Struggling With Boat Pose? Here's How to Build Up to It

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The easiest modification for Boat pose is to bend your knees.
Image Credit: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages

While yoga comes with a host of benefits, some poses can be tricky to master, especially when you're just beginning a yoga practice. But you don't need to be a master yogi to incorporate Boat pose into your daily flow. You can work up to it by first building your core strength and stability.

"Not only is Boat pose fun and a great workout, but also it has some other amazing benefits," says Jennifer Gullang, RYT-500, certified yoga instructor and founder of ThePiEproject in Chicago, a non-profit organization that gives back through yoga experiences and workshops.

"It helps with digestion, stimulating the intestines, kidneys and thyroid, and it aids in stress relief, in that, by practicing yoga when you feel stressed, you can increase blood circulation and oxygen flow in your body, which reduces your cortisol levels."

And while it's not a complicated pose, the pose can be pretty hard to master. Breaking it down into smaller steps and doing some prep poses can help you ease into full expression. Here's where to start.

How to Do Boat Pose for Beginners

How to Do Boat Pose for Beginners
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Jennifer Gullang
Type Strength
Activity Yoga
Region Core
  1. Sit back on the base of your tailbone with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Raise your arms straight out from your shoulders so they're parallel to the floor.
  3. With your spine long and chest open, lean back so that your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor and slide your feet out a few inches, heels touching the ground and toes lifted (you can also try with toes pointed). Pause here. This is stage 1.
  4. Lift one foot off the floor and straighten that leg to a 45-degree angle to the floor. Hold here.
  5. Bring that foot to the floor (only the toes touching) and switch legs so that the other one is extended out straight. Hold here. Step 3 and 4 count as stage 2.
  6. Now lift both feet off the floor, bending both knees so that your shins are parallel to the floor. Pause here. This is stage 3.
  7. If you're ready, extend the feet toward the ceiling. You want your legs at a 45-degree angle from the floor. This is stage 4.

Tip

Don't worry if you can't complete this Boat pose progression on your first try. Stop at whatever point in the progression you need to and hold. Build up strength in the position before progression to the next stage.

Regardless of where you are, make sure to draw your belly button in toward your spine and keep your neck relaxed as you maintain this pose.

5 Moves to Build Strength for Boat Pose

Doing a few exercises that target your abs and core through plank motion can help you build the core strength and endurance you need to maintain boat pose, she says.

1. Forearm Plank

1. Forearm Plank
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Jennifer Gullang
Type Strength
Activity Yoga
Region Core
  1. Start lying on your stomach with your elbows under shoulders and forearms along the floor.
  2. Press into your forearms and toes to lift your body off the floor.
  3. Keep your hips in line and your body straight from head to heels.
  4. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.

Tip

Forearm planks strengthen all of the muscles of the core, giving you a stronger lower back and teaching you to stabilize your body, which helps with holding Boat pose, Gullang says.

If you need a modification, you can also do this move from your knees to take some of the weight out of your shoulders.

2. Mountain Climber

2. Mountain Climber
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Jennifer Gullang
Type Cardio and Strength
Activity HIIT
Region Core
  1. Start in a high plank with your shoulders directly over your wrists. Be sure to keep your back flat and your butt down, maintaining a neutral spine.
  2. Engage your core, pulling your navel to spine and lift up your right knee up toward your right elbow.
  3. Return the right knee back to the starting position, simultaneously lifting your left knee up toward your left elbow.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat right, left, right, left.

Tip

"This will help target and strengthen your triceps, deltoids, abs, back, hip flexors, quads and hamstrings, which are needed for boat pose," Gullang says.

3. Skater Squat

3. Skater Squat
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Jennifer Gullang
Type Strength
Activity HIIT
Region Lower Body
  1. Reach one leg about a foot behind you, keeping both knees bent. Arms should reach out in front as a counterbalance, with abs engaged.
  2. Tap a raised pad or the ground lightly with your back knee. Your torso will lean forward at an angle (as if your chest is going towards your front knee), but your back should not round. Keep it neutral.

Tip

"This is great exercise to teach your body to keep your spine neutral, while creating knee and hip stability," she says. This helps protect your spine during Boat pose.

4. Pigeon Pose

4. Pigeon Pose
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Jennifer Gullang
Type Flexibility
Activity Yoga
Region Core
  1. Begin on your hands and knees.
  2. Draw your right knee toward your right hand. Rotate your right hip outward as you bring your right foot to your left hand and extend your left leg back. Lower your right shin and hip to the floor.
  3. Gradually extend your left leg back to find more length in the pose. Keep your hips even and put a block under your right hip for support if it doesn't come all the way to the floor.
  4. Hold the pose, then switch sides.

Tip

"If this feels too intense, place a blanket or block or under the hip or back knee," Gullang says.

5. Boat Pose With Block

5. Boat Pose With Block
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Jennifer Gullang
Type Strength
Activity Yoga
Region Core
  1. Sit back on the base of your tailbone with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Raise your arms straight out from your shoulders so they're parallel to the floor.
  3. With your spine long and chest open, lean back so that your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor lift both feet off the floor, bending both knees so that your shins are parallel to the floor.
  4. Place a yoga block (or cushion) between your knees and hold it there.

Tip

"Your inner thighs aid in hip extension, so squeezing a block in between your legs activates this muscle and stabilizes your core, making the posture more accessible," Gullang says.

More Tips to Master Boat Pose

Lengthen Your Spine to Avoid Back Issues

When you're practicing Boat pose (yes, even the modifications), think about engaging your core muscles — front and back of your torso — to extend your spine straight out from your tailbone.

You want to make sure your spine is neutral to take pressure off the back. "You don't want to round your spine, but you also don't want to overreach it by lifting the head too far back and arching out the back," Gullang says.

If you're having trouble with this, try a seated forward fold to help you lengthen your spine.

Seated Forward Fold

  1. Sit with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
  2. With your arms straight up over your head, reaching toward the ceiling, draw your spine up long.
  3. On an exhale, fold over your hips and reach for your shins, ankles or toes.
  4. With each inhale, lengthen your spine and with each exhale, deepen into your forward bend.

Strengthen Your Hip Flexors

"If you have a hard time lifting and extending your legs in boat pose, you might need to strengthen your hip flexors," Gullang says. One way to do that is pressing your heels into the ground in a modified Boat pose.

While more advanced yogis might press their toes into the mat, pressing through the heels and flexing your toes will activate the psoas, pectineus, sartorius and rectus femoris muscles behind the hips and flex the trunk to allow you to better raise the legs at a higher angle, she says.

Tip

"If you have lower back pain or injury try putting a block under you heels for support or a folded blanket under your tailbone," she says.

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