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Yoga teacher and Instagram star Rachel Brathen—aka “Yoga Girl” to her more than 1 million followers—is giving YJ readers a sneak peek at her new book. Visualize yourself on an Aruban beach while you work through these core, balance, and shoulder poses.
Good core strength is important for the practice of yoga, as well as for our well-being as a whole. Your abdominals support your lower back, the spine, and the internal organs. If you suffer from lower back pain, chances are you need to strengthen the core to help support the lumbar area of the spine. Our core is also where our sense of confidence lies, the base for how we walk through life.
The exercises in this sequence can be done as part of a full yoga session or separately on their own. Think about engaging the belly and pulling the lower ribs in toward the spine to connect to the transverse abdominals.
The neck and shoulders are where we tend to hold a lot of stress and tension, and if you spend lots of time sitting in front of the computer, these exercises will be great for you. You can even do them at your desk at the office! Sit on the edge of a chair, keeping your spine long and a yoga strap or a belt close by to use if you need it.
I love that the things we do in our yoga practice truly help us create better posture even off the yoga mat. “Draw the shoulders down the back” or “Lengthen the spine,” common yoga cues, work just as well when you’re stuck in traffic or standing in line at the grocery store.
We need balance in all parts of our lives, and the yoga mat is a great place to start cultivating that! Plant your feet firmly on the ground so that you can grow tall without losing your balance in life.
STEP 1 Lie down. Extend both legs straight up toward the sky so that the ankles line up with the hips. Press the balls of the feet up toward the sky and spread your toes (we call this “flointing” the feet!); this will help engage the inner thighs and activate the legs. Connect the two big toes together and keep your arms down by your sides. Inhale here.
STEP 2 Exhale and lower the legs until they’re hovering right above the ground. Keep the two big toes together the entire time and make sure that the back of the head and the shoulders are still resting on the mat. Engage your core!
STEP 3 Inhale and lift the legs back up. Repeat as many times as you can while still keeping the breath steady (try 20!), always moving with the flow of the inhales and exhales.
Also see7 Poses for Core Strength
Navasana and Ardha Navasana
Boat Pose and Half Boat Pose
STEP 1 Come into a seated position with the soles of the feet touching the floor. Walk the toes in toward the sit bones as much as you can, and then lift both legs, extending them up and hugging to the midline while engaging the inner thighs. Shift your weight toward the front of the sit bones, away from the tailbone, and keep the spine long while lifting from the heart. Make sure you’re not rounding the lower back!
STEP 2 Lower the body from Navasana to Ardha Navasana. Keep the lower edge of the shoulder blades lifted off the floor and let the legs hover above the mat. Keep the arms reaching forward and activate the core by pulling the lower ribs in toward the center line of the body. Exhale and make your way back to Navasana. Inhale and lower to Ardha Navasana. Exhale and come back to Navasana. Repeat together with the breath 5 to 10 times or as many times as you can without lifting from or rounding the lower back.
See alsoBeach-Body Confidence
Boat Pose, Variation
STEP 1 If you are just beginning to learn this pose and are still working on building core strength, you can choose to keep the heels on the mat, staying in this position for a few breaths while lengthening the spine. Even though you’re not moving, you want to feel your core working for you!
STEP 2 If you have tight hamstrings or if you find it difficult to move into Navasana with straight legs, do this variation with the shins parallel to the mat. Inhale to lower, exhale to come back up with your knees bent.
Explore moreStrong Core Sequences
Garudasana Core Move
Eagle Legs Core Move
STEP 1 Lie down. Cross the right leg over the left, hooking the right foot around the left ankle. Extend your arms out to the sides, perpendicular to the body, and then cross the left elbow over the right in front of you. You can either press the backs of the hands together here, or bring the palms all the way together. Keep the toes pressing into the mat, inhale, and reach your arms over your head until your fingertips can touch the mat above you.
STEP 2 Exhale and lift the legs and arms off the mat so that your knees and elbows connect, pulling the navel into the spine, feeling the abdominals engage. Inhale to lower, touching the fingertips and the toes to the mat. Exhale to connect elbows and knees. Repeat 10 times and then switch sides with both arms and legs to do the other side.
Seated Neck Stretch
STEP 1 Come into a comfortable seated position. If you have a sensitive lower back, place a folded blanket beneath your sit bones. Sit up tall and extend your arms out to the sides, keeping your fingertips connected to the floor. Walk the fingers as far away from the hips as you can without letting them lift off the ground. Drop your head down and gaze toward your feet, keeping your chin to your chest.
