get those poses that inspire you on your social media feed.
The 5 poses described below will help you to build that strength in your core. Do these consistently, even daily, and you will see and feel a noticeable difference.
If you are a beginner, don’t worry. I provide modifications to get you started today and build up over time.
1. Plank – I can hear some of you groaning from here. But this is quite possibly the more important and most beneficial pose to improving your core strength. If you practice just one of these poses every day, make it this one. Start with 10 seconds, then increase it for longer periods. Foundation is extremely important for plank. Spread your finger tips wide, setting the palms up directly underneath the shoulders. Step your legs out behind you. Avoid dropping the pelvis, which often happens if your abdominals aren’t yet strong enough. To the opposite end, you may be tempted to lift your hips up too high, almost as if you are doing downward dog. Imagine instead, that if I placed a bead at the crown of your head, it would roll all the way down and off of your heels. Keep the low belly drawing in, and lengthen the tailbone toward the heels. Push in to the fingertips and knuckles, broadening the shoulder blades behind your back.
Modify: Drop your knees to the mat. Same things to avoid here – don’t drop the hips, or lift them too high. Same things to look for – one diagonal line down from the crown of the head to the knees.
Modify: Come to your forearms (with knees either down or lifted). Full plank can be a lot for the wrists and fingers. Set your elbows up under the shoulders and middle fingers point forward as the others spread wide. Plant your palms firmly to the ground. Focus on spreading the shoulders wide, and lengthening the tail bone down.
2. Side Plank – This one is amazing to specifically target the obliques. From your plank, take your feet hip distance apart. Drop your heels down to the right, lean on your right hand and bring your left hand to the hip or reach it up to the sky. Common misalignments that happen in plank, also happen here. Avoid dipping or lifting the hips too high. Also avoid the top hip dropping back too far. If you find it challenging to balance here, add more space between the feet for a stronger base. If you want to challenge yourself further, try to stack the feet. If you feel stable, you may be able to float the top leg up.
Modify: Drop your bottom knee to the ground. Right hand, right knee and left foot should all be in line. Push directly in to all 3 to find the lift.
Modify: Come to the forearms. Starting from forearm plank, and simply turn to the side in the same manner.
Make sure to practice both sides.
3. Knee to Nose – This is more of an active transition than a held pose. Come first in to downward dog. Then lift your right foot up to the sky. On your exhale, shift forward to plank, drawing your knee and nose together. Keep your hips fairly low down as you do. Hold for a few breaths, closing the gap between the belly and thigh. Inhale back, then try tapping knee to right wrist, left wrist, right elbow, and left elbow (one at a time, or making squares within the same transition). This is great for targeting the lower abdominals and hip flexors.
Modify: From table top, extend your right leg back. Exhale and contract pulling knee to nose.
Switch sides and repeat.
4. Boat Pose – Come to a seat, bending the knees and setting the soles of the feet on the ground. Begin by holding the backs of your thighs. Rock back on to the sit bones. Start to slide the toes, see if you can lift one and then the other off of the mat. Avoid contracting in, instead think of lifting your heart to the sky. Draw your shoulder blades down, and engage the low belly. Rock a bit further back and see if you can extend your arms out along the shins. To progress further, you may be able to straighten the legs. Or even extend the arms up overhead.
Modify: Low boat. Lower down so that your low back comes in contact with the floor. Keep your head at roughly the same height as your toes. Reach your hands towards the heels. Or to challenge yourself further, extend arms up overhead. Another option is to bend the knees to 90 degrees.
5. Pick Up Pose – Start from a seat, drawing your knees in as close to the chest as possible. Crossing one ankle in front of the other. Plant your palms at your sides, spreading the fingers wide. Push your palms in to the floor to try to lift the bum off of the mat. Keep the toes down, or try to lift one foot at a time. Staying lifted for as long as you can. To take the pose further, you can start to extend the legs in to a pike sit.
Modify: Use blocks, one under each hand to create more lift. Essentially elongating the arms so it’s easier to lift yourself from the floor.
Remember, be kind to yourself and keep practicing every day!
More of an auditory or visual learner? Check out the video below where I walk you through each of these 5 poses.
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