Sure, toned abs look nice, but the benefits of a strong core go well beyond the aesthetics. In yoga, a strong core helps improve your posture, balance, breathing, and much more. Read on to learn the ten best yoga for abs poses and my two favorite asanas for losing that annoying excess belly fat.
Therefore, incorporating core-strengthening poses in your yoga routine is essential for building a solid foundation AND progressing in your practice.
But what yoga poses will help you get a trim tummy? Let’s find out!
Why is core strength important?
When you think of the core, you likely think about the “six-pack” abs. However, our core consists of a wide range of muscles surrounding the front, back, and sides of the spine. The primary purpose of the core is to provide stability to the spine, facilitate movement, and aid in balance.
In yoga, strengthening our core is essential for many reasons, including:
- Injury prevention – Yoga poses that stretch and twist the mid-section can apply stress on the spine and surrounding muscles. Thus, a strong core helps you maintain a safe, controlled range of motion, reducing the chance of injury.
- Stability & alignment – A strong core helps you engage the correct muscles and reduces unnecessary strain on other body parts.
- Improved breathing – The diaphragm is part of the core, so strengthening this body part improves breathing and supports other organs in the abdominal cavity.
- Deepening your practice – Strengthening your core enables you to explore advanced postures like arm balances and inversions with greater ease and stability.
5 best yoga poses for ab strength
If you're new to yoga or have never done core exercises, start with the following yoga for abs poses. While they may not bring you an actual six-pack, regularly practicing these asanas could help your stomach look more toned and defined.
1. Plank pose
The plank pose is undoubtedly one of the best asanas for building core strength. It's also one of the easiest postures to include in your yoga routine if you practice dynamic styles like vinyasa and Ashtanga.
If you're new to yoga, start with a modified plank with the knees on the ground. Once you build some core strength, you can do the full variation with the knees off the ground and the legs straight.
However, to do the plank pose safely, I recommend following these 3 pointers:
- Keep your shoulders directly over your wrists.
- Spread your fingers and distribute the weight in your hands by pressing into all four corners.
- Tuck your tailbone and draw your navel to your spine to maintain an engaged core and keep the hips in line with the body.
Start by holding for five breaths, then with practice, increase to 10 breaths. Once confident with the plank pose, you can move onto Chaturanga Dandasana (see the next section).
2. Balancing table pose
Balancing table pose is THE best prep asana for building ab strength and preparing for more challenging core-focused postures like plank and forearm plank.
This is because one knee always remains on the ground, so you do not have to lift your entire body weight. It is also excellent for building balance, coordination, and focus.
To do balancing table pose:
- Start in a tabletop position with hips over knees and shoulders over wrists.
- Engage your core, then slowly extend your right leg back into a straight 90-degree angle. Flex the foot to engage the leg muscles and press the heel back.
- Shift your weight into your right hand as you lift and reach your left arm forward.
- Ensure your spine is neutral as you hold for five breaths. Release and repeat on the other side.
3. Superman pose
The Superman pose enhances spinal flexibility and core stability by strengthening the central abdominal muscles and the erector spinae muscles in the back. Strengthening these muscles improves posture and spinal health while toning the core region.
To practice this pose:
- Lay on your front with your arms and legs extended.
- Engage your abs, and lift your arms, chest, and legs off the ground on an exhale.
- Keep your arms and legs straight as you lift them as high as possible.
- Hold for five breaths.
4. Upward plank pose
While plank strengthens the core muscles, upward plank stretches them. The upward plank is the reverse position of the plank pose, strengthening the back and hamstrings while stretching the chest, abdomen, and quads.
Stretching your abdominal muscles is an essential aspect of building core stability. It prevents muscle shortening that can restrict you in various other poses like backbends.
Traditionally, the legs should be extended with the feet pressing down and the toes pointing away. However, if this is too challenging, do the modified variation by keeping the knees bent. The most important thing is to keep the hips lifted. To do this, tuck the tailbone under and suck the belly in.
5. Seated spinal twist
The seated spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana) is one of the most gentle yet equally effective core-focused yoga poses. It tones the belly by compressing the abdominal muscles and organs, which also helps to stimulate digestion and boost metabolism.
To get into a seated spinal twist:
- From a seated position with the legs extended, bend your right knee, placing the foot on the outside of the left knee.
- Bring your right hand behind the mat, inhale to lengthen the spine, and reach your left arm up.
- On the exhale, turn your torso to the right as you bend your elbow, hooking it to the outside of the right knee.
- Take five breaths here. On each exhale, gently press the elbow into the knee to deepen the twist further. Then release and twist to the left side.
5 Hard yoga poses for abs
If you've been practicing yoga for a while, you can challenge yourself and build additional ab strength with the following advanced asanas.
1. Boat pose
Boat pose is the asana we all love to hate. We know it is good for us, yet we internally groan whenever the yoga teacher cues this posture.
