I expect that somewhere, there is a reader who is mortified that I made it through the entire core series without analyzing boat pose. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was clearly saving it for the hip flexors. Because it totally works both. Or rather, all 3 (or 4?): the rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis as well as the iliopsoas pairing.
The basic premise is this: With the bum on the ground and the thighs up in the air, the hip flexors are working against gravity to keep the thighs, you know, up there. The physical intensity of the pose can be increased by moving the legs more away from the floor (i.e., straightening the knees). The physical intensity can be decreased by moving the legs closer to the floor (i.e., bending the knees or touching the toes to the floor). Sort of like this:
[Lindsay Sweet instructing for The EDGE. Video uploaded by CalebVallencourt via YouTube.]
With the exception that the hands on the floor, in the first demonstrated version, can either replace or complement the toes on the floor. The basic concept is that when more of the weight is on the floor — supported by the hands, the toes, or both — it takes some of the intensity away from the muscles working against gravity — namely, the abs, the spinal erectors, and the hip flexors. Of course, this can be useful for anyone wanting an accessible way to build strength in the pose, but it can also be useful while figuring out how the muscles all work in this particular alignment.
Speaking of which:
- A big focus is on keeping the spine long and not rounded. Rounding is basically turning this into a rotated crunch, which puts all the work into the rectus abdominis and takes it away from the other muscles.
- Key to that is getting the butt — er, the base — of the pose right. For me, this involves rocking to the back of my sitting bones; my tailbone might be touching the floor, but I’m not really bearing weight on it. If I rock farther back, my lower spine rounds; if I’m too far forward, I can’t lift my legs. I would suggest that the best butt balance point for any individual is where it best combines those two functions: leg lifting and spine lengthening. Additionally, when it gets tricky, maybe give preference to the spinal lengthening and see if the leg and hip flexor strength builds over time.
- Generally speaking, the pose is physically easier when the legs and arms are closer to the ground and closer to the center line. Within that, though, it’s fun to experiment with different positions — which is, conveniently enough, what I’ll show in the next hip yoga post.