Yoga for Abdominal Fitness
By Rebecca Taggart
Bathing suit season is approaching, but that’s not the only reason to focus on your abdominal muscles. These muscles, part of our “core” around the pelvis, hips, and waist, bring stability and balance—keeping them strong is also important for preventing lower back pain and injuries.
Tired of sit-ups or bicycle crunches? The following four yoga poses will keep the different muscles of your core healthy and strong. If you already experience back pain, approach these poses with care, and consult your doctor first.
Leg Drops—Urdhva Prasarita Padasana
Lie flat on your back on the floor, arms at your side, palms down, and your feet near a wall or closed door. Bend your knees to your chest, then straighten your legs toward the ceiling so your legs are perpendicular to the floor. Inhale. Keep your lower back pressed into the floor and, on your exhalation, slowly lower your legs toward the wall. If your lower back doesn’t lift at all, it is OK to bring your legs all the way to the floor.
NOTE: If you feel your lower back lift from the floor, bend your knees immediately and lower your feet to the floor to avoid any back strain. You’ll need to scoot closer to the wall or door so that your heels can come to rest on the wall before your lower back starts to lift. Repeat the pose three to five times, counting to 10 while lowering your legs to the floor or your heels to the wall. Keep breathing throughout each leg drop.
Alternative: This alternative drops the legs in stages. First lower your legs from 90 to 60 degrees and hold for three or more seconds, then lower from 60 to 30 degrees and hold, then lower to the wall or floor. Once the lower back stays firmly on the floor throughout the leg drop, increase the difficulty by stretching your arms overhead. For those with very strong abdominal muscles, raise your straightened legs from the floor keeping your lower back pressed down firmly into the floor. Take a few breaths in the 90-degree position, then complete the cycle with the leg drop.
Full Boat Pose—Paripurna Navasana
Start seated on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Keeping the 90-degree angle between your legs and torso constant, lean back onto your palms as you raise your legs 45 degrees off the ground, keeping them straight. Draw your navel in toward your lower back while you lift your chest up strongly. Keep lifting your chest as you raise and extend your arms parallel to the floor, fingers stretched alongside your knees. Hold for 10 seconds, remembering to breathe. Release your arms and legs on an exhalation. If you are able to hold the pose comfortably for 10 seconds, build up to 30 seconds or more. Repeat three or more times.
Half Boat Pose—Ardha Navasana
This pose is a continuation of Boat Pose. Come into Boat Pose as described above. Interlock your fingers behind your head as you lower your legs to 30 degrees above the floor. Continue to breathe as you hold the pose 10 seconds. On an inhalation, extend your arms and raise your legs back into Full Boat Pose.
Spinal Twist—Jathara Parivartanasana
Lie flat on the floor, with your arms extended perpendicular to your body, palms down. Bend your knees to your chest, then straighten your legs up toward the ceiling. Keeping your legs together, slowly take your legs to the right and toward to the floor, simultaneously drawing your feet up in the direction of your right shoulder. Do not allow your left shoulder blade to lift from the floor. Keep your feet off the floor and hold for three breaths, then raise your legs back to vertical. If this proves difficult, bend your knees first and roll onto your back before extending your legs toward the ceiling once more. Repeat on the left side to complete one cycle. Do two to three complete cycles.
Rebecca Taggart is a San Francisco teacher and yoga instructor.