10 Yoga Poses That Improve Core Strength (And Tone Abs!)

1
Cat-Cow Stretch

Cat-Cow stretch
Ben Goldstein

This sequence is made up of poses that will improve your core strength and help flatten your abs. While doing yoga is not the best way to get a six-pack, you can expect to significantly tone and strengthen your belly. Strengthening your core can also help relieve back pain and improve your posture (nothing makes your belly look bigger than slouching!). Many of the poses recommended below are balances, which are a great way to work the core.

1. Let's get started by coming onto all fours with your knees underneath your hips and your wrists underneath your shoulders.

2. Do a few Cat-Cow Stretches to warm up, arching your back on your inhalations and rounding your spine on your exhalations. Remember to keep your belly hugging in throughout both motions.

2
Hands and Knees Balance

Hands and Knees Balance
Ben Goldstein

1. Return to your hands and knees with your spine in a neutral position.

2. Lift your right leg and straighten it, holding it parallel to the floor. Flex your right foot strongly.

3. When you feel stable, raise your left arm, also parallel to the floor.

Stay in Hands and Knees Balance for five breaths.

Repeat with the left leg and right arm raised. 

Challenge Variation: If you need an extra challenge, bend the right knee and reach around your back with your left arm to hold your right ankle. 

3
Down Dog Splits

Down Dog Split
Ben Goldstein

1. Come back onto all fours. Curl your toes under and draw your hips back as you straighten your legs into Downward Facing Dog. Keep your belly hugging in towards your spine.

2. On an inhale, raise your right leg until it is roughly parallel to the floor, coming to a Down Dog Split. It's OK to lift your leg higher if you can do so while keeping your hips squared towards the floor. 

Hold for five breaths.

Repeat with the left leg lifted.

Challenge Variation: Slowly take your extended leg in three big clockwise circles. Follow up with three big counter-clockwise circles.

4
Plank Pose

Plank pose
Ben Goldstein

1. Come forward into Plank Pose.

2. Remember that the distance between your hands and your feet should be the same in Plank as in Down Dog. Pay attention to the position of your hips. You don't want your butt to stick up or sag down.

Hold 3-5 breaths.

Challenge Variation: When you come forward from your Down Dog Split, keep your leg raised off the floor. Return to Down Dog Split, switch legs, and then do Plank again.

5
Side Plank Pose - Vasisthasana

Side Plank Pose - Vasisthasana
Ben Goldstein

1. From Plank, shift your weight onto your right arm as you roll onto the outside of your right foot.

2. Keep both of your legs straight as you stack your left foot on top of the right. You can also stagger the feet one behind the other if that's a better fit.

3. Lift your left arm up towards the ceiling and your gaze to the left fingertips, coming into Side Plank.

After 3-5 breaths, roll back to the center and do the other side, resting in Downward Facing Dog between the two sides if you like.

Beginners' Variation: If the balance is too difficult, try these supported variations.

Challenge Variation: Lift your left foot, hovering it above the right. If you still need more, try full Vasisthasana.

6
High Lunge

High Lunge
Ben Goldstein

1. Come back to Downward Facing Dog and rest for five breaths.

2. Bring your right foot forward next to your right hand.

3. Bend your right knee and align it over your right ankle so that your right thigh is parallel to the floor.

4. Raise both arms up towards the ceiling, coming into a High Lunge.

Stay for five breaths.

(Don't worry, we'll do the other side in a minute.)

Beginners' Variation: Place your hands in your hips.

Challenge Variation: On an inhale, straighten the right leg. Exhale and bend the right knee back over the ankle. Continue for five breath cycles.

7
Half Moon Pose - Ardha Chandrasana

Half Moon Pose - Ardha Chandrasana
Ben Goldstein

1. From High Lunge, bring the left hand to your waist.

2. Place your right fingertips 12-18 inches in front of your right foot  and straighten your right leg as you lift your left leg parallel to the mat, coming into Ardha Chandrasana.

Hold three to five breaths. 

Beginners' Variation: Take a block under your right hand if necessary.

Challenge Variation: Bend your left knee and reach your left hand around to grab your left ankle. This variation is called Sugarcane Pose

8
Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasana

Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasana
Ben Goldstein

1. From Ardha Chandrasana, drop the left foot down next to your right foot.

2. Bring both arms up and bend your knees, coming into Awkward Chair Pose.

Hold five breaths.

9
Eagle Pose - Garudasana

Eagle Pose - Garudasana
Ben Goldstein

1. From Awkward Chair, shift your weight into your right leg.

2. Lift the left foot off the floor, then wrap the left leg around the right. Hook your left toes on your right calf, if possible.

3. Take your arms out to the sides and wrap the left arm over the right, bringing the palms together.

Balance in Eagle Pose for 3-5 breaths. 

4. Unwrap your arms and legs, bring your palms to the floor and hop or step back to Downward Dog.

Rest here five breaths before repeating the previous four poses on the left side.

Challenge Variation: On each exhale, bring your elbows to your knees. On each inhale, return to your starting position.

10
Boat Pose - Navasana

Boat Pose - Navasana
Ben Goldstein

1. Come to sit on your mat.

2. Bring the legs straight up to a 45 degree angle, coming into Boat Pose. The torso will naturally fall back, but do not let the spine collapse.

3. Make a "V" shape with the body.

4. Bring the arms out straight in line with the shoulders.

Beginners' Variation: Bend your knees, bringing your shins parallel to the floor. This is called Half Boat. If this is tough to maintain, you can hold on to the backs of your thighs.

Challenge Variation: Once you have established the pose, release the legs and torso simultaneously down towards the floor and hover there. Come back up into the pose like a sit-up. Do this as many times as you can.

Come to lie on the back for a well-deserved rest!

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