Yoga for a flat tummy and a trim waistline incorporates specific postures, sequences and breathing exercises. Whether your body is curvy, slender, boyish, voluptuous or athletic, fewer pounds around the middle is a sign of good health and vitality. Before delving into which asanas and pranayamas are best for the abdominals, there are a few essential yogic disciplines and concepts to make a habit of in your day-to-day life.
First of all, it goes without saying that a slim midsection means losing any excess weight. Dedicated vigorous exercise every single day will not show results if you make poor food choices or overeat. Effective weight loss is 80% diet, and only 20% exercise. Therefore, it is extremely important to choose the right foods, know when and how much to eat and stay hydrated. The key is moderation. According to Ayurveda, the majority of human illnesses and ailments originate in the stomach and the intestines; so it is vital to be mindful of what the body ingests.
It’s not only what you eat, but how you eat it. A yogic diet means preparing meals with love and attention, expressing gratitude and eating for the purpose of nourishment instead of emotion. Chewing each mouthful of food slowly and mindfully contributes to a trim waistline. Eating too fast can allow too much air to be swallowed, which causes bloating and sluggishness. On the other hand, chewing each mouthful of food slowly and mindfully until it is almost liquified allows it to properly mix with the natural digestive enzymes in the saliva, and thus guarantees effective digestion. Because fat around the stomach accumulates when food stays in the body for a longer time, this practice of chewing food properly speeds up the process of absorption, digestion and elimination, resulting in a trim waistline.
Another simple and significant, yet underestimated habit is correct posture. Slumping or slouching automatically causes the belly to bulge and protrude. Whereas proper posture automatically pulls the abs in, making the appearance leaner, healthier and more confident. Good posture can instantly make the appearance leaner. To activate and strengthen the abdominal muscles, start by vertically aligning the ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles. Keep the shoulders down and open, elongate the neck, lengthen the waist, visualize the tailbone pointing down, draw the navel toward the spine and keep the weight evenly distributed on both feet.
Last but most definitely not least, it is crucial to consciously eliminate stress. Stress is the root cause of all sickness, unhappiness and a life that is less than what it can be. Stress and anxiety technically increase abdominal fat. As a response to stress and anxiety, the body naturally produces the hormone Cortisol, which sends excess fat straight toward the midsection in an effort to protect the vital organs from danger. In other words, stress technically increases abdominal fat. Getting the proper amount of sleep, practicing regular meditation techniques, or even something as simple as deep breaths of fresh air help to diminish conscious and subconscious stress levels.
Embracing and abiding by the above lifestyle practices will ensure that the following seven powerful yoga poses, sequences and breathing exercises contribute fully to a leaner and stronger midsection.
Kapalabhati is a breathing exercise that is performed at the beginning of the Sivananda yoga session. The repeated contractions of the abdominal muscles and diaphragm tones and strengthens the muscles of the stomach and the waist. Regular and consistent practice develops the body’s core and improves the functions of the internal organs.
Learn more about Kapalabhati, its benefits and instructions (with video).
2. Surya Namaskar (The Sun Salutation)
A common mistake when working toward a flat belly is to perform exercises that only target the abdominal area. Instead, full body workouts that train various different muscles of the entire body and burn more calories should be integrated. The Sun Salutation is recognized by yoga experts to be the complete total body workout for safe and effective cardiovascular and aerobic conditioning. In addition to working up a good sweat, it includes powerful repetitions of ab-strengthening and ab-sculpting poses such as the Raised Arms Pose (Hastauttanasana), the Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), The Inverted V Pose (Parvatasana) and the greatest tummy-toner of all, the Plank Pose (Phalakasana).
Learn more about the Sun Salutation, its benefits and instructions (with video).
3. Jatara Parivartanasana (Reclining Spinal Twist)
This sequence starts by lying flat on the back with the arms outstretched at shoulder height. The legs lift up to a 90-degree angle while the sacrum is pressed to the floor. Both legs, while squeezed together, are then lowered as far as possible to one side toward the floor while the abdomen turns and the shoulders remain firmly on the mat. After three to five breaths, the legs lift back up to centre and the same is repeated on the other side. The reclining spinal twist can be challenging at first, but regular practice reduces excess fat and keeps the abdominal area strong, powerful and trim.
4. Navasana (Boat Pose)
Very much like a powerful ship that sails invincibly and calmly through rough seas, the Boat Pose integrates the entire body toward the innermost core by deeply engaging the abdominal muscles and encouraging concentration. Regular practice improves balance, strengthens the midsection, reduces fat around the waistline and helps to relieve bloating.
5. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
A toned tummy also means firm, tight skin. The Seated Forward Bend is a wonderful pose to not only reduce fat around the abdominal area, but also to keep the skin around the stomach taut and free from sluggishness. The action of scrunching and squeezing the abdomen during this pose creates fire, burns excess fat and shrinks the belly.
6. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Spinal Twist)
In addition to stimulating digestive fires and restoring the internal organs into their natural positions, regular practice of the Half Spinal Twist activates the muscles of the abdominal area and shrinks the belly to make room for deeper spinal rotation.
7. Uttitha Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)
The Extended Side Angle Pose is excellent for trimming fat around the waist. As with all standing poses, it also helps to reduce the overall body weight. The single line of extension from the heel to the fingertips engages the obliques and intercostal muscles of one side of the body while the rotation of the torso activates the abdominal muscles. Moreover, the pressure, contraction or “squeeze” of the obliques on the other side of the body generates heat and shrivels excess fat from the waist.
Remember that it is always best to practice these asanas and pranayamas under the guidance of a certified instructor. As long as you have a happy disposition, patience, optimism, a positive attitude and an approach that comes from self-love, any exercise will always show better results!