STEP 2 Gently tilt your head toward the right so that the right ear draws toward the right shoulder. Move your head slowly, keeping a slight tuck of the chin. Breathe deeply.
STEP 3 Bring your chin to your chest again and then gently move your head to the left. Use the breath to draw some space into the parts of your neck that feel tight. Move your head left to right, right to left, without tilting your head back.
See alsoEase Neck Pain in Camel Pose
Seated Neck Stretch
STEP 1 In your Seated Neck Stretch, bring your head back to center. Interlace your fingers behind your back and extend the arms behind you, pressing the palms of the hands together. Move your hands as far to the right side of the torso as you can, squeezing the right elbow inward. Relax your shoulders and then softly drop your head to the right. Take a few moments here, breathing into the sensation of the neck.
STEP 2 Do the same thing on the other side. Inhale to extend the arms straight back behind you, interlacing the fingers with the opposite thumb on top. Then move the knuckles as far over to the left as you can and gently tilt your head to the left. Take a few deep breaths here and then come back to center.
Seated Shoulder Stretch
STEP 1 In a seated position with legs crossed, interlace your fingers behind you. Extend the arms straight back behind you while keeping the spine long.
STEP 2 Lift the arms as high off the floor as you can while keeping the shoulders drawn down away from the ears.
STEP 3 Engage your core and fold forward. If you can, rest your forehead on the mat and keep pressing the knuckles toward the back of your head. Stay for 5 breaths and then come back up. Switch legs so the opposite leg is to the front and then interlace the fingers with the opposite thumb on top and fold forward again.
TIP FOR TIGHT HIPS If your hips and shoulders are tight, you can use a strap and a block to help you.
Seated Eagle Pose
STEP 1 In a seated position, inhale to extend the arms straight out to the sides. Exhale and give yourself a big hug, crossing the right elbow over the left. Then place either the backs of the hands together or the palms of the hands together if you have the space. With your hands at the center of your face, relax your shoulders and keep the spine long.
STEP 2 Inhale and lift your elbows up, reaching the fingertips higher toward the sky.
STEP 3 Exhale and fold forward. Inhale and come back up. Repeat 5 times and then fold forward and take a few breaths here. Create space in the upper midback and breathe deeply into the shoulders. When you’re ready, come back up and repeat with the left arm crossed over the right and the opposite leg in front.
Also seeTwist Up To Unwind: Eagle Pose
Cow Face Arms
Reach the right arm straight up toward the sky and let the left arm come from below. Bend the elbows and start reaching your fingertips toward each other until your hands meet, if possible. Try to keep one elbow pointing upward and the other one pointing down. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths and then switch arms.
SOFTER VARIATION If your hands can’t touch each other in this position, use a yoga strap and inch your fingers closer toward each other slowly. Pause where you feel lots of sensation, but can still stay very connected to the breath.
Come into a standing position. Move your weight to the right foot and lift the left leg off the ground, placing the left heel toward the inner right thigh. Reach your arms up and bring the palms together. Let the left knee point outward but keep drawing the frontal point of the left hip forward. Find your balance here for 10 breaths and then switch sides.
MODIFICATION Place the sole of the foot to the inside of the right calf.
BEGINNER MODIFICATION Place the left heel to the inner right ankle.
Utthita Hasta Padangustasana
Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose
STEP 1 Come into a standing position. Shift your weight over to the left foot and bring the right knee into the chest. Use your peace sign fingers (index and middle finger) to hook around the right big toe, and then gently extend the right leg straight out in front of you. Pull the right hip down so it stays level with the left, and engage the inner thigh.
MODIFICATION If your hamstrings are tight, see the next slide to try the softer variation of this series using a yoga strap.
STEP 2 Extend the leg out to the side and do your best to keep your hips neutral with the front of the hipbones pointing forward.
STEP 3 Gaze to the left to challenge your balance further.
Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, Modified
Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe Pose, Modified
STEP 1 If your hamstrings are tight, use a yoga strap! Place it around the ball of the right foot and then extend the leg forward. Let the strap do most of the work; soften the elbow and draw the shoulders back.
STEP 2 Place both sides of the strap in one hand and then open up the leg to the side.
STEP 3 Gaze to the left to challenge your balance further.
ABOUT RACHEL BRATHEN
Swedish native Rachel Brathen is a world-renowned yoga instructor who teaches workshops, leads yoga retreats, and gives lectures around the globe. Find her on Instagram @Yoga_Girl and online at YogaGirlBook.com.
Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Brathen. Originally published in 2014 in Sweden by Bonnier Fakta. From the forthcoming book YOGA GIRL by Rachel Brathen to be published by Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.