Core strength: whether you're an elite athlete or an occasional exerciser, it's an essential part of maintaining your overall fitness (and good posture, too!).
A strong core acts a stabilizer for the rest of your body. "You can look at it as the source of all power in the body," says Travis Eliot, an expert yoga instructor and creator of The Ultimate Yogi. "One of the main reasons Bruce Lee was able to do his famous '1-inch punch' that could break wood was because that particular movement originated from his core."
OK, so maybe you're not in pursuit of becoming the world's next great martial arts star (if you are, more power to you!), but perhaps you'd like to focus on your abdominal muscles in order to develop your athletic performance or to achieve that all too elusive a "six-pack" ab aesthetic.
Yoga is often overlooked as an effective method for strengthening the core, but according to Beth Shaw, a fitness expert and the president and founder of YogaFit, a regular yoga practice is actually one of the best ways to really challenge your abdominal muscles.
"Yoga helps you naturally tone and condition your core by simply supporting the weight of our body parts," says Shaw. "Some poses work out different parts of your core, but you are always working against your own weight and gravity. Going to lift weights will isolate working out one specific area. Yoga, however, is able to condition an entire region, like the core."
Yoga can be a better alternative or supplement to traditional ab exercises because many poses target some of the deeper abdominal muscles that aren't commonly engaged.
"I think a lot of people think about the abdominals just being the washboard part of the stomach area, which is called the rectus abdominis," says Eliot. "But underneath that you have the transversus abdominis, and off to the side you have both the internal and external obliques."
Shaw adds that yoga is also beneficial for the fact that it can help to increase your range of motion and reduce your risk for injury when participating in other activities.
Plus, whether it comes from increased strength, an improved body image or a mixture of both, Eliot notes that building a strong core will give you a confidence boost, too. "On a deeper level a strong core also equals strong self-esteem because this is where our confidence resides," he says.
Of course, no mention of improving your overall fitness is complete without taking a look at the bigger picture. True health and wellness is all about balance. For all-around improved fitness (and especially if you're after that six-pack), Eliot recommends the following.
"Start in the kitchen cutting out gluten, processed foods, refined sugars, bad fats, and alcohol; pack in cardio at least three times a week, which can come from a strong power yoga class or a favorite cardio activity; and set aside three 15-mininute sessions per week devoted to a core routine."
To find out which yoga poses you should include in that 15-minute session, I asked both Eliot and Shaw to share their favorite core-strengthening poses.
"The core ultimately allows the torso to move in all directions. Without it we would move like a robot," says Eliot"
Step up your ab game (and avoid becoming a robot) by adding these eight yoga poses to your regular exercise routine.
-Katie Rosenbrock, The Active Times
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