Yoga may best be known for its pretzel-like postures and stress-reducing abilities. But the practice’s emphasis on core strength can turn anyone’s stomach flab into chiseled abs with enough work.
Traditional ab exercises like crunches only work the outer layer of muscles, skipping the core abdominal muscles hidden deep within the body. Those looking for flat abs will see moderate results from focusing on the superficial muscles, but achieving the next level of definition requires going deep.
Yoga postures activate nearly every muscle in the body, forcing you to engage your entire core, the deep muscles along with the surface muscles. A strong core zips you up, creating a slender-looking body that’s rock solid.
When practicing these postures, work to find your edge: the place where you’re pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone but feel no pain. If at any time you feel pain, back off.
Let repetition be your effort, and the results will come.
Boat Pose (Navasana)
This is a strong pose that engages the entire core while also strengthening the quadriceps and hip flexors.
- Sit on the floor with spine straight, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor a couple inches away from your tailbone.
- Place your hands flat on the floor and lift your legs up into the air, keeping the knees bent so the calves are parallel to the floor. Keep the spine long.
- Straighten your legs if it feels good to you, forming a V shape with your body.
- Extend the arms parallel to the ground, fingers reaching out front of you.
- Hold for five to seven breaths before slowly releasing.
Another option is to make this pose dynamic, lowering the legs and torso toward the floor before rising back up into the V shape. Repeat this motion for up to one minute. Keep the spine long and heart open with whichever option you choose.
Plank Pose (Uttihita Chaturanga Dandasana)
Plank pose is one of the most accessible postures for building core strength and strong abs. Because it’s a static posture, not requiring movement, it’s easy on the body, even for those with injuries.
- Start on all fours, with your wrists underneath your shoulders and knees underneath the hips.
- Extend one leg straight behind you, tucking the toes, and repeat on the other side, coming into the top of a pushup.
- Engage the core so your entire body forms a straight line, paying special attention to make sure your hips remain in the line from the head to the toes. Press the shoulders onto the back and open up the heart. Gaze slightly forward.
- Press your palms into the floor and push up, fingers forward. Avoid dumping weight into the wrist.
- Stay here for anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes, starting with short holds and building strength for longer ones.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
This balancing posture strengthens the entire core and abdomen. Your arms will also feel the burn.
- Begin in plank pose.
- Shift your weight to the left hand, rolling onto the outer edge of the left foot. Make sure to keep your wrist in a straight line underneath the shoulder to avoid strain.
- Stack your feet on top of each other, edge to edge, keeping the legs straight. If this isn’t an option, place the inside edge of the right foot on the floor behind the left. For a gentler option, bend the top knee and place the foot on the floor in front of you.
- Extend the right arm to the sky, holding your gaze either out in front of you or up to the sky. Take any option that feels good for your neck.
- Hold for four to seven breaths before repeating on the other side.
Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3)
This pose works balance, stretches the hamstrings, and strengthens the abs. Engage the core to help with balance and you’ll see abs poking through in no time.
- Stand tall at the front of the mat, toes pressing into the floor and hands in prayer position at heart center.
- Shift weight onto the left foot, slowly sending the torso forward as you lift the right leg straight back off the ground. Keep the body in a straight line; your front body will be parallel to the ground.
- Hold the hands at prayer position. To increase the difficulty, stretch the arms in front of you, keeping the palms facing each other but not touching.
- Engage the core, making sure the hips are parallel to the ground and not opening to one side. Continue pressing into the grounded foot for added stability.
- Hold for four to seven breaths, coming out of the pose slowly. Repeat on the other side.
Leg Lifts (Uttanpadasana)
This strong but simple pose targets the abdominal muscles for strong, sculpted abs. It also strengthens the back muscles and hip flexors.
- Lie flat on your back, legs extended in front of you on the floor.
- Place your hands underneath your hips for extra support, if needed. Otherwise, place them palm down alongside you.
- Inhale, flexing the feet and lifting the legs until they’re perpendicular to the floor.
- Exhale, point the feet and lower the legs back to the ground. Be sure to keep your lower back pressed into the ground. If your back arches, lower only until the point where it is flat and not arched.
- Repeat this exercise for up to one minute. If lifting both legs at once is too difficult, try alternating legs, lifting one at a time.
Suzanne Heyn is a yoga teacher, meditation expert, and mindfulness writer based in Phoenix. Her work has appeared on popular sites like the Huffington Post and MindBodyGreen. Her Instagram @modern.yogi was named by Greatist as one of the platform's top 25 inspirational fitness accounts to follow. She blogs at www.ModernYogi.today.