Balancing in Boat Pose is a lot of work for most of us. Often it can feel like our boats have a hole and are sinking to the ocean floor rapidly with us in tow.
Or like the boat is out of our control and rocks us wildly on our mats backward and forwards — where’s the storm? Call the coast guard; SOS!
This doesn’t have to be the case.
Breaking down Boat Pose, we have to remember that while it is great prep for many other shapes, including all the much sought after inversions and arm balances, it is also a wonderful posture in and of itself.
In fact, part of the reason Boat Pose is such a challenge is that while it is heavy on the core work, it is also about spinal, hip, and psoas strength, hamstring flexibility, and opening your chest. That’s a lot of work, and finding your balance in Boat Pose can be hard! It requires prep, concentration and a can-do, fun-filled attitude.
Here are a few pointers to strengthen your Boat Pose and keep you afloat for longer!
Warm Up Properly
You wouldn’t go sailing without making sure you have all the equipment, so make sure you're ready for Boat Pose, too.
- If you know your hamstrings are tight today then hold Pyramid Pose on each side for 5-10 breaths before you hop in your Boat.
- Focus on your hip and psoas strengthening poses before you take Boat. For example: from standing, keep the hips at the same level and raise one leg straight out in front of you with the foot flexed. Hold there for 5 breaths without letting the leg lower, then transition into Warrior III.
- Take a few Forward Fold variations to work on closing the angle of your Boat and lengthening your spine.
- Hold Plank or do a few crunches to ready your core.
It’s All About That Base
Prepare your anchor and know your waters.
- Create a wide base to anchor your boat. Just like your standing balances, if you are not grounded you will have a harder time staying lifted. In my classes I tell students to “untuck the yummy-goodness from your back pockets….” You get the picture….
- If it feels like your sitting on the hardest rock ever, sit on a blanket — some of us have tender tailbones!
Modify To Make It Yours
Navigation to new places only happens when you stray off the map.
As with Crow Pose or Headstands, there are several ways to enter Boat Pose and one of them will be yours. Try them all. Take it further when you are feeling strong in each modification. This is a balancing posture after all.
- Leg Lift Entry: From a tall seated position with knees bent, lift one foot at a time. You could extend one or both legs or keep your knees bent throughout.
- Humble Entry: Curl up tightly in a seated ball, “The Humble Yogi.” Keep your navel pulled in and reach your arms out in front of your shoulders, lift your chest. Now slowly lift your toes off the floor until your shins are parallel.
- Handsy Entry: Take the Humble Yogi position described above with your toes lifted but keep your hands on the floor behind you pressing your chest skyward. Or grasp your hands to your thighs. Carefully practice raising one hand at a time.
- Try crossing your feet and see if it helps you lift.
- Practice slowly “crunching” the angle between your torso and legs and then release with control back to your starting point — hands up or down, knees bent or straight.
Hoist It Up
Sailing smoothly requires a tall sail.
- Once you’re in your Boat Pose (modified or not), squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you. This helps lift your chest higher. You are aiming your heart to the sky proudly.
- Pull your belly in, sure — but also lift it up into your rib cage to lengthen your spine.
- Press into the balls of your feet and try to get air between every single toe.
- Spread your fingers and your toes — this ignites the muscles in your arms and legs and makes you stronger, longer, and lighter in your limbs and your torso.
- To extend your legs, fire up your thighs by lifting your kneecaps up towards your hips.
Hold It… and Breathe That Fresh Sea Air!
- If you keep falling backwards, lift your chest higher.
- If your feet keep tapping the ground it’s time to remove the bend in your knees as much as you can.
- One last little tweak: Press your chest closer to your shins and keep your inhales lasting as long as your exhales to maintain your balance.
Now that you’re up, be playful in your boat! Try different arm variations — behind the head, up to the sky, mudras, cactus arms, reverse prayer hands, even eagle arms. Discover something new!
Remember, yoga is supposed to be fun and keep you light hearted and clear headed. If you start to get frustrated or tired, come back to the posture another day. Boats are for sailing in, not for sinking in, and yoga is for breathing in, not yelling in.