Boat Pose (Navasana, Naukasana)
Boat pose, known as paripurna navasana or naukasana in Sanskrit, works the abdominal, hip flexor, and lower back for a strong, toned core. Like a boat at sea, this aptly-named seated balancing pose builds a strong, stable, and balanced body.
- Sit with your feet planted on the mat and your knees bent. Bring your legs together. Place your palms firmly on the mat, next to your hips. Push through your hands to extend and lengthen your spine.
- Keeping your spine extended, lean back slightly, so that you begin to balance on your left and right seat bones and tailbone. Scoop your pubis towards your navel to bring your tailbone down onto the mat. Find a focal point (dristi, in Sanskrit) slightly above eye level.
- Inhale and raise your feet off the mat. Keep your knees bent so that your lower legs hover parallel to the floor or begin to straighten your knees. If possible, straighten both legs completely. Wherever you are with your lower legs, keep your thighs at about a 45° angle relative to the floor.
- Exhale and inhale again. Hold your lower thighs (right above the knee) to support your legs. If possible, slowly extend your arms on the outsides of your legs. Keep your arms parallel to the floor and your palms turned inwards.
- Activate your pelvic floor by engaging the pelvic muscles as if you were trying to stop yourself from peeing. Activate the inner abdominals by “pulling” the abdominal wall inwards and upwards towards the spine.
- Breath and hold the pose. Keep your gaze on your focal point for better balance.
- Exhale. Slowly sit up, crossing the legs and bringing them up to your chest. Inhale. Hug your legs to your chest, lengthening and extending your spine upwards.
Modifications and Props
Lower Leg Modification
In boat pose, as long as you keep your thighs at a 45° angle relative to the floor, your lower legs can be anywhere. Beginners may raise their feet just slightly off the mat if straightening the legs is too challenging.
If raising the arms is too challenging, beginners may keep their palms planted beside their hips throughout the pose. Pushing through the palms and fingers makes it easier to balance and takes pressure off the abdominals.
Swami Satyananda Sarasawti’s Naukasana
Begin this variation lying supine on your mat with your legs together. Inhale and lift your legs, back, shoulders, and head. Hold your feet and shoulders approximately one foot above the floor. Keeping your arms parallel to the floor, reach them towards your legs. Breath and hold the pose. Exhale into corpse pose (shavasana).
Boat pose focuses energy on the lower belly, stimulating digestion and benefiting the kidneys, thyroid, prostate, and intestines. The balancing pose requires physical stability and mental concentration, leading to increased focus and reduced stress.
Repeating boat pose several times in sequence builds abdominal strength quickly. After your sequence, push back into plank, then lower into chaturanga and go through a full sun salutation (surya namaskara).
Abdominal muscles. The abdominals are located in the lower belly, between the ribs and the pelvis. They control the tilt of the pelvis and the curve of the lower spine. If done correctly, boat pose works all your lower belly muscles: the outer abdominals, the inner abdominals, and the pelvic floor. To prevent the outer abdominals from “bunching” in boat pose, consciously activate the pelvic floor and inner abdominals (see step 5 above). When your abdominals are activated evenly, the belly will be flat.
Hip flexors. The hip flexors are a large group of muscles located deep in the thighs, hips, and buttocks. They connect the leg, pelvis, and abdomen and allow you to lift your upper leg towards your body or bend your body over your upper leg. Sitting for long periods of time weakens the hip flexors, making it difficult to lift the upper legs and bend over. Lifting the legs in boat pose strengthens the hip flexors.
Lower back muscles. When the hip flexors are short, they pull on the lower back muscles and cause lower back pain. Boat pose works both the hip flexors and the lower back muscles to build strength and reduce pain. Engage the lower back muscles by lengthening the spine and spooning the pubis towards the belly button. Swayback is the enemy of lower back muscles.