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How To Get Strong Core With Yoga?

Are you looking for ways to get strong core? Did you know that instead of doing sit-ups, practising yoga is one of the best ways to get strong core muscles? The best yoga poses to build the core also have some other health benefits for the body and the mind.

Yoga offers many health benefits, one of them being its fantastic ability for building strong core muscles. There are many different asanas that will help you build a strong core, both on novice and advanced level, but the ones that I have selected for this article, have additional benefits, which make them great for your body and mind.

What Are Core Musles?

core muscles

 

Our core does not only contain abs, but is rather a collection of muscles, including everything except your back and legs. The following are considered major core muscles:

  • Pelvic floor muscles
  • Transversus abdominal muscles
  • Multifidus
  • Both internal and external obliques
  • Longissimus thoracis
  • Diaphragm

These are the minor core muscles:

  • Lassimus dorsi
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Trapezius

How To Get Strong Core Practising Yoga

Strong core doesn’t only form a base for all the yoga poses, but it also makes a big difference in your whole life, offering great health benefits, as everything from walking, sitting, lifting and other sports activities become much easier.

Yoga offers ways to strengthen the core muscles, especially the deep core, which is difficult to strengthen with traditional sit-ups and back lifts among other typical gym exercises.

The three poses I present in this post are specifically chosen due to the exceptional benefits they offer both for your body and your mind.

Before starting the with the specific poses to build your core muscles, I suggest that you perform some surya namaskar, sun salututions, to warm up your muscles and practise your breathing. Besides surya namaskar also offers great benefit for your core.

Please note that these poses are for more advanced yoga practiser and if you are new to yoga, you should learn the correct alignment and breathing techniques by following one of the suggestions in my beginners guide.

Naukasana – Boat Pose

Naukasana is a Sanskrit word, that is comprised of two separate words: Nauka – Boat and Asana – Yoga pose.

This great pose doesn’t only strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles, but it also strengthens the hamstrings, spine and hip flexors! Besides it improves your balance.

Additionally it also improves your digestion, stimulates your intestines, kidneys and thyroids. For men it offers a unique sexual health benefit by benefiting the prostate glands.

Naukasana also offer mental benefits by offering stress relief and improves confidence.

Boat pose

How to Perform Naukasana

  1. Lie on your back, arms beside your body and feet together
  2. Breath in deeply
  3. Exhale and pull in your core, at the same time lift your chest and feet of the ground simultaneously.
  4. Stretch your hands and feet forward forming a V shape.
  5. Check your toes and fingers are in line.
  6. Breath deeply while you hold this pose unto 2mins
  7. Exhale and slowly return back to your mat

Variations

This pose has several variations, the side version of this pose is very good way of training your obliques.

Boat Pose Side

This pose becomes more effective, the longer you can hold it. Make sure you don’t hold your breath and if you move from one side to the other, make a stop in the centre on your way, only moving with the breath.

Pay attention to your form, keep your back straight and your shoulders pushed back. You can perform an easier version of this pose by keeping your legs bent from the knees, either on the ground or holding them in the air.

Sirsasana – Headstand

Sirsasana is a Sanskrit word, that is comprised of two separate words: Sirsa – Head and Asana – Yoga pose.

Headstand is a major core workout, you are using your core strength to control the movement of getting in and out of this pose, holding up your legs and keeping your balance. In fact it’s impossible to do this pose unless you poses enough core strength.

Besides strengthening your core, it also helps you to strengthen arms and shoulders. Additionally this pose also optimises the flow of nutrients to the neck and head, including eyes and scalp, hence helping to flush the adrenal glands, delivering extra oxygen and nutrients.

Sirsasana also improves digestion, relieves stress and increases focus!
headstand

How to Perform Sirsasana

There are many ways to perform headstand, advanced yogis and yoginis do not really think about getting into this pose and don’t necessarily perform all the step. However the way below is the easiest way to perform this pose in a controller matter.

  1. Sit in kneeling pose
  2. Bend forward and place the hands on the floor with fingers crossed, making a triangle with your arms.
  3. Place the top of the head between the fingers, hold it firmly.
  4. Move forward lifting your buttocks and thighs.
  5. Move the knees slightly inwards to your abdomen. Push on your hands and list the trunk and legs of of the ground.
  6. Lift the whole trunk further up untill it is perpendicular to the ground.  Now your weight is supported by the hands and your head.
  7. Lift and slowly move the legs from the front to the back. The legs will be hanging freely at the back. (the variation of this pose)
  8. Lift your legs up and aligning them with the rest of the body, making them perfectly vertical and putting your entire body weight on your arms and head.
  9. Stay in this position as long as possible breathing normally. Please note that you need some strength to get down as well.
  10. To return back to the ground bend the knees and lower the thighs bringing the thighs, bringing them close to the body.
  11. Drop the legs so that the toes touch the ground.
  12. Release the hand position and enter the child pose.
  13. Rest in child pose for 2 minutes.

