It is not uncommon for many Yoga practitioners to put on a few extra pounds during the winter season. If this is the case for you, practicing a vigorous, flowing series of Yoga postures, that includes a series of core strengthening poses, will help you to maintain a healthy weight and a strong core. Strong core abdominal muscles are very important for stabilizing the entire body, including the lower back. When the abdominal muscles are weak, the lower back is much more vulnerable to strain and injury, both on and off the Yoga mat.
Many different sequences of Yoga poses offer core-strengthening benefits. A Power or Ashtanga Yoga series of asanas, however, is particularly effective at strengthening core abdominal muscles. The reason for this is that during an Ashtanga Yoga class, a practitioner links the postures together with the movements of the Sun Salutation in a long, flowing dance. This vinyasa or flowing style of Yoga helps to strengthen all of the major muscles groups in the body, especially the upper back, arms and core abdominal muscles.
A flowing series of Yoga postures also helps to increase the metabolism and improve heart health, due to its vigorous, aerobic nature. This increase in your metabolism will help you to burn off excess calories during the cold, winter months. Of course, if you find a Power Yoga class to be quite challenging, and you need to rest in Child’s Pose periodically during the class, which is fine! It is far better to listen to your own body and honor your natural “edge” during a class, rather than push yourself to the point of possible injury. Over time and with consistent effort, your strength and flexibility will increase, so that you are able to move through an Ashtanga class with ease and dexterity.
The continual repetition of Plank Pose, or Chaturanga, during a flowing sequence of Yoga asanas, is incredibly strengthening for the upper body and torso. In addition, by moving through Downward Facing Dog into Chaturanga, then into Upper Facing Dog with each vinyasa, you will be toning and firming many of the major muscles groups in your body, including your core abdominal muscles. By incorporating the practice of Navasana, or Boat Pose, into a sequence of finishing postures, you will further enhance the conditioning benefits of a challenging Power Yoga class.
There are a number of Yoga poses that target the core abdominal muscles. Navasana and Chaturanga are two such poses. However, these poses can be quite challenging for beginning Yoga students to perform multiple times and in correct alignment during a class. If you are a beginning to intermediate Yoga student, who needs to practice some less strenuous core strengthening postures, integrating the practice of Vasistha’s Couch and Modified Side Plank Pose into your Yoga practice will help you to develop more strength in your oblique muscles, abdominal area and upper arms. If you are a Yoga teacher, who is teaching beginning to intermediate students, you may wish to include the practice of Vasistha’s Couch and Modified Side Plank Pose into your Yoga classes.
* Vasistha’s Couch into Modified Side Plank Pose
To practice Vasistha’s Couch, come to a seated position on your Yoga mat. Extend your legs out in front of you, and then roll gently to your right side. Stack your legs on top of each other with your toes slightly flexed and your ankles gently pressing together. Bend your right arm and rest the weight of your body on your right forearm. Keep your forearm perpendicular to your body, your right elbow in line with your right hip and your right palm flat on the mat. Place your left palm on the outside of your left thigh with your left arm comfortably extended. The real key to Vasistha’s Couch is to keep your legs, hips and elbow in a perfectly straight line.
This posture will elongate all of the muscles in your side torso and bring awareness to muscles that you may not think of often. It will also promote a sense of spaciousness all through your upper torso. To move into Modified Side Plank Pose, raise your body off the mat by simply pushing up against your right forearm and the outside edge of your right foot. Keep your entire body in a straight line, do not let your hips sag. Hold Modified Plank Pose for three to five breaths, and then release the posture by moving back into Vasistha’s Couch for a breath or two, before repeating the pose on the left hand side.
Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: email@example.com.