When we think of our cores, our obliques aren’t typically the first set of muscles that spring to mind—rectus abdominus, aka six-pack, I’m looking at you. However, your obliques muscles are key in many yoga postures and daily life moves. After all, they stabilize your spine when you rotate your torso and pelvis.
Located on either side of your rectus abdominus, your thin yet powerful external obliques run diagonally from your ribs to your rectus abdominus. Your external obliques are situated just below, perpendicular to your external obliques.
In asana practice, challenging poses like Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) engage your obliques, as do more grounded poses like Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose). Off of your yoga mat, you use these muscles when you throw a ball (your obliques pull your shoulder around.) And when you kick a ball, your obliques rotate your pelvis. Your obliques are in play when you strength train as well: they help stabilize your vertebrae to maintain spinal alignment when you lift a heavy weight.
As you move through these three yoga poses, use the cues provided to focus on your oblique muscles in each shape. Bring the awareness you cultivate into your next longer yoga practice, and with you into day to day life, and feel your connection to your center deepen.
Anantasana (Side-Reclining Leg Lift)
Lie on your right side with your bottom leg extended, foot flexed. Place your right elbow down on the mat, bend it to about 60 degrees, and support your head with your right palm. Ground down evenly from your elbow to your foot.
Stack your body so that your left hip and shoulder are directly above your right hip and shoulder. Lift your right waistline up and away from the floor slightly to engage your obliques.
Using your left hand, draw your top (left) knee to your torso. Then, use your left hand to grab hold of your thigh, calf, foot, or big toe. Flex your left foot, and extend your leg up to the ceiling, so that it’s nearly perpendicular to the floor.
As you lift your top leg, press your left sitting bone toward your right heel. This action helps activate your core muscles and stabilizes your body in the pose. Release the hold on your foot and challenge yourself to use the strength of your left obliques to help you keep your top leg lifted.
Draw your left front ribs into your body.
Lengthen your back waist.
Hold for 5–10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
Starting in Plank Pose, bring your big toes to touch. Shift onto the outside edge of your right foot, and stack your left foot on top of your right. Now place your left hand onto your left hip, turn your torso to the left as you do, and support the weight of your body on your outer right foot and right hand. You should feel your oblique muscles engaged.
Make sure that the supporting hand isn’t directly below its shoulder; position the hand slightly in front of its shoulder, so the supporting arm is angled a bit relative to the floor. Straighten your arm by firming the triceps muscle, and press the base of your index finger firmly against the floor.
Firm the scapulas and sacrum against the back torso. Press through the heels toward the floor. Align your entire body into one long diagonal line from the heels to the crown. Inhale, and as you exhale, lift your low belly up and in to feel your transverse abdominus and rectus abdominus engage. Keep lifting your top hip and your lower waistline up and away from the floor to recruit your obliques.
Stay in this position for 5–10 breaths. Come back to Plank Pose, take a few breaths, and repeat to the right side for the same length of time. Then return to Plank Pose for a few more breaths, and finally release into Balasana (Child’s Pose).
Side Forearm Plank
From Tabletop, place your forearms and palms on the floor. Make sure your elbows are under your shoulders and your upper arms are vertical.
Walk your feet back to Plank Pose, keeping your legs and pelvis in line with your shoulders. Gently draw your front ribs and lower belly back toward your spine. Dig your toe pads into the floor as you reach from your pelvis and thighs through your heels. Lift the back of your skull just enough to maintain the natural curve of your neck, and lengthen out through the crown of your head.
Keeping both forearms on the floor, bring your big toes to touch, then come to the little-toe side of your left foot, stacking your feet and legs in the middle of your mat in line with the space between your arms. Lean your weight evenly into both forearms, and reach through your feet while also lengthening through the crown of your head. Draw your low belly back and feel as though you are lifting the front of the pelvis up through the chest. Reach the back of your pelvis toward your heels.
Now rest your right knee down. Place your right forearm parallel to the top of your mat. Begin to rotate your torso and hips to face the left long edge of your yoga mat. allowing your left hand to hold onto your left hip. Press down through your bottom right forearm and right outer calf to help you actively lift your hips and waistline up and away from the floor. This lift targets your obliques. Hold for 5 breaths.
At the bottom of an exhale, pull your low belly up and in and feel your pelvic floor slightly lift. Inhale return to center. Rest in Child’s Pose. Then return to Tabletop and repeat on the other side.