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Yoga Poses for Core Strength

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Many of us equate “core strength” with strong abdominal muscles and use various forms of sit-ups to develop it. That’s certainly a good start. There are many poses in yoga that also intensively work the abdominal and hip flexor muscles, although the only one that is regularly taught in most yoga classes (often to a chorus of groans and sighs) is Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose).

The oft-overlooked Lolasana (Pendant Pose) is another option. It doesn’t require as much flexibility as Navasana, and although you need considerable arm and core strength to perform the most challenging expression of the posture, it can easily be adjusted for almost anyone.

(Photo: Getty Images)

What is Lolasana?

Lolasana is called Pendant Pose for a reason: Your body literally dangles between your arms and may even swing a little. From kneeling on the mat, you place your hands beneath your shoulders, spread your fingers wide, and shift your weight into your arms as you cross your ankles (or not) and lift your knees and feet off the mat and draw them toward your chest.

The pose is highly effective for strengthening all of the abdominal muscles, most of the hip flexor muscles, and several shoulder muscles. It also places extraordinary demands on the external oblique abdominals, making it adept at strengthening the often-overlooked sides of the waist.

Lolasana, like other poses that strengthen your abdominals and hip flexors, improves your ability to keep your chest, back, and abs stable while you extend and move your arms and legs into various positions in your asana practice. This stability is essential for finding steadiness and preventing back pain.

But Lolasana offers some added perks that Navasana and sit-ups don’t include: It also strengthens your arms and shoulders and trains your nervous system to coordinate that strength with powerful abdominal and hip flexor action. This provides the foundation for projecting power forward through your arms and legs, which you need to do in everyday life each time you open a heavy door or play tennis.

Lolasana also benefits your yoga practice by preparing you for more challenging arm balances and improving your ability to “jump through” from Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) to Dandasana (Staff Pose).

Of course, to gain these benefits you have to make it a point to regularly include Lolasana in your practice and to practice it as though you really mean it.

Internal obliques, external obliques, and rectus abdonimis muscles used in Lolasana (Pendant Pose)
External obliques, internal obliques, and rectus abdominis muscles. (Illustration: Eraxion)

The anatomy of Lolasana

The moral of the story is that you have to use all of your abdominal muscles when you are in the pose, especially those alongside the midline, to draw the front of your pelvis as close to the front of your rib cage as you can, curling your hips and trunk into a tight ball, while at the same time using your hip flexors to draw your thighs toward your chest as strongly as you can.

Three sets of abdominal muscles work together to provide the pelvic lift in Lolasana: the rectus abdominis, the external obliques, and the internal obliques. The net effect of this complex arrangement of muscles is that the simultaneous contraction of these muscles draws the pelvis strongly upward toward the ribs and flexes the lumbar spine to create much more lift in your front body than in back.

The rectus abdominis creates the familiar appearance of “six-pack abs.” It is composed of several segments embedded in a sheath of tough connective tissue that connects the base of the sternum (the xiphoid process and nearby cartilage) to the middle of the lower front pelvis (the pubis).

The external oblique abdominal muscles lie alongside the rectus abdominis to cover the remainder of the front of the waist, the sides of the waist, and part of the back waist. Their fibers attach to the sides of the lower rib cage and run diagonally down and forward to attach at the other end to the rectus sheath in front or to the top rim of the pelvis in back.

The internal obliques lie underneath the externals; their fibers connect to the rectus sheath in front and run diagonally down and backward, roughly perpendicular to the fibers of the external obliques, to attach to the front and sides of the pelvic rim.

When you’re learning Lolasana, it helps to relax your abdomen and hips, allowing your pelvis and legs to hang so all the work is in your arms, chest, and shoulders. Notice that the triceps muscles on the backs of your upper arms tighten to straighten your elbows, and two other muscle groups—the pectorals, on the front of your chest, and the serratus anterior muscles, which run from your inner shoulder blades to your side ribs in front of your armpits—work together to lift your rib cage upward. This upward pull tends to make your ribs swing up and away from your dangling pelvis, similar to the movement they make when you inhale deeply.

