One of the most well-known yoga poses for core strength, Boat Pose (Navasana) — tones the abdominal muscles while strengthening the low back. The name comes from the Sanskrit words "nava" (meaning "boat") and "asana" (meaning "pose"). There are two variations: Half Boat Pose (Ardha Navasana) and Full Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana). The word "ardha" means "half", and it refers to the bent-knee variation of the pose. "Paripurna" means "full" or "complete", and it refers to the deepest expression of the pose, with the legs and arms fully extended and lifting, creating the "V" shape of a small boat.
Long before we in the yoga world starting talking about core strength and dipping into the Pilates well for new variations on crunches and leg lifts, there was boat pose. And it remains one of the best ways to focus on your abdominal strength, which helps you do so many other yoga poses, especially gravity-defying arm balances and inversions.
Half boat, with the legs bent at the knee, is really a good place to work on this pose. Too often, students think the pose is all about straightening their legs, which they struggle to do at the expense of their straight spine and upright torso. Having straight legs when your spine is slumped and your upper body is inching toward the floor is not doing great things for you. Focus instead on keeping a tight V between your thighs and torso. Straightening the legs can come later.
Benefits of Boat Pose
Navasana deeply challenges the abdomen, spine, and hip flexors, building strength and steadiness at the body’s core. It stimulates the abdominal organs, including the kidneys and intestines, which improves digestion. This pose also encourages healthy regulation of the thyroid and prostate glands, helping to maintain metabolism and relieve stress. Often strenuous at first, this pose requires (and helps further develop) concentration and stamina. Practicing Navasana regularly will increase your ability to stay focused, internally aware, and emotionally calm.
Do not practice Boat Pose if you are currently experiencing headaches, low blood pressure, or diarrhea. Those with heart problems and asthma should not practice the full variation of the pose, but should gradually and softly practice Half Boat Pose instead. Women who are pregnant or menstruating should also not practice Boat Pose. Those with neck injuries can practice this pose with their backs and heads supported against a wall. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
How to Do Boat Pose (Navasana)
- Begin seated with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hands resting beside your hips. Draw your awareness inward and focus on your breath. Allow your inhalations and exhalations to be smooth, calm, and even.
- Keeping your spine straight, lean back slightly and lift your feet, bringing your shins parallel to the floor.
- Draw in your low back, lift your chest, and lengthen the front of your torso. Then, extend your arms forward, in line with your shoulders with your palms facing each other.
- Balance on your sit bones, keeping your spine straight. Take care not to let your lower back sag or chest collapse.
- Lengthen the front of your torso from your pubic bone to the top of your sternum. The lower belly (the area below your navel) should be firm and somewhat flat, but not hard or thick.
- With an exhalation, straighten your legs to a 45-degree angle from the ground, bringing your body into a "V" shape.
- Keep your breath easy, steady, and smooth. Focus your awareness within. Soften your eyes and your face. Gaze at your toes.
- Spread your shoulder blades wide and reach out through your fingers, actively engaging your hands.
- Stay in the pose for five breaths, gradually working up to one minute. To release the pose, exhale as you lower your legs and hands to the floor.
Boat Pose for Beginners
It’s more important to keep your spine straight and the front of your torso long than it is to straighten your legs or balance without hand support. Keep your hands on the floor and knees bent until you have built up enough strength to deepen the pose while keeping proper alignment. Practicing Boat Pose will build strength and power throughout your entire torso.
- You can hold the backs of your thighs with your hands if that helps you keep a straight spine.
- Don’t be in a hurry to straighten your legs. Keeping the back straight and away from the floor is more important.
Boat Pose for Advanced
Full Boat is often presented as an abdominal strengthener, which it is to a certain extent. But more importantly this pose strengthens the deep hip flexors that attach the inner thigh bones to the front of the spine. Learn to anchor the heads of the thighs bones deep in the pelvis and lift from that anchor through the front spine. Remember that the lower front belly should never get hard.
- If you’d like more of a challenge in Full Boat Pose, lightly clasp your hands behind your head. With an exhalation, slightly lower your legs while also lowering your back a few inches toward the floor. Inhale to lift up again into the full pose.
- To increase core strength, try some boat crunches: Lower the legs and torso simultaneously towards the floor and hover there just before your feet and head touch the floor. Come back up into full or half boat pose like a sit-up. Repeat this five or more times.
- Reach up and take your big toes in a yogi toe lock. Make sure that your shoulders stay away from your ears and that your upper arms are plugged into your shoulder sockets when you do this variation.
Set Sail for Strength
Navasana is an empowering pose that requires dedication, practice, and a quiet mind. Just like a ship calmly making its way through a storm, Boat Pose will provide safety through balance and strength when the waves of life get rough!