Variations

There are several variations for the headstand, most famous being a supported headstand, either against a helper or a wall. This is beneficial for the beginners, who have not yet developed the strength to get into the this pose in controller fashion and holding it.

Some less known variations include the Salambasirsasana, a great way for a beginner to start a non supported headstand. It is also common to do movements with the legs, playing on the balance, while maintaining strong core and control of the movement.

head stand backbend

This variation is also a gateway to scorpion, much more advanced pose, including lifting the head forward and placing the hands in a different support position.

Phalakasana – Plank Pose

Phalakasana is a Sanskrit word, that is comprised of two separate words: Phalaka – Board and Asana – Yoga pose.

One of the best known core exercises, for good reason. It tones all the core muscles in your body, working the ones around spine very effectively. Additionally phalakasana gives a great workout for the chest, arms, wrists and shoulders, strengthening them for arm balances and more advanced poses.

This pose is absolutely amazing for your stamina and endurance. It does wonders to your nervous system, hence thereby bringing more balance into our lives.
Plank Pose

How to Perform Phalakasana

  1. Begin this pose on all fours.
  2. Tighten your core and spread your fingers, pushing your weight to your arms
  3. Step back with your feed and bring your body and head in a straight line.
  4. Don’t let hips sink by squeezing your buttocks.
  5. Breath normally and stay in this pose as long as you can

This pose can be performed in several ways, often all three are performed for the optimal benefit. The basic plank pose is part of Surya Namaskar and therefore performed as part of Ashtanga series and most vinyasa flows, as well as in Hatha yoga warm up routine.

It is also mentioned as one of the basic asanas in the famous yoga sutras by Patanjali.

Plank pose variationPlank variation

This pose looks easy, but it’s not, remember to not to hold your breath! You can start by performing this pose only for few minutes and advancing to 5 minutes at the time by trying to hold the pose few seconds longer every day.

It is better to stick your buttocks a little bit in the air, like seen in the picture with the lowest pose variation, than let them sink towards the ground. Maintain strong core at all times by pulling your belly bottom towards your spine.

The longer you hold this pose, more effective it becomes. The different ways of performing this pose make it more or less intensive on hands, arms and shoulders, but all of them work the core muscles very effectively.

Variations

This pose has massive amount of variations, one of the most common one being the side plank. This again has several variations, some of which can seen below, each with their own benefits and all beneficial for the core.

Side Plankside plankSide Plank

My Loving advice

Working on the core should be part of any well balanced exercise. Two of poses are not dynamic and therefore not part of vinyasa flows. They however for an important part of basic Hatha yoga practise.

It’s always good to rest in a child pose after performing intensive core exercises! It allow you to recuperate and recover your breathing.

child pose

There are many other poses, which work the core effectively and it’s always a good idea to vary your weekly practise. You should perform core exercises 3-5 times a week for the optimal benefits.

If you have enjoyed my article about how to get strong core, or have any question of these core exercise, their benefits or want to know more effective ways of working your core, leave me a comment below.

 

ॐ Love and Strength,

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The Benefits Of Surya Namaskar – Yoga Healing

The benefits of Surya Namaskar, the sun salutation are an amazing part of the healing power of yoga, ranging from increasing circulation, lung capacity, flexibility, strength and digestion to relaxing the body and calming the mind, increasing concentration and ability to align chakras and balance doshas.

Starry Night

“Only when you loose yourself into surya namaskar,

you find its true meaning.

It’s a dance,

that aligns your body with your mind and soul.

The movement that unblocks your chakras and balances your doshas.

The divine call of the universe,

for you to join the sun, the moon and the stars.”

Poem by Mira The Ocean

Meaning of Surya Namaskar

For centuries Hindus have believed that sun, Surya is the creator and both the physical and spiritual heart of the world. Surya Namaskar, or sun salutation, is a prayer in motion to honour the sun, by performing a dynamic sequence of asanas or yoga poses.

The purpose of performing the sun salutations is to use the body as an instrument for achieving a higher awareness and receiving wisdom and knowledge. 12 positions done in succession equal the 12 Sanskrit names for sun in all its positions in the sky and are often depicted in a circle.

surya namaskar

 

Each pose has its own matra and in often people site them while they perform this ritual.

