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."
This pose has several variations; a more vigorous version is pictured to the left. However, Shaw recommends crocodile as a more restorative pose. “The crocodile pose is really good for relaxing the muscles around your core and reducing tiredness after a strenuous workout,” she says. "I really like it because it relaxes my body and calms my mind, literally lowering blood pressure. This pose is good for those suffering from respiratory problems as the crocodile pose corrects and relieves breathing problems. This yoga pose is also good for digestion, curing insomnia and relieving stress!” See Shaw’s step-by-step guide to crocodile pose on YogaFit.com. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Click here to see All of The 8 Best Yoga Poses for a Slimmer, Stronger Core
“This pose puts the focus right on your core muscles,” says Shaw. “Along with working out your abdomen, it is used in toning your entire body. The nature of this pose provides both benefits to strength and balance.” Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Handstand was another favorite pick for both Eliot and Shaw. “Handstands are great because when you bring both legs off the ground, you are working out your deep core abdominal muscles,” says Shaw. “Most poses don’t impact your deep core muscles, so this pose is absolutely key in building a great core.” Because handstands are difficult, Shaw recommends starting out with an L-Shaped Handstand. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Click here to see All of The 8 Best Yoga Poses for a Slimmer, Stronger Core
Another variation in the plank pose family, Eliot also recommends adding side plank to your exercise routine if you want to build a slim, strong core. In addition to strengthening your core and improving your balance, side plank will also provide a workout for your arms, shoulders, butt and thighs. Photo Credit: Catarina Cowden
Chatarunga is another favorite of Eliot’s and it will strengthen your arms and wrists while also engaging your abdominal muscles. It’s important to note that this is considered a fairly difficult pose, so start out slow if you’re just beginning. You will need support from your arms, back and legs to properly complete the pose. Yoga Journal explains the basics: “[From plank pose], slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor… Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Don't let the elbows splay out to the sides; hold them in by the sides of the torso and push them back toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor. Lift the top of the sternum and your head to look forward.” Chatarunga is usually performed as a sun salutation starting with downward facing dog, then leading to high plank and finally, the chatarunga pose. Photo Credit: Catarina Cowden Click here to see All of The 8 Best Yoga Poses for a Slimmer, Stronger 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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