How to practice Lolasana

The best way to learn Lolasana is to start with an easier version of the pose and gradually increase the level of challenge as you grow stronger. You’ll want to attempt Lolasana during a well-rounded practice that prepares your body and mind by first working your arms, core, and the area around your spine.

Getting started with Lolasana

To get an intuitive sense of the muscles involved in Lolasana, sit in a sturdy chair, place your hands on the seat on either side of your hips, lean forward about 45 degrees, and push down firmly to take most of the weight off your pelvis.

Now exhale and push your hands down harder as you pull your thighs upward as if to lift them toward your chest. Your abdominal muscles connect your rib cage to your pelvis, so you’ll feel them engage as you attempt to lift the pelvis and ribs. Your front hip muscles connect your pelvis and spine to your thighs, so you’ll also feel those hip muscles engage, regardless of whether you lift your feet off the mat.

Lifting into Lolasana

It can take lots of practice to build up enough strength to lift into Lolasana. To make the pose more accessible—yet still plenty challenging—try a variation with blankets and blocks. Fold one or two yoga blankets to create a rectangle wider than your shoulders and about one to two inches high. Place two yoga blocks, shoulder-width apart, on the lowest level with one short end resting on a folded edge of the blanket(s) and the other on the mat. Kneel on the blanket with your knees between the blocks. Lift your pelvis off your feet. Place your hands on the blocks with the heels of the hands directly above the blanket edge. (Don’t put your hands too far forward, or the blocks might flip.) Cross your ankles.

Lean forward and, with an exhalation, push firmly down with your hands and try to lift both feet off the floor. Move your shoulder blades apart to lift your body as high as possible, and at the same time, draw yourself into as tight a ball as you can by pulling your heels up and curling your trunk, bringing your thighs as close to your rib cage as they will go. Exhale fully as you contract your abdomen as tightly as you can.

If you can, stay here and create a “Cat Pose” movement of your entire spine, curving the middle of your back up away from the floor. At first, you may need to look down at the ground, but once you’re balanced, gradually lift your head and, without straining or wrinkling your brow, gaze straight ahead. Swing your body gently forward and back for several breaths, and then come down. Repeat three to five times, alternating the way you cross your ankles.

(Photo: Getty Images)

While you’re working toward Lolasana, you can leave your feet on the mat. As you push your arms down to raise your body high, press the tops of your feet into the floor and unbend your knees partway to assist the lift. Use the pressure of your feet into the floor to help you draw your thighs close to your chest. Curl your trunk, just as you would in the traditional version of the pose. Now gradually push down less and less with your feet so your arms, abs, and hip flexors support you more and more. Challenge the limits of your strength by getting as close as possible to lifting your feet off the floor. Omit the swinging action at the end.

Troubleshooting Lolasana

Although all of the abdominal muscles contribute to lifting the lower body, meaning that all of them get conditioned by the pose, the work of the external obliques is especially intense. This is because their frontal fibers connect directly to the side ribs, pulling them downward and inward. The oblique abdominals prevent the ribs from swinging forward and translates the lifting power of the serratus muscles into elevation of the abdomen and hips. This means that to do Lolasana effectively, you have to pay special attention to contracting the sides of your waist in front.

Let’s take a closer look at how to get your legs off the mat in Lolasana. The core muscle that does most of the heavy lifting here is the iliopsoas, which is composed of two deep hip flexors: the iliacus and the psoas. Several superficial hip flexors assist the iliopsoas.

Because the hip flexor muscles use the front of the pelvis or the lower spine as their anchor points, you can lift your legs off the floor only if the front of the pelvis remains lifted and you hinge forward at your hips. The abdominal muscles help provide this lift and flexion; if they are too weak, the front of the pelvis will sag, the spine will lose its flexion, and the legs will droop toward the floor. Of course, the hip flexors have to be strong, too; if they are too weak, you won’t be able to lift your legs, no matter how high you raise your pelvis and spine.

This article has been updated. Originally published February 26, 2010.

About our contributor

Roger Cole, Ph.D., is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and a research scientist specializing in the physiology of relaxation, sleep, and biological rhythms. He also trains yoga teachers and students in the anatomy, physiology, and practice of asana and Pranayama. He teaches workshops worldwide. For more information, see

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