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Redefining Great Abs

Forget all about the six-pack.

By Carol Krucoff


Once it's clear to a student that yoga practice centers on energetics and unification--rather than getting something exactly right muscularly--some teachers will suggest specific asanas for abdominal development. For example, Shandor Remete recommends working the abdominal region in many different directions, such as in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). This series contracts the abs in forward bends, such as Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), and lengthens them in backbends, such as Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose). He also suggests doing Hanumanasana (Pose Dedicated to the Monkey God, Hanuman) and Mayurasana (Peacock Pose), because they both build and require strong, supple abdominal muscles, as well as Navasana (Boat Pose) and Nauli (abdominal churning).

Go Exploring

Since weak abdominals and damaged lower backs are common in our culture, Forrest encourages her students to perform ab exercises daily to help stay injury-free. "Core strength is essential in every pose--and absolutely mandatory for doing advanced 'gravity surfing' postures and series," she says--for example, moving through a series of Handstand variations or doing arm balances such as Eka Pada Bakasana (One-Legged Crane Pose), Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose), and Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose). Plus, Forrest says, "building core strength and awareness in the abdominals can translate to feeling centered and strong in daily life."

Forrest includes at least 15 minutes of abdominal strengtheners in every class, in part because she found that strengthening her own abdominal area was critical to her recovery from a back injury. "At first, people tend to really hate doing abdominal work, because it's a painful area that many find hard to access," she says. "But after a while, it feels really good to wake up and cleanse our insides."

On the quest to create healthy abdominals, it's crucial that students learn to trust the body's messages. As Esther Myers explains, "If pulling the belly in improves your posture and makes you feel energized and confident, that's telling you something. If it makes you feel tense and strained, that's also telling you something. In yoga, you can make decisions based on an inner knowledge of what the practice is doing for you."

And how to develop that trust? "Go exploring," says Forrest. "Find out what works best for you."

A frequent contributor to Yoga Journal, Carol Krucoff is a journalist, registered yoga therapist, and yoga instructor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is coauthor of Healing Moves (Crown, 2000).


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Reader Comments

Kanchana

Thank you Karen! I feel the same way - a good mix of gym workouts, Pilates and yoga is what most of us need in the challenging age we live in.

Working out in a gym with a trainer got rid of my ab flab while Pilates straightened my slouching back. Yoga keeps my joints and hip flexible and makes me feel I'm a child of the earth.

Jenny

This is the best article I've ever read about achieving healthy abdominals!

Karen

I took yoga for many years in a variety of styles. I enjoyed the sense of peace, wellbeing, and open muscles. Nonetheless, my abs were never strengthened by yoga.

I started taking Pilates reformer classes about 4 weeks ago. My body shape is changing dramatically, which never happened from yoga. My waist is much more defined. My abs are stronger and my back feels amazing.

I think sometimes one does need to target certain muscles. Yoga was developed in a time and place that did not have desk jobs or long commutes. Perhaps yoga teachers should examine how to adapt their ancient art for the specific needs of modern body-minds.

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