Any of you like to have the “6 pack abs” featured on the covers of fitness magazines? Of course, we’ve all been sold on how beautiful and attractive that washboard is. Yet, in a recent article in Yoga Journal, Fernando Pagés Ruiz writes that obtaining that rock hard look can sacrifice the health and flexibility of your spine. He states that abs-obsessed folks can develop a hunch back posture from overdoing work in this area of the body. In our yoga practice, we do want to have toned, healthy muscles throughout our body. Healthy meaning that they are both strong and flexible so that our abdominals support our torso, but also allow us to move our spine forward, backwards, and sideways in a fluid manner.
Working with the abdominals in your yoga practice can be done in every pose with the exception of Corpse pose. In standing poses, you use your abdominals to support the limbs of your body in all kinds of different positions. In twisting poses, the obliques are worked to move the torso to one side and the other. In balancing poses, the abdominals (rectus abdominus, obliques, and transversus abdominus) all support you – think Warrior III, and imagine doing that pose without using your abdominals! Then if you consider arm balances the abdominals have a key role in helping the arms hold your body up in balance. In forward bends, you contract the abdominals, in backbends you stretch the abdominals. Since all of our poses involve the abdominals, a good yoga teacher will begin to teach the engagement of these muscles in the first class, in Tadasana, or mountain pose. The new student is taught the lifting in and up from the pit of the abdomen below the belly button, yet in a manner in which it is still possible to breath freely and deeply. Not hard, but that blend of being strong and flexible. If this is enforced throughout your practice, you can progress towards balanced and healthy abdominals that support your physical postures, your digestion, and your emotional health!
Some of the poses that are also used to strengthen the abdominals in yoga are boat pose (Navasana) or half boat pose. Moving between the two poses using your breath is a fun way to work your abs and back muscles together. Another great way to work the abdominals is with upper plank or forearm plank position. Finding the engagement of the abdominals in upper plank can assist in the support of the body lowering down into Caturanga Dandasana. Forearm plank can build both abdominal strength along with the shoulders for taking into inverted poses like headstand, and peacock tail feather (Pinca Mayurasana). The final pose pictured here is bridge pose (Setu Bandha), which is a good way to counter balance your abdominal work. Let your yoga practice and your abs be balanced in strength and flexibility.