The boat pose is incredibly strengthening for the core muscles, hip flexors, adductors, and quads. But along with improving strength, it also enhances general core stability. This helps you hold standing and balance poses for longer.
The full variation of the boat pose is with the legs extended and pointing up and the arms extended by the sides. The spine should be straight so your upper and lower body forms a V shape.
As the full variation of the boat pose is very difficult for many people, you can modify it by bending the knees and bringing the lower legs parallel to the floor. You can also practice boat pose dynamically. To do this, lower the back and legs halfway to the ground (with the legs extended), hold for a second, then use your core strength to rise back to the original position.
2. Chaturanga Dandasana
Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose) is found in the sun salutation sequence and involves lowering halfway to the floor from a plank position. What makes it so challenging is that you must hold your weight off the floor before moving into an upward-facing dog pose.
Along with strengthening all the muscles in the core and back, Chaturanga Dandasana builds heat and, thus, is one of the best yoga poses for targeting belly fat.
To practice Chaturanga Dandasana safely, ensure you do the following:
- Hug your elbows into your ribs as you lower down, don't let them flare out to the sides.
- Engage your core muscles and tuck the tailbone before you lower down, as this will prevent your hips from dropping.
- Lower down slowly on an exhale, keeping your hips in line with the rest of your body.
3. Side plank
Side plank is an essential core-stabilizing posture to include in your yoga practice as it targets the side oblique muscles (consisting of the internal obliques and external obliques). These underrated muscles play a significant role in back strength, spinal health, and posture.
There are several variations for side planks; the most common is stacking the legs and feet.
For an extra challenge, raise the top leg into the starfish plank. If you want even more, try to grab the big pose of the raised foot, looping your index and middle finger around it. If you can take hold, straighten the leg and extend your spine, keeping the hips and chest facing the side.
4. Dolphin pose
Dolphin is a challenging yoga pose used to build strength and prepare for inversions. It requires strong activation of the upper body, core, and quad muscles. As a hands-free asana, it is also an excellent alternative to plank pose for those with wrist injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome.
To practice the dolphin pose:
- Place your forearms on the mat with palms facing down.
- Engage your shoulders as you press into the forearms and extend the legs into a forearm plank.
- Here, stabilize your core before you walk your feet towards you, lifting the hips like a downward dog. Ideally, the hips should be over the shoulders with the legs straight.
To make this pose extra challenging, lift one leg and hold for 5-10 seconds before releasing and lifting the other. You'll surely feel your abs on fire with this advanced variation.
5. Floating triangle
When I first tried this pose, I was shocked at how challenging it was. The floating triangle is an advanced variation of the classic triangle pose. The difference is that you extend both arms overhead toward the top of the mat.
As the floating triangle pose brings the spine into a suspended side-bending position, it deeply stretches and strengthens the side oblique muscles along with the lower back and shoulders.
Here's how to practice floating triangle:
- Come into a triangle pose with your top arm up and bottom arm on your shin or a block.
- Engage your core muscles by pulling your belly button towards your spine, and engage the legs by hugging the thighs towards each other.
- Slowly draw your top arm down (palm facing down). Bring the upper arm close to the ear with the fingers pointing forwards.
- Float your lower arm (palm facing up) until your bicep is close to your lower ear.
- Hold here for five deep breaths.
2 of the best yoga poses for flat abs
If you have a high body fat percentage, you should focus on losing body fat before gaining muscle. Luckily, dynamic yoga styles like Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Hot yoga can help you lose any excess belly fat and move you closer to your flat stomach goal.
Strong standing poses that require core activation are best for gaining flat abs. When you hold these heat-building asanas for a long time or practice them in a flow, you will quickly build up a sweat, helping to burn calories and lose excess weight.
Here are my top two yoga poses for a flat stomach.
1. Warrior 3
Warrior 3 calls for strong stability as you balance all your weight on one leg. To do this, all your core muscles activate along with the muscles in your legs and feet. This large-scale muscle activation energizes the body and builds internal heat.
I recommend practicing the Warrior 3 pose multiple times in your practice, once holding the posture for ten breaths and a couple of times in a dynamic flow.
To get the full benefits from the pose, keep your back leg lifted at 90 degrees and your arms alongside your ears extending forwards. Flex your floating foot and press out to the heel as you keep your hips facing down and your core engaged.
2. Chair pose
The fiery chair pose will bring sweat beads to your forehead after just a few seconds. Like Warrior 3, this vigorous asana engages many of the body's muscle groups, including the legs, back, core, and arms.
You can work the core muscles further by practicing chair pose with a twist. Twisting to the side tones the abdominal muscles and stimulates digestion, aiding weight loss.
To get the most from the chair pose, keep the arms lifted, drawing the upper arms towards the ears. Sink the hips low but do not compromise the spine – it should stay straight and elongated.
Takeaway on yoga for abs
As the core consists of many different muscles, I recommend incorporating several of the above yoga for abs poses rather than just one or two. That way, you'll target all the core muscles, building a strong and healthy central body, without having to hit the gym!