January 10, 2015

Visual Yoga Blog: 3 Steps to Stronger Abs.


We want abdominals, and we want them now.

If there’s one thing that defines anyone’s fitness goal, conscious or unconscious, it’s that. We’ve been programmed to think that a bodybuilder with a hanging gut is out of shape; so is a runner, a ballerina, or any other athlete, office worker, or suburban parent. And so trim, slim or muscular abdominals are what we tend to associate with fulfilling our vanit— er, our fitness goals. But there’s truth in the fact that a strong abdominal-back wrap-around core (as opposed to just the rectus abdominis, the “six pack”) will much improve the health and longevity of your spine.

The Abdominals-Back Strengthener won’t make you a calendar model overnight, but as a starting point for addressing core strength, and relieving low-back pain borne of weak core muscles, it’s a winner. Besides, it’s easy to do, only has three steps, and just requires a yoga block (or a small ball or box, if you have no block handy):


1. Lie on your back, knees bent, block between the knees, feet off the floor. Your low back should be flat on the floor, with the abdominals drawn in, engaged. These are the areas (low back and core) that this pose targets.


2. Tilt your knees to your right, still engaging through your abdominals/low back, and squeezing the knees against the block. Keep your right leg off the ground by two or three inches. Breathe slowly. You want to distribute the effort of holding the legs up throughout your body, not just make your low back or abs do the work. Think of your shoulders and arms pressing down to help you remain in the position.


3. Extend your left leg out to the side (keeping both legs off the floor). This is an intensification of the previous position. Again, engage muscularly throughout your body (to include the abs and low back) and stay for five very slow breaths. If you can’t do five, do three; if you can’t do three, then go only as far as step two and stay there, eventually building your strength up to an extension of the leg.

Repeat on the other side.

Benefits: Winning the swimsuit competition. Just kidding. Benefits include a different feel to your body as the core becomes stronger over time: a greater kinesthetic awareness of your body that translates in a desire to implement better posture on a regular basis. (Please note the structure of that last sentence: doing something good for your body doesn’t counter slouching in a quasi-simian position in front of a computer for eight hours afterward; we have do so something good for the body and then choose not to slouch for eight hours afterward.)

Avoid if: For this pose I’m assuming your back, hips, joints, discs and spine are generally in good shape. Though simple, it’s not undemanding. Most positions are safe if they’re done with mindfulness and are let go of when you start to hold your breath instead of breathing fluidly. If you have low back pain now or in the position; if you have a history of throwing out your back; or if anything else feels uncomfortable, test to go only as far as step two; if that in itself feels challenging, do this instead to address and prevent residual lumbar strain.

Final thoughts: Just because this pose doesn’t make you a calendar model overnight doesn’t mean you should hold back. All modesty aside, I myself have been featured many times in such perennially best-selling calendars as “The Seven Habits of Highly Unskilled Yogis,” “Lifestyles of the Weird and Anonymous” and my personal favorite, “Worst Humorists of North, Central and South America.”



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Author: Ricardo das Neves

Editor: Renee Picard 

Images: via the author  

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