Navasana or Boat pose is a posture that strengthens the abdominals and hip flexors, and requires deep hip flexion and an openness in the back body. It highlights the relationship the hip flexors have with core strength, and it further encourages bringing space into the length of the spine, particularly through the lumbar region.
To prepare for Navasana, it is helpful to open up the hamstrings and lower back, and create movement around the waist with twists and gentle backbends. The following is a simple sequence of postures that will help you move into Navasana with greater ease and intelligence.
Spend approximately 5 minutes warming up with a few Sun Salutations, or move through Cat-Cows, with any additional variations that feel natural to you.
Padangusthasana or Big Toe Pose
Keep a slight bend through the knees and narrow the space between the chest and thighs. Ground the feet whilst lifting the inner groins. This will help lengthen the hamstrings, while simultaneously bringing a connection between the chest and thighs (required for Boat pose).
Adho Mukha Svanasana or Down Dog
The angle of hip flexion in Downward Dog is relatively the same as it is in Navasana. Another way to look at it is this: Downward Dog is the same shape as Boat pose, except its orientation to the floor is different.
With Downward Dog, however, you can create active lengthening of the hamstrings by firmly pressing back through the top of the thigh bones, and rooting through the inner heels while lifting through the inner groins.
Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose
From prone position, place the hands on either side of the chest, and press into the floor to lift the chest. Come up as high as there is a feeling of space through the lower back. Draw the shoulders back to broaden the chest, and focus on lifting from the sternum. You will lift the sternum similarly in Navasana.
From prone position, come into Sphinx pose with the elbows set shoulders-width apart, and below the line of the shoulders. With the feet hips-width apart, curl the toes, straighten the legs, and actively lift the navel and pelvic floor to keep the lower back neutral.
Gaze forward to stay long and neutral through the neck. You’ll recruit both the abdominals and hip flexors to keep the pelvis from sinking towards the floor which will ensure unnecessary strain on the lower back.
Vyaghrasana or Tiger Curl Pose
In Downward Dog, lift the right leg back and up on an inhale, and with the exhale take the knee forward towards the chest and chin. Press firmly through the hands protracting the shoulders, and actively lift the thigh towards the front body. This will strengthen the abdominals and the hip flexors.
Trikonasana or Triangle Pose
From Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), extend the front knee. Reach forward with the front arm to lengthen the side of the body, and place the hand on the floor, a block, or your shin bone (think of setting the hand at a height that will allow you to comfortably have both shoulders stacking above the front leg).
Ground through the feet and hug them towards each other, as you gently rotate the chest upwards. In addition to lengthening the hamstrings, Triangle pose brings you into a slight twist.
Each of the above postures can be held anywhere between 5 to 10 breaths. Feel free to challenge yourself with longer holds, but strive to create a balance between effort and ease.
Now You’re Ready for Navasana
Having sufficiently opened up the back body, fired up the core, and moved the spine through extension, flexion, and rotation, you are ready to practice Navasana.
Begin in Dandasana or Staff pose. Bend the knees so the soles are flat on the mat, and your spine is upright. Reach forward through both arms, and begin to lean the upper body back until you feel your abdominals activate to keep the body from falling back. Continue to lift through the sternum so the spine is long. Hold for 5 breaths, and bring the spine forward to neutral to release.
Repeat a second time, with the option to lift the feet to a hover above the floor, or bringing the heels to the height of the knees. You can lift the feet or straighten the legs so long as you don’t compromise the length of the spine. Specifically, if you fully extend the knees but begin to round your lower back, you would better benefit from keeping the knees bent.
Make sure you are not resting on your sacrum, but instead, balancing on the tripod of your sit bones and tailbone. Maintain for 5 breaths, and then release. You can choose to practice a third set, experimenting with different degrees of knee extension as you become stronger in the core and hip flexors, and more open in the back body.
Spend 3-5 minutes cooling down, and include Baddha Konasana, Sleeping Pigeon pose, and Anjaneyasana to release tension through the hip flexors, and add a simple backbend like Cobra or Bridge pose to open up again the whole of the front body.
Image Credit: Aneta Gäb