History of Surya Namaskar

Although Surya Namaskar is considered part of yoga, it’s in fact at least 2500 years old and preceeds all modern forms of yoga practice. It has its origins in Vedas and is rich in symbols and mythology.

It is even mentioned in the famous gayatri mantra:

Om bhur bhuvah suvah
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Diyo yo nah prachodayat

Surya Namaskar Practise

Surya Namaskar is a Sanskrit word for sun salutations, a sequence of 12 yoga poses performed one after an other while practising deep yoga breathing. It is practised to recognise the sun as the source of life for our planet.

It is performed every morning by millions of Indians, even though the never practice yoga otherwise and rather associate this with their Hindu religious practice.

The 12 yoga poses that form the sun salutation give an amazing workout for your body and your mind. It is best performed in the morning, just after waking up, after a drink of warm water or tea and before eating.

In the Western society, it is often performed at least few times in the beginning of a yoga lesson at a fast tempo to warm up the body in order to prevent injuries. Despite a common belief among the people who perform yoga for sport, it is not meant for a high speed exercise in order to burn calories.

Yoga practise, including asanas and pranayamas is explained in detail in Yoga sutras, you can read about them in my article here: What is Yoga Sutras All About?

The Benefits of Surya Namaskar

Each of the asanas, or poses, have their own benefits and together they form an other unique set of powerful advantages. It works out all the muscles in the body and the deep breathing performed with the asanas empties the lungs of impurities.

Performing the sun salutations and moving seamlessly from one pose to the other while practising slow rhythmic breathing also helps to align chakras and balance doshas.

You always move with the breath, inhaling when extending and exhaling when folding. The breathing should be slow and controlled and last the whole duration of the asana.

1. Pranamasana

On Mitraya Namaha

pranamasana

Prayer pose creates a sense of calm and relaxes the person, bringing the concentration to the surya namaskar. It is meant for a short moment of reflection and it is usual to close your eyes performing this pose.

It is used for greeting in India, Sri Lanka and some other Eastern countries. It is normally followed by a nod of the head or a small bow, together with the Sanskrit word Namaste, which means ‘bowing to you or ‘the devine in me, bows to the devine in you’.

To perform this asana, stand in the front of your mat, your toes touching each other, while the heels stay hip wide apart. Make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are pushed away from the ears.

While facing straight forward, fold your arms from the elbows and bring your arms in front of your body, joining your hands and pushing them against each other, fingers pointing upwards.

2. Hasta Uttanasana

Om Ravaye Namaha

Hastauttanasana

Raised arm pose stretches and tones the muscles, abdomen, while increasing the flexibility of the spine.  It also expands the chest, helping to increase the intake of oxygen.

This asana increases lung capacity and improves digestion.

Lift your arms up and push them back, keeping your biceps as close to your ears as possible while breathing in deeply and looking at your finger tips.

The idea of this pose is to stretch the whole body, all the way from the heels to the tip of your fingers.

In order to deepen this pose, try pushing your pelvis forward and reach upwards with your fingers.

3. Hasta Padasana

Om Suryaya Namaha

Hasta Padasana

Hand to foot pose, is  a position that helps you to strengthen the legs and ankles. The deep stretch is especially good for loosening the hamstring muscle and opening the shoulders, arms and hip.

To perform this post, bend from the waste while breathing out. Keep your spine erect and reach for the ground placing your hands to the ground.

To deepen this pose bring the palms into the floor and push your chest towards your thighs.

If you have problems of reaching the floor, you can bend your knees and try to straighten them little by little.

4. Ashwa Sanchalanasana

Om Bhanave Namaha

Equestrian PoseEquestrian pose opens up your groin and hips, while stretching and toning your legs. It strengthens your waist, ankle and knees. It also lengthens the spine, stretching the chest.

This asana is great for stimulating abdominal organs and releaves constipation, indigestion and sciatica. It also increases lung capacity and stamina.

To perform this asana, while breathing in, step forward with your right foot, placing it between your two hands, while bending your knee and lowering our pelvis towards the ground and gazing upwards.

To deepen this pose, push your hip towards the ground and stretch your neck and face upward and forward, while pushing shoulders down from the ears.

5. Phalakasana

Om Khagaya Namaha

Dandasana

The plan pose helps to strengthen wrists, arms and shoulders. It tones legs and abdomen. Plank also builds spinal strength, hence improving posture. This asana also improves stamina.

