Strong core muscles are both a necessity for and a byproduct of a regular yoga practice. Off the mat, a strong core results in better posture and a toned tummy. Although almost any yoga posture helps strengthen your core, some poses are more effective than others.
1. Plank Pose
Start in table top position with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Curl your toes under and lift your knees off the mat to come into one straight line from your heels to your head.
Tuck your pelvis under slightly and puff up between your shoulder blades. Don't let your hips sag; they should stay at the same level as your shoulders. Draw your belly button in toward your spine to engage your abdomen. Hold the pose for five to 10 slow, deep breaths.
2. Side Plank
From plank position, shift to one side and put on your weight onto your right or left hand, stretching the opposite arm toward the ceiling. Your body should be open to one side and perpendicular to the floor.
Stack your top foot on top of your bottom foot, or bend the knee of your top leg and place the foot on the floor in front of you if you need more support. Ensure that your bottom hand is aligned under the shoulder.
Lift the top hip up toward the ceiling, and draw your belly button in to contract your abs. Hold the position for five to 10 deep breaths, then switch sides.
3. Knee-to-Arm Plank
Establish a solid plank position. Initiate the movement of drawing your right knee knee up to your right arm by exhaling and contracting your abdominals. If you can only get the knee to your elbow or just below your elbow, start there.
Inhale as you straighten your right leg, bringing the foot back to the starting position. Then, exhale as you contract your abs, bringing your left knee toward your left upper arm or elbow.
Inhale as you return to the starting position. Be sure to maintain the straight spine of your plank pose throughout the movement.
4. Boat Pose
Sit tall on your mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms out in front of you and raise your feet until your lower legs are parallel to the mat.
Lean your torso back to about a 45-degree angle. Draw the crown of your head up and lengthen through the spine; do not let your back round. Focus on maintaining a strong core.
If this feels easy, begin to straighten your legs so that your body forms a V shape. Hold the pose for five to 10 deep breaths.
5. Bridge Pose
Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart. Draw your feet in close enough to your hips that you can reach your heels with your fingertips.
Press your palms into the mat next to your hips and, on an exhale, raise your hips up until they form a diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders. If your flexibility allows, you can lift your hips higher so your thighs are almost parallel to the ground.
Keep your feet underneath your knees and parallel to each other. Avoid clenching your glutes to prevent undue strain on your lower back. Hold for five to 10 breaths.
6. Locust Pose
Lie on your stomach with your forehead on the mat and your arms extended alongside you, palms facing down. Contract all the muscles of your arms, legs and core and lift your head, chest and arms off the mat.
Then, lift your legs off the mat. Rotate your inner thighs down toward the floor and avoid clenching your buttocks. Keep your neck long and continue breathing as best you can for five to 10 slow deep breaths, attempting to lift everything a little bit higher with each breath.
7. Cat and Cow Pose
Begin on your hands and knees, also known as a table top position. As you exhale, pull your belly button in toward your spine and arch your back up like a black cat.
Inhale and reverse the position, lifting your head and tailbone and dropping your belly down toward the mat. Continue to alternate between cat and cow pose for 10 slow, deep breaths.
8. Reverse Table Top
Sit on your bottom and straighten your spine. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor a short distance from your hips. Place your hands on the mat 6 to 8 inches behind you, slightly wider then your hips, and turn your palms so that your fingers are pointing toward you.
If this is too much for your shoulders, turn your palms halfway so your fingers point out away from your body. On an exhale, press your feet in to the mat and lift your hips until your thighs are parallel with the floor and your hips form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Avoid crunching your neck. Hold the pose for five to 10 full breaths.
9. Revolved Chair Pose
Stand in tall with your feet together, spine erect and your hands by your side. Bend your knees and send your hips back, transferring your weight into your heels. Draw your lower belly in and slightly tuck your pelvis.
Inhale and raise your arms up toward the ceiling. Hold here for five deep breaths, then draw your palms together in the center of your chest in prayer pose. Exhale, twisting to the right and clasping your left elbow outside your right knee.
Keep your knees in line with each other, twisting through your torso. Hold for five breaths, then inhale back to center and exhale to the other side.
10. Extended Triangle Pose
From mountain pose, take a big step out to the right, landing your right foot about 3.5 to 4 feet behind your left foot. Open your body out to the side extending your arms perpendicular to the floor, and turn your right foot out to 90 degrees.
Align your right heel with the heel of your left foot. Exhale as you extend your right arm out and down, tilting your torso from the hip joint until your right hand lands on your shin or ankle.
Extend through the crown of your head and lengthen both sides of your torso equally. Hold the pose for five to 10 breaths, then switch sides.