Boat pose is one of the most common poses that can be found in a yoga flow. This is because it’s used to create full body awareness, one of the main foundations of a yoga practice. It specifically targets the abdominal muscles but in a very different way to how other exercises target the obliques. It specifically works the core in a way to lead you to look inwards.
The basics of boat pose
Another name for boat pose is ‘Navasana’. This is the Sanskrit word for the pose, which directly translates. Nava means boat and Asana means pose. The main target of this pose is not only to strengthen the abdominal muscles but to also build strength in the spine. The abdominal muscles and the lower back are greatly connected and so by working on one you also work on the other.
This pose can be extremely difficult, especially for those trying it for the first time. It takes a lot of core strength and usually there are drills that come with boat pose in a yoga class. It can be an intermediate to advances pose but can also be modified for beginners. Other easier core poses can also be done by beginners for a while until the person has the strength for the full pose.
Benefits of practicing boat pose
The benefits of practicing Navasana are almost endless because the core is such an integral part of the body. When the core is strong, everything from balancing to climbing becomes a little bit easier. Boat pose helps a person find strength and stability in their core, which further allows them to be more stable in other poses. When the core is strong, arm balances and more advanced inversions are a lot easier to work on and maintain as well.
Practicing the pose and doing Navasana drills also strengthens the lower back, which is helpful for maintaining fluidity in a yoga flow. The pose takes a lot of work and therefore also a lot of concentration. Continually working on this pose improves the overall focus and determination of a person, all qualities that are helpful in yoga and life.
How to do Navasana
Step by step instructions for boat pose
- Begin in a seated position with legs straight out in front of you and raise your arms so that they’re parallel with the mat and palms are facing up towards the ceiling or towards each other.
- First, find length in the spine and make sure there is no rounding in the lower back. Then, lean back as much as needed to find a straight spine.
- Roll shoulders back and look straight ahead. Take a deep inhale and on the exhale, lift legs off the floor bringing shins parallel to the mat.
- Lift the chest and ensure your arms are staying in line with your shoulders. Don’t let any rounding happen in the spine.
- From there, stay as is if your core is working extremely hard or attempt to straighten legs whilst maintaining length in the spine and engaging the abdominal muscles.
- Stay for 5-10 breaths and slowly release legs and arm down on the last exhale.
Common mistakes when doing boat pose
One of the biggest mistakes people make when first doing boat pose is trying to straighten their legs when the core is not strong enough yet for it. This then results in rounding in the lower back, which can cause pain and discomfort. Another thing people want to do is look straight up, which causes crunching in the neck. The neck should stay elongated, in one line from the spine all the way to the top of the head.
People also get very caught up in trying to hold the pose that they forget to breathe properly. Maintaining focus on the breath is important to build and strengthen the abdominal muscles. The proper focus needs to be used to ensure all the key elements of the pose are achieved.
Tips for beginners doing boat pose
For a beginner trying out Navasana for the first time, don’t jump right in. Take it slowly as there is no rush to get into the pose. Yoga is about focusing on the breath and going inward, which means it’s just as much about the transitions as it is about the final pose. When time is taken to get into the pose, Fewer mistakes are made.
There is also no need to push yourself to get into the final pose. Practice elements of the pose one by one, like the shape of the pose, the gazing, and the arm structure of the pose. It can be practiced fully seated for a while until you feel confident to lift into the full pose. Holding the pose for shorter periods, like 3 breaths at a time, is also helpful. Slowly work your way into the pose.
Variations of Navasana
The first variation of Navasana is Ardha Navasana, which means half boat pose. This pose is harder than boat pose and requires more strength from the abdominals. The back is rounded in this version and the person is almost lying on the floor but only the head, upper back, arms, and legs are off the floor.
There’s also Paripurna Navasana, which is full boat pose. This is when the legs are fully extended. It also takes more core strength but mostly it requires a lot of hamstring flexibility as the hamstrings are in flexion in this variation. Hamstrings need to be properly warmed up for this version of the pose.
This pose should not be practiced if a person has any kind of stomach flu or experiencing diarrhoea. If someone is experiencing headaches or migraines it should also be avoided as it will only make it worse. People with back and neck injuries should not be practicing this pose until they are strong enough or their doctor has approved them doing physical exercise of this sort. If the pose causes any kind of pain then the person should back off and take it slow by rather doing more restorative poses.