What You Can Do With A Yoga Mat?

There are plenty of benefits to practicing yoga — to reduce stress, support heart health, practice mindfulness, prevent and reverse bone loss, manage chronic pain — but one of the best is how well it can help build a strong core (i.e. abs). Certain yoga moves, like side plank and boat pose, are especially effective at building a strong core. Plus, almost anyone can do them, whether you're an older adult looking to improve your balance and avoid injury, or you just want to build and define your core.

With a yoga mat, we could do several kinds of exercises. Below are the 4 best yoga poses for building strong abs on a Yoga mat, as recommended by professional yoga instructors, and how to do them correctly.

1. Side plank

How To Do A Side Plank Exercise - Side Plank Variations

Registered yoga instructor, Claire Marie Larson, recommends side plank as a great exercise for core endurance. Julie Granger, a yoga instructor and founder of The Studio Paris, agrees, saying that this position is great for targeting your obliques.

How to do it:

  1. To get into position, start in a regular plank and move your supporting hands closer to the center of your mat.
  2. Then, move your feet closer to each other.
  3. Roll your body to the right so you're resting on the outside edge of your lower foot.
  4. Move your left hand off the mat and raise it toward the ceiling.
  5. Lower your right forearm to rest on the ground, making sure your shoulder is in line with your wrist.
  6. Turn your neck toward your lifted arm and gaze up at the ceiling.
  7. Try to hold the position for a few breath cycles, then repeat on your other side.

2. Chair pose

How to Do Awkward Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

Larson says this pose helps you develop a "strong sense of core awareness," meaning you'll gain an understanding of how strong your core is, as well as your balance and posture. Chair pose is especially effective at toning the legs, stretching your chest, and strengthening your ab muscles. 

How to do it:  

  1. Start with your feet together, or hip-width apart for more stability.
  2. Shift your weight to your heels (not your knees) and move your hips back and down like you're sitting in an invisible chair.
  3. Reach your arms overhead to lengthen your abdominal muscles and increase the load on your lumbar spine.
  4. If holding your arms overhead feels too intense, keep them at your hips or pressed together at your heart center.
  5. Squeeze your lower belly in and back, toward your spine, and slightly tuck your tailbone.
  6. Hold here as you breathe and keep your core engaged throughout the move.

3. Yogi Bicycles

Bicycle Crunches Every Day For 2 Weeks: The Surprising Results

If you've ever done bicycle crunches, this move will feel familiar. Smyth recommends yogi bicycles because they not only work your ab muscles, but they'll improve the flexibility of your spine and strengthen your lower and middle back.

How to do it:

  1. Lay on your back on your mat then lift your knees up toward your chest, stacked over your hips so your body forms an "L" shape.
  2. Interlace your fingers behind your head and squeeze your legs together, hugging the thighs inward, and point your toes.
  3. While engaging your core, twist your upper body so one elbow meets the opposite knee while you extend the other leg forward.
  4. Return to center and repeat on the other side.

4. Bandha Chargers

A person doing Bandha Chargers on a yoga mat.

This position is a variation on the basic plank pose, which Smyth says "challenges your whole body" since it requires you to use your arms to support your weight while also engaging the entirety of your core, which helps strengthen your ab muscles. 

How to do it:

  1. First, find plank position: start on all fours, then extend your legs behind you so you're balanced on your hands and toes.
  2. Make sure your elbows and shoulders are stacked directly above your hands, and engage your core, glutes, and leg muscles to hold your body in a straight line.
  3. Next, bend one knee inward so it's between your wrists.
  4. Keep your toes pointed, protract your shoulders (round them away from each other), and lift your hips as high as you can.
  5. Hold it here for a few breaths, then return your leg to the floor and repeat on the other side.

Yoga is an ancient practice that improves mindfulness, breathwork, body control, and strength, including in your core. You can also do many other poses by a yoga mat to exercise.

Get a yoga mat and try these poses as standalone exercises, or incorporate them into a complete flow, and you may start to see benefits such as reduced back pain, increased stability, and overall strength in your abs.

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