(www.BlackDoctor.org) -- Don’t let Yoga’s serene style fool you; yoga is a beast when it comes to fighting fat, especially around the tummy. Soft and slow in pace, yoga can help relieve stress and still give you a challenging enough routine to burn calories, improve flexibility, and tone your abs,. A stronger, more flexible core means:
1. Better posture.
When your core is strong, those muscles can help brace and protect your spine and keep you properly aligned. Of course, when your spine is lined up and you move correctly, you're less likely to fall and injure other parts of your body.
2. Better digestion.
"When your abs hold you correctly, your digestive system can function more efficiently because you're not compressing your intestines," says Ana Forrest, creator of Forrest Yoga and The Pleasure of Strength DVD.
3. More energy.
More oxygen means more energy. "Strengthening your core improves your respiratory efficiency because proper alignment allows you to breathe deeply and therefore maximize your oxygen intake," says holistic health practitioner Paul Chek, founder of the Chek Institute in San Diego.
4. Clearer head.
Mechanically, when you don't have solid core strength, especially in your chest and upper back, your neck will tilt back and pinch, which can cause headaches and even foggy thinking, Forrest says. "When you are connected to your core, your gut feelings and instincts are stronger. You're more centered."
5. Look Leaner.
Okay, this isn't a medical issue per se, but the better you look, the better you feel, right? "When you properly work your core, you can create more space between your vertebrae and stand half an inch to an inch taller," says Mimosa Gordon, principal Pilates instructor at re: Ab Pilates studio in New York City.
You can begin to improve your core strength, shape, and flexibility with these yoga-inspired exercises. Practice each of the following pairs of moves for a comprehensive workout, or add one from each group to your regular exercise routine.
Core Goal: Overall Strength
Lie on your back in traditional sit-up stance--with your hands clasped behind your head, feet on the floor, and knees bent. Then cross your right knee over your left knee, and try to interlock your right ankle with your left ankle. Next, inhale and curl your head and chest up. Exhale and curl your pelvis and thighs up, pulling your abs in toward your spine. Release and repeat three times. Next, place your hands on your left thigh. Push against your thighs as your thighs push against your hands. Hold for a breath and release, and then repeat the whole sequence with your legs switched.
The Curl (fusion)
Lie on the mat with your knees bent and your arms down at your sides. Roll your shoulder blades off the floor to form a large C from the top of your head to your knees, and let your hands slide up to the outside of your thighs. Tuck your pelvis up and under, and gaze beyond your knee. Hold for 30 seconds. Next, raise your arms up by your ears and hold for another 30 seconds. Return to start and rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for two more sets.
Core Goal: Flexibility
Bridge With Roll
Place a rolled beach towel between your thighs. Lie on your back with your knees bent and directly over your feet, and put your hands by your heels, palms up. Make your feet active by pressing your heels and the balls of your feet into the floor with your toes up. Exhale and curl your tailbone toward the roll, and then using your abs and glutes, lift your hips and torso toward the ceiling. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Lengthen your ribs with each inhale, and focus on lengthening your back with each exhale. Lower down starting with your upper back and finishing with your lower back, keeping your pelvis tilted up.
Get on all fours and start this stretch by pulling your abs in and rounding your back upward into Cat pose. Hold for a few seconds, and then press your abs down toward the floor, arching your back into Cow. Repeat one more time. Next, raise your left arm in front of you, with your thumb pointing toward the ceiling, and extend your right leg out behind you. Hold this position for 5 seconds, then round your core, bringing your left elbow in toward your right knee. Hold this position for 5 seconds, then extend and bring in for one more set. Repeat with the other side for two sets.
Core Goal: Shape
From a standing position, move into Warrior I, stepping your left leg forward, toes straight ahead, and your right leg back, toes turned out. Root your feet into the ground, engage your core, and twist at the waist, hooking your right elbow over your left thigh. Make a fist with your right hand and brace your left hand on it, lifting your torso up off your thigh and relaxing your neck. Hold for a few breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Sit on the mat with your legs extended and feet pointed. Place your hands on the floor, just outside your thighs, and slightly round your torso downward, curling your abs. Next, pull your lower abs in toward your spine and use them to lift your hips off the mat. Your weight should be balanced between your hands and your heels. Hold for five counts and then release, repeating for three reps.
Core Goal: Back Strength
Cobra Pushup With Roll
Squeeze a foam roll between your thighs and lay flat on your belly, tucking your tailbone toward the mat. Place your hands under your shoulders, with elbows up, and push the tops of your feet into the floor. Next, inhale and push up into Cobra, opening your chest and pulling your rib cage forward. Be sure to keep your shoulders down. Exhale and release, lowering yourself slowly and carefully, one set of ribs at a time. Repeat three times.
Lie facedown on the floor and place one forearm over the other, resting your forehead on both. Next, roll your pelvis slightly under and pull your abs up and in toward your spine. First raise your right leg a few inches off the floor, and then your left, keeping them about 1 foot apart, with toes slightly pointed. Squeeze your glutes and lower-back muscles, and pulse both legs up and down a few inches for 20 counts. Rest for 20 seconds and then repeat for a total of three sets. To work your mid-back, bring your heels together and slightly bend your knees, and repeat for one more set of 20 pulses.
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