Your core comprises the muscles of your abdomen, back and pelvis. According to MayoClinic.com, strengthening your core muscles will help improve balance and stability, which is necessary for most daily activities including sports performance. A strong core also means building a greater proportion of muscle mass, which burns calories more efficiently than fat. Although most people associate yoga primarily with flexibility, the practice will also strengthen your core if you focus on the right exercises. Ten yoga positions in particular can provide a solid foundation for a core-strengthening program.
Forward and Side Planks
Strength poses generally require you to engage your abdominals and back muscles. The basic Forward Plank, a good example of this type of exercise, starts on hands and knees with toes tucked under; you then lift your knees to balance on toes and hands, with the back and legs forming a straight line such as in the beginning position of a pushup. When balance and strength improve, lift one arm at a time, pointing forward in line with the body. After steadying yourself in this position, raise the lifted arm up toward the ceiling, turning your body carefully and fixing your gaze on the upraised thumb -- this is the Side Plank. Breathe steadily throughout these exercises. It may take several weeks to perform them in sequence; until then, relax between them by coming back to hands and knees.
Eagle, Crow, Side Crow and Pendant
Balance poses increase core strength because they require you to use your core muscles to keep yourself steady. Many yoga poses are done balancing on one foot, such as the Eagle pose, in which the lifted leg is wrapped around the bent supporting leg with arms twisted around each other. The Crow pose and Side Crow are two balance poses done in a crouching position, balanced on the hands with bent legs supported on the elbows. Another, more advanced balance pose on two hands is the Pendant pose, in which the legs are tucked under the body and lifted between the two arms. Breathe smoothly and deeply in these exercises.
Bridge and Wheel
The Bridge and Wheel are two postures that build core strength in a different way, by emphasizing the opposite side of the body. Starting lying on your back and come up into the Bridge by raising your hips as high as possible, engaging your pelvic, hip and back muscles. The Wheel begins similarly, but instead of keeping your arms at your sides, you turn your hands backward, placing them palms down at your shoulders, then push up your entire body, balancing on hands and feet. This pose requires greater arm strength. Breathe deeply and smoothly in these exercises.
Warrior I and Warrior II
As any sports enthusiast knows, lunges strengthen the core muscles as you hold your body in a half-squat position with the front leg bent so that the thigh is parallel to the floor, tightening the abdominals and pelvis. Yoga poses similar to a lunge are the Warrior I and II poses; however, the back leg, instead of being bent down toward the floor as in a lunge, is kept straight with the back foot angled to provide stability. In Warrior I the arms are stretched overhead with palms together, and you look up through your hands. In Warrior II you look forward and arms are stretched forward and backward in line with the body. Exhale into the position, hold for 30 seconds to a minute, breathing normally, and inhale as you release.
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