Strong abdominal muscles will flatten the stomach and improve your balance and stabilize your movements. While there are particular yoga poses that focus on the abdominal muscles, awareness of using the core muscles throughout the practice in all poses provides greater improvement in their strength. Toned abdominal muscles are also key in supporting posture and digestion.
Using the Legs
Urdhva Prasarita Padasana is a pose for strengthening and flattening the belly muscles. In this yoga pose, lie on your back with the legs extended and arms by your side. Press the low back toward the floor, and lift both legs together until they are perpendicular to the floor. On the out breath, lower the legs until they hover just above the floor, then raise them again with the inhale. This pose strengthens deep abdominal muscles that support both posture and breathing.
The plank position provides a fabulous opportunity for abdominal toning while strengthening the upper body. Start on hands and knees with toes tucked under and the hands extended 6 to 8 inches in front of the shoulders. Lift onto the toes, with shoulders over the hands and head extended out from the spine. Tuck the shoulders back and down and draw the belly up toward the back. Hold the pose for up to a minute, focusing on using the abdominal muscles to stabilize the pose.
Spinal twists develop flexibility in the spine but also strengthen the oblique muscles around the core. Full twists such as Ardha Matsyendrasana, use leverage to increase flexibility and strength to turn the torso. For this pose, sit with the legs extended in front of you. Bend the right leg, placing the foot on the outside of the left knee. Bend the left leg, bringing the left foot near the right hip. Place the right hand behind the right hip and wrap the left arm around the right knee. Face forward, take a deep breath and gently twist to the right, beginning at the base of the spine and bringing the head around last. Hold and breathe, lifting the spine on the inhale and using the abdominal muscles to help you extend deeper into the twist on the exhale. Release on an exhale and repeat on the other side.
Forward Boat pose develops strength throughout the abdominal area. The key to this pose is engaging the transversus abdominis muscle in the lower belly. Sit on your bottom with legs bent in front of you. Take hold of your legs behind the knees. Gently lift your feet and bring the calves parallel to the floor. Stay in this position or straighten the legs, consciously keeping the abs engaged. Stay here or release the hands from the legs, holding the arms out on either side of the knees. To rest pull the knees in toward the chest, but stay balanced on the tailbone. Then, extend again to whatever version feels comfortable.
Yoga poses that lift the legs over the head require abdominal strength, and regular practice of them strengthens the abs. Headstand, shoulderstand and handstand are examples. The guidance of a skilled instructor is recommended in learning to practice these inversions. Dolphin and Supported Shoulderstand are preparatory poses for these inversions and also work the abs.
Maintaining flexibility in your abdominal muscles is as important as strengthening them. Releasing these muscles in poses like Bridge or Upward Dog allows for movement and balance in the abdominal area.
- belly of a girl in a pink towel image by silviaantunes from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.