Want to tone your tummy without sit-ups or crunches? Yoga may help you do just that, says Colleen Saidman Yee, creator of Gaiam's Yoga for Weight Loss DVD. "As we age, we sort of collapse and deflate around the midsection," she explains. "Yoga helps to lengthen and extend the spine and strengthen those core muscles that have gotten so soft -- both of which can result in a flatter stomach."
For the most efficient core workout, Saidman Yee says, focus on moves that target not only the abdominals, but also the side obliques and the back. These muscle groups support the abs and help you maintain proper posture and alignment, both on the mat and off.
Try incorporating these five poses into your next yoga routine -- and if you feel shaky or can't hold them for too long, don't worry. Keep track of your improvement week by week: As your skill level improves, so will your six pack.
Boat Pose (Navasana)
Sit on your mat with your legs out in front of you. Lift and lengthen your chest and sternum, and lean back slightly, maintaining a flat back and straight spine. Bend your knees and lift your feet off the floor, slowly straightening your legs and pointing your toes toward the ceiling, holding them slightly above eye level. Reach your arms alongside you, parallel to the floor and to each other. (If this is too hard at first, keep your hands on the floor beside your hips, or hold on to the backs of your thighs.)
Position yourself as if at the top of a push-up, with your body in a straight line and your hands and feet pushing into the mat. Your arms should be perpendicular to the floor and your shoulders should be directly over your wrists. Press your thighs up toward the ceiling and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Find length in your spine, lifting your head away from the back of your neck and looking straight down at the floor.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
From Plank Pose, shift your weight to your left side, rolling onto the outside edge of your left foot and stacking the right foot on top. Reach your right arm straight up in the air as the left arm stays anchored into the mat, slightly in front of the shoulder, supporting your upper body. Keep your head in a neutral position, or turn it to gaze up at your right fingers. For an additional challenge, lift your right leg so that is perpendicular with the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
Start with your feet three and a half to four feet apart and your arms reaching out to your sides, parallel to the floor. Turn your left foot in slightly, and your right foot out 90 degrees, making sure that your heels are in line with each other. Bend your right knee so that it is directly over your right ankle and your shin is perpendicular to the floor. Don't let your knee collapse inward; instead, press it back, opening up the hips. Reach your left arm straight up toward the ceiling, and then over the back of your left ear, palm facing the floor. Try to lengthen the entire left side of your body, from heel to fingertip. Reach your right arm down and press your fingertips or palm into the floor, just outside your right foot. Push your right knee back against your inner arm. Repeat on the other side.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lie on your back with your knees bent, hands at your side, and feet on the floor, with your heels as close to your sitting bones as possible. Press your inner feet and arms into the floor as you lift your tailbone and buttocks upward and off the ground. Clasp your hands together on the mat, below your pelvis, and find length in your arms so that your upper body is supported on the tops of your shoulders. Keep your thighs parallel to the floor and your knees directly over your heels, pushing your knees forward away from the hips. To release, roll your spine slowly back down onto the floor from the top down.
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- "Colleen Saidman's Yoga for Weight Loss" DVD. Gaiam, 2012. http://www.amazon.com/Colleen-Saidmans-Yoga-Weight-Loss/dp/B0099115XW
- Saidman Yee, Colleen. Yoga instructor. Personal interview. April 21, 2013.
- Yoga Journal. "Yoga Poses Index." (April 25, 2013) http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/finder/browse_index