Yoga is a great way to strengthen your deep core and abdominal muscles. Yoga asana is a whole-body practice, which builds an integrated core. All of yoga's balancing poses, whether standing, inversions, or arm balances, require a stable midsection. Many poses can become dynamic if you particularly want to work your abs. In other words, crunches ahead!
Cat - Cow Stretch
Though cat-cow is usually thought of as a back stretch, the abs have an important part to play as the support system for the spine. Keep your navel drawn in as you move, even when the belly drops into cow position.
Hands and Knees Balance
Lifting opposite limbs, as you do in this balance, is wonderful for core integration. If you want more of a challenge, try drawing your raised knee and elbow together under your belly and then re-extending them. Go through this motion five times on each side.
The motion of a pelvic tilt is essentially the same as a cat - cow (described above). Keep the navel drawing toward the spine as you move through them.
Plank is the most basic arm balance. It's a good place to build strength for more advanced postures. Try holding plank for ten unhurried breaths.
Boat Pose - Navasana
Just holding boat pose is a pretty good abdominal workout on its own, but you can take it even further by incorporating a crunch. To do this, lower your torso and legs toward the floor simultaneously. Hover a few inches above the floor and then sit back up into the pose. Repeat five times.
Crow Pose - Bakasana
Balancing your body on your arms takes a lot of core strength, so you're working just by getting into this pose. If you are having trouble, squeeze you knees in strongly and keep your gaze on the floor in front of you, not on your feet.
Half Moon Pose - Ardha Chandrasana
Half moon is a balancing pose in which the limbs are shooting out in all directions, so you are relying on your core to keep you upright. Make sure to keep the core engaged by drawing your navel in.
Headstand - Salamba Sirsasana
Headstand offers numerous opportunities to improve strength. Once you feel comfortable doing the pose in the middle of the room (a great accomplishment on its own), you can start to work on lifting both legs up simultaneously. You can even to a inverted crunch, lowering your legs almost to the floor and then lifting them back up to vertical.
Scale Pose - Tolasana
If you're wondering how to get the strength to lift both legs off the floor, the answer is in your core. To get an idea of what that feels like, try doing the pose with a block under each hand.
Side Plank Pose - Vasisthasana
This is a one-armed version of plank. If you want more of a challenge, lift your top leg and hold it about five inches above the bottom leg.
Firefly Pose - Tittibhasana
Yes, flexibility and arm strength are important to this pose, but you are not going to get lift-off without some power from your core.
Forearm Stand - Pincha Mayurasana
Inversions are all about the core. This is exponentially true once you remove your big, stable head from the floor. Sometimes called a headless headstand, forearm stand is a good way to work on inversions if you have neck problems.
Handstand - Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Handstand away from the wall is one of yoga's most challenging physical postures.
Side Crow Pose - Parsva Bakasana
There are two ways to do side crow: balancing on two arms or on one arm. Needless to say, one arm is harder. Since a twist is involved, this pose also requires strong obliques.
Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III
A simple standing balance, right? Wrong. The challenge here is to maintain the torso and lifted leg perpendicular to the floor while keeping your two hips perfectly level. All while standing on one leg.
Check out our 10-pose series designed for abs.