Yoga is a great workout for your core

Yoga for Core Strength: Build Your Core and Strengthen Your Mind

By: Mallory Hope

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Yoga is for everyone—from newbies to experienced yogis; from people with limited mobility to those who can stretch into all sorts of contortions. Yoga is also multipurpose: it can help support core strength and fitness, healthy flexibility, the gentle release of physical and emotional tension, cognitive function and much more. On those hectic days when what you need most is a calm, relaxing yoga sequence, this ancient practice is your go-to; but it's also one heck of a core-strengthening workout for your abs and other muscles!

In fact, the one thing all yoga workouts may have in common is that they encourage a strong core. Even during a less-strenuous workout, yoga focuses on the balance of your physical body, which involves using your abs to adjust your weight and center of gravity.

If you believe yoga class is just for relaxing, or that you need an intense abs workout of sit-ups to get a six-pack, then you haven't tried out the dynamic postures of core yoga—such as plank pose, side plank and boat pose—which emphasize the abs, obliques and back muscles. We've got some tips to upgrade your current yoga practice into a workout for your core!

What is yoga?

Yoga is a mind-body workout practice that helps strengthen and stretch your core and other major muscles and joints, while at the same time quieting your thoughts. Studies show the practice can also support cognition and brain health, stress management, heart health and more. Yoga literally means "to yoke" (to attach), and it engages both the body and mind for fitness and health through a series of yoga postures.

Can yoga strengthen your core?

Absolutely! Your core is the source of your energy, and a strong core is emphasized during yoga practice, when you hold postures and flow between them. The various exercises engage muscles throughout the body, including the muscles in your core—the abs, obliques, lower back, hips and glutes.

Creating a dynamic yoga practice can help you focus on your abs and core strength. Even gentle stretches are part of core-strengthening yoga. Simple moves like cat-cow, downward-facing dog and high plank can make up a yoga core workout if more challenging core poses like backbends and Warrior III are out of your reach.

5 best yoga exercises for core strength

1. Boat pose

Begin in a seated position with your spine in a straight line and your legs extended in front of you. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the ground. Place your hands loosely behind your hamstrings. Lean back on your tailbone. Your body should look like a C shape. Your lower abdominal muscles will start to engage at this point. You may stay in the position, or lift your legs to a tabletop position. Your hands can support your lifted legs. When you are ready, release your hands and extend your arms while keeping your legs suspended. Hold your boat pose for 30-60 seconds and repeat for a few rounds.

2. Side plank pose

Start in a tabletop pose on your hands and knees on the mat. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders and your knees bent directly under your hips. Keep your right hand planted and move your right knee to the left edge of your mat. Lift your left arm and your left leg so the front of your body is facing the left side of your mat. You may keep your right knee down for a modification. To continue into your side plank pose, extend your right leg and left leg to the end of your mat. Both legs should be straight. You may stagger your feet for more support. You should be facing the left side of your mat with your hips and shoulders stacked on top of each other. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Come back to center in a tabletop position and repeat the sequence on your right side. If your wrists are sore, drop your elbows and forearms to the mat for this exercise.

3. Bridge pose

Lay flat on your back. Bend your knees. Keep your head down and back flat on your mat. Place your hands by your side. Use your hands to support you as you lift your hips up to the sky. Your hips should be in alignment with your knees and shoulders. Keep your eyes looking up to the ceiling so you do not compress your neck or spine. This posture will ignite energy in your core muscles and your glutes. You can do a few rounds, holding this posture for 20-30 seconds. Bridges and backbends are a beautiful way to build core strength.

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4. Chair pose

Start by standing tall. Your feet can be together or shoulder-width apart. Reach your arms to the sky in line with your ears. Bend your knees and shift your hips back as if you are hovering over a chair. Keep your gaze looking slightly down at the front of your mat. Do not look down at your feet. Your arms should be in line with your upper body. Hold for about 20 seconds while breathing deeply. To release from this position, add a deep exhale and forward fold.

5. Side angle pose

Stand at the top of your mat. Keep your right foot planted and step your left foot a big step back toward the back of your mat. Pivot your back left toe to 45 degrees. Keep your body open and facing the left side of your mat. Bend your right knee to the top of your mat, in line with your right toe. Reach your arms long in line with your shoulders (like a T shape). Reach your right arm toward your right knee and drop your right elbow on your right knee. Keep your upper body supported on your right forearm (this is the modified side angle pose). Lift your left arm, lengthening toward the ceiling. Maintain a bend in your right knee (aiming for a 90-degree bend) and press against the left edge of your back left foot (your foot still turned slightly on an angle). To add on to this posture, place your right hand on the ground to the inside of your right foot instead of placing your right forearm on your knee. Take your time to breathe into this pose for 2-3 breaths. Bring your upper body back to the T shape with your arms before stepping back to the top of your mat. Repeat on the other side.

How do you engage core muscles in yoga?

During your core workout, it is important to focus on proper form. This helps not only to strengthen your core muscles, but also to protect your spine. To engage your core, pull your belly button toward your spine and align your hips correctly. Do not allow a big curvature in your lower back, and make sure you continue to breathe during the exercise. Find more length in each position rather than feeling compressed in your physical body.

Other health benefits of yoga

Yoga is a great way to build your core as you hold that plank position. Even poses that are easy to achieve can become more challenging as you hold them, and you will feel your core working as you stabilize your poses. Yoga workouts support flexibility and fitness as well.

Yoga has emotional and psychological benefits in addition to physical benefits:

  • Cognitive health and function

    . Studies show yoga training may have neuroprotective effects and support brain health as we age. Exercise plans that included yoga promoted cognitive function as well as physical function.
  • Stress management

    . Studies show yoga can help relieve everyday stress and encourage healthy stress management. Yoga-inspired breathing techniques help promote calm and relaxation both in yoga classes and in everyday life.
  • Sleep

    . Exercise in general is beneficial for sleep, but research shows yoga workouts in particular are a safe and effective way to support sleep quality.
  • Heart health

    . The practice of yoga supports not only heart health but also better quality of life, according to a systematic review of studies.

How can you support a healthy yoga core workout?

As with any exercise, remember to include a warm-up and workout cool-down, especially if you are exercising at home or without a yoga instructor. You can help your body recover from core yoga with active lifestyle supplements. Life Extension's Wellness Code line includes specific nutrition designed to promote muscle recovery from a workout like core yoga, as well as maintain muscle mass as we age.

What other supplements can support your lifestyle? Take Life Extension's health needs quiz and get a personalized recommendation!

About the Author: Based in South Florida, Mallory Hope is a certified practitioner of yoga therapy, which enables yoga postures and yoga logic, breathing and meditation to create a unified mind/body connection and to facilitate the internal and external healing of the body. She is 200 Hour RYT, Yin Certified, Meditation Certified and Barre Certified. You can find her on Instagram at @malloryhopes.


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