To perform this asana, bring the left leg back next to the right one while breathing in. Bring the whole body into a straight line by firming your muscles and tightening your abdominal muscles and buttocks.

Make sure you don’t let your buttocks sink nor rise, make sure your whole body is aligned from the heels to your forehead.

6. Ashtanga Namaskara

Om Pushne Namaha

ashtanga namaskaraThe salute with eight parts enhance the flexibility of the spine and back. It also strengthens the back muscles. It has clearing effect on the mind and reduces tension and anxiety.

To perform this pose bring your knees to the floor by exhaling. Bring your hips back and slide forward, resting your chest and chin on the floor. Push up your posterior keeping your toes in the ground. 8 parts; both hands, feet, knees, chest and chin touch the ground.

7. Bhujangasana

Om Hiranya Garbhaya Namaha

Bhujangasana

Cobra pose has a great deal of benefits. It increases flexibility and stretches the chest, abdominal muscles and shoulders.

It helps for lower back stiffness, while strengthening the arms and shoulders. The pose also firms buttocks.

It also improves mood and invigorates the heart, while regulating menstruation for the ladies.

To perform this pose,  inhale deeply while you slide forward and lift up your chest like a cobra does when attacking.

It i important to push your shoulders downwards, away from the ears. Your face should be bent upwards and your throat should be stretched.

You may keep your elbows bent and bend your legs towards your buttocks. To deepen this pose, push your navel down and your chest forward.

8. Parvatasana

Om Marichaye Namaha

ParvatasanaMountain pose, also known as downward dog is a position that strengthens arms and legs. It also sends blood flowing into the spinal region and tones spinal nerves.

To perform this pose, you need to breath out, lift your hips and tail bone and push your chest downwards creating an inverted V, a mountain posture.

To deepen this stretch by pushing your heels into the ground, lift your tail bone and push down your chest.

9. Ashwa Sanchalanasana

Om Adityaya Namaha

Ashwa Sanchalanasana

Equestrian asana is performed twice during the 12 poses of sun salutations. And 2 times during the whole set, which is 2 full rounds. The sun salutations  start with right leg leading.

So you push the right leg backwards while the left leg stays bent for pose 3. During pose number 9, the left leg stays back, while the right leg moves between the legs.

On the second round you will lead with the left and do the opposite of the movements. Therefore it is important always to do an equal amount of sun salutations.

10. Hasta Padasana

Om Savitre Namaha

Hasta Padasana SideHand to foot pose is performed two times during surya namaskar.

One of the biggest benefits from this pose is its ability to completely empty the lungs. The aim is to gradually deepen this pose by bringing the wrist at the same level with the ankles and pushing the hands flat on the ground, while pushing the chest and the stomach towards the thighs.

It is possible to perform this pose wit bent legs in order to lighten the stretch on the back of the thighs.

11. Hasta Uttanasana

Om Arkaya Namaha

HastauttanasanaRaised arms pose is also performed twice during surya namaskar.

This pose is one of the basic back bends of yoga and is a simple and excellent way for increasing the flexibility of the spine, as well as loosening the stiffness of the shoulders and shoulder blads.

Never force this pose, but instead imagine that you have a piece of string that is pulling you backwards. Only go as far as you get the feeling of falling backwards or you experience pain in your back or shoulders.

12. Pranamasana

Om Bhaskaraya Namaha

prayer posePrayer pose is performed twice during surya namaskar. Use this time to bring yourself back to balance, to catch your breath and reflect on the poses you have just performed.

Exhale, relax and feel the effects on your body and your mind before starting the next set.

Correct your pose and check if you have moved backwards on your mat, step forward again, so you can stay on your mat.

My Loving advice

Do you hurry to perform surya namaskar as fast as possible, this is not the aim. Although it is good way to warm up before doing more advanced yoga poses, it is also an amazing moving meditation when performed slowly, savouring each breath and movement.

It is important to learn the correct alignment of the body and right way of breathing.  Best way to learn to perform the sun salutations the correct way by following one of these methods:

Starting Yoga Practise – Beginners Guide

It is the aim to gain the stamina by performing surya namaskar daily, to be able to participate for a celebration of 108, holy number in many of the Eastern religions, repetitions in one go at a slow pace.

This is a typical event for yoga gatherings and Hindu celebrations where a guru is leading people and it can take up to 2 hour to complete. I can wholeheartedly recommend to do it at least once in your life time. I can guarantee you will never forget it.

 Love and Blessings,

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