Yoga is often thought of as a gentle, meditative stretching exercise, and while that is true, the practice can also turn your tummy from flab to fab by strengthening and toning the abdominal muscles. Many yoga stretches and poses target these muscles, including the external and internal obliques, rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis.
The Plank pose is just like the starting position of a pushup. There are two versions of the plank pose; you can start with your hands flat on the floor shoulder-width apart and the arms are outstretched, or with your elbows bent and your forearms on the floor. Both versions have your arms supporting the upper body. The spine, neck, shoulders, head and heels are all in line, and the legs are outstretched and supported by the toes. Instead of lowering down toward the floor as in a traditional pushup, you hold the yoga Plank pose for about 30 seconds per repetition. This pose particularly targets the rectus abdominis, the largest muscle in the abdominal system. This muscle supports the spine and stretches from the pubic bone to the lower ribs. When toned, the rectus abdominis shows a “six-pack” look. To flatten the tummy and support the body, this muscle should be flexed throughout the Plank pose.
A variation on the aforementioned pose, the Side Plank stretches and strengthens the external obliques, the muscles that form the waist. To tone these muscles, lie on your side with one forearm under the body. Place the upper leg on top of the lower leg with the hips and knees straight. Then, raise the body up off the floor, using the forearm on the floor for support. The other arm may rest on your side or extend up toward the ceiling. Hold this pose for 45 seconds.
This pose targets all of the abdominal muscles and can flatten the tummy. Sit on the mat and bring the body into a “V” shape. Lift the legs off the floor to a 45-degree angle while keeping the spine straight. Stretch the arms in front of the chest, then slowly release your torso and legs to widen the “V” shape. The legs and torso should be a few inches off the floor. Contract the abdominal muscles for support and hold for five seconds before assuming the more narrow “V” shape again.
This pose really stretches the abdominals and strengthens them as they flex to support the torso. Lie on the floor face-down with your hands near the lower ribs. Bend your elbows and stretch your arms as you lift your upper legs and torso from the floor. Arch the chest toward the ceiling while the elbows remain close to your sides. Stretch the abs and breathe deeply, holding the pose for 30 seconds before slowly lowering back down to the starting position.
Poppy Carpenter graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. In addition to teaching journalism to junior high students, she also covers health and fitness for "PUSH Monthly" and Angie's List.