Yoga for Core Strength: Top 7 Core Strengthening Yoga Poses
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
Maintaining a strong abdominal core is one of the most important things you can do for the health and stability of your overall body. By practicing yoga for core strength, you can target these muscles on a deeper level and build a lean, strong abdominal core to support your spinal health and look good at the same time!
In this article, we will explore the importance of strengthening your core, how yoga can strengthen your core, and the best yoga poses for core strength. Let’s get started!
Many people assume that yoga is all about relaxation and that it isn’t a good way to get in a workout. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth! Yoga is one of the best ways to build strength, particularly when it comes to your abdominal muscles. In nearly every yoga pose, core strength plays a significant role. So, the short answer is: yes, yoga can absolutely strengthen your core!
When people think of strengthening their core, they often focus on the physical appearance and the beauty of having a washboard set of abs. But the truth is that you don’t need to have a chiseled abdomen to have phenomenal core strength. Plenty of people with a rounder belly have immense core strength because they are able to tap into their abdominal muscles at a deeper level.
Through regular yoga practice, you can strengthen all of the muscles in your core and promote a sustainable core strengthening practice. Many abdominal core-building techniques focus on just crunching the abdomen without considering how these movements can actually cause harm to the spine and lead to further imbalance and issues in the rest of your body. Through the yoga approach to core strength, you can target your abdominal muscles more holistically and protect your spine at the same time.
Yoga for core strength doesn’t just build your abdominal muscles; it also targets spinal flexibility and the strength of your entire body, creating a well-balanced physique. Core strength is what supports us in each and every yoga pose, so having a strong core is essential for any serious yoga practitioner.
In addition to specific yoga poses for core strength, you can also add core strengthening techniques into every moment of your yoga practice by utilizing the bandhas or body locks. To target your core strength, the best bandha to engage is the uddiyana bandha or the abdominal lock. This is a deep core activation that can build strength from within.
The practice of sun salutations can help facilitate all of the bandhas or body locks, particularly mula bandha or root lock and uddiyana bandha or abdominal lock. Flowing through a few rounds of sun salutations with an awareness of these body locks or bandhas can skyrocket your core strength in no time.
Plank pose is probably the most commonly used yoga pose to build core strength. This standard yoga pose is excellent for targeting your core while also building strength in your arms at the same time. Make sure to keep your spine in line with your head and legs to maintain integrity and protection for your spinal column. You can also do variations of this pose on your forearms or drop your knees on the ground for a gentler option.
Downward facing dog pose is the quintessential yoga pose, and it is also an excellent way to build core strength. This yoga pose inherently activates your core without needing to add anything fancy. But while in a downward facing dog pose, you can also explore variations such as a one-legged downward facing dog pose or doing a flow by pulling one knee at a time towards your nose while in this pose to further increase core strength.
High lunge pose is most well known as a yoga pose to build strength in the legs, but it also taps deep into your core muscles, particularly when you add the raised arm position in this pose. To take this core-strengthening yoga pose to the next level, try adding a flowing movement by leaning your torso forward with your arms outstretched and then moving back to stack your shoulders above your hips. This back-and-forth movement powerfully activates your core and adds a bit more heat to this yoga pose.
Side plank pose is another favorite core-strengthening yoga pose. This is an excellent option to add on after doing a full plank pose to target your transverse abdominal muscles or the core muscles along the sides of your abdomen. If you feel any tension in your wrists in this yoga pose, try a supported variation of this yoga pose by dropping one knee down onto the ground. You can add even more heat by raising your top leg away from the bottom leg, adding a little extra challenge.
Chair pose is another excellent standing yoga pose to build core strength. There are many variations of chair pose you can explore to target different regions of your abdomen and create a well-balanced core. Remember to keep your tailbone tucked in during this yoga pose to avoid putting excess strain on your lower back. To add a bit more heat, bend your knees a bit deeper to drop even lower and spread this strength into your thighs as well as your core.
Boat pose is one of the most popular seated yoga poses to activate your core. To avoid adding excess strain to your spine in this yoga pose, make sure to begin this pose from a seated position rather than from a reclined position and focus on keeping your back straight throughout the practice. You can bring even more strengthening into this yoga pose by adding different arm movements or twisting from side to side to target your transverse abdominals.
Chaturanga receives most of its attention as a staple in the practice of sun salutations, but you can add this yoga pose anywhere into your yoga practice to build core strength and stability. Practicing chaturanga dandasana is an excellent way to flow through a moment of core strength without overwhelming your body because this pose is often only held for one breath.
Doing one or two of the above yoga poses for core strength will undoubtedly be beneficial for your overall wellbeing and strength levels. But you can take this to the next level by sequencing these poses together to promote a holistic balance of your abdominal core muscles while also releasing any tension from your spine that may build up through core strengthening techniques.
Additionally, it is essential to note that both fast-paced vinyasa yoga or power yoga classes or slower-paced hatha yoga classes can be beneficial for building core strength. Many yoga students think that only fast yoga classes can be a beneficial workout, but actually, in slower-paced yoga classes, you are challenged to tap into a deeper level of strength and hold poses for a more extended period of time, giving you space to go deeper within.
Whether you choose to practice this sequence in a fast-paced vinyasa flow or in a slow-paced hatha yoga style, remember to move with your breath and stay aware of any sensations occurring in your body during the practice. Adjust and modify as needed to make this practice your own! See below for a 30-minute core strengthening yoga sequence to get you started.
· Child’s Pose (Balasana)
· Cat and Cow Pose (Bitilasana and Marjariasana)
· Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)
· High Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana)
· Standing Splits Pose (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
· Warrior 2 Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
· Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
· Standing Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)
· Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
· Garland Pose (Malasana)
· Plank Pose (Phalakasana)
· Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
· Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
· Child’s Pose (Balasana)
· Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
· Seated Forward Fold Pose (Paschimotanasasna)
· Boat Pose (Navasana)
· Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
· Wind Releasing Pose (Apanasana)
· Reclined Spinal Twist Pose (Supta Matsyendrasana)
· Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Strong abdominal muscles are not just an aesthetic feature for a flat stomach; they are a critical component of a healthy body and a flexible spine. Building core strength through yoga involves going deeper within these muscles and activating an inner strength that other core-building exercises cannot access. Yoga for core strength is a unique practice that anyone can do to start promoting the health of the entire body.
In our online yoga teacher training courses, we go over how each yoga pose impacts the body and how you can sequence various poses together to facilitate a range of different health goals. If you are interested in learning more about yoga for the core or want to learn how to guide your students on core strengthening yoga poses, then join us in our online yoga teacher training courses to find out more!