The lower stomach is a problem area for most adults. While some yoga poses do target each of the four abdominal muscles, you should know that performing the same set of yoga poses day after day will not remove stubborn belly fat, as the concept of spot reduction is, unfortunately, an exercise urban legend. For best results, eat a healthy diet and add targeted yoga poses to an exercise plan that includes aerobic activity to accelerate weight loss and improve overall fitness.
The rectus abdominis is a large muscle that extends from the pubic bone to the sternum. It is the muscle most commonly associated with "six-pack" abs, and it offers stabilization and support for the spine, as well as assisting in upper-body movement. Several yoga poses target the rectus abdominis muscle. According to the "Yoga Journal," Paripurna Navasana, or the Boat pose, helps to strengthen the entire muscle, toning without compromising flexibility. To focus specifically on the lower portion of the rectus abdominis muscle, choose Urdhva Prasarita Padasana, known as the Raised Stretched-Out Foot pose, which not only helps you tone your abdominal muscles, but also strengthens your lower back, improves posture and helps to prevent hip and low-back injuries.
Together, the internal and external obliques play a role in spine stabilization and also allow your upper body and pelvis to rotate from side to side. Rotational yoga poses, such as the Revolved Triangle pose and the Revolved Abdomen pose, are beneficial for strengthening the internal and external obliques. These poses also help to restore and maintain normal spinal rotation, according to "Yoga Journal." To prevent back injury, check with your physician before attempting rotational poses if you have a spinal disc injury or history of low-back pain. (See Reference 4)
The fourth and final abdominal muscle is the transverse abdominis. Unlike the others, this muscle is not involved in movement; rather, it maintains internal abdominal pressure and assists in breathing. According to the "Yoga Journal," the best way to strengthen the transverse abdominis is through breathing exercises, such as the Skull Shining Breath, which alternates short, powerful exhalations with longer inhalations. This exercise is beneficial for targeting the transverse abdominis muscle because strong exhalations are the product of muscular contractions in the lower abdomen.
In today’s society, a flat stomach is the fitness gold standard for women. According to the "Yoga Journal," however, these six-pack abs often come at a cost, because the repetitive movements associated with traditional ab exercises, as well as the high number of repetitions that must be performed to achieve a flat stomach, can inhibit range of motion and decrease flexibility. While this doesn’t mean you can ignore the unhealthy abdominal fat that often plagues waistlines, the goal of targeted yoga practice should be strengthening the abdominal muscles rather than aspiring to achieve a perfectly flat midsection.