You've heard your yoga teacher say to "modify as needed" or "go at your own pace," but what exactly does that mean? Especially in traditionally taught poses like boat pose (navasana) and half boat (ardha navasana) unless you already know the variations, you might be more or less stuck doing the same thing. These variations will show you how to practice boat pose in a way that feels good in your body.
Heel Taps with Bent Knees
The "boat to half boat" core sequence is taught in many yoga classes, and for good reason. It tones your whole core, even the hard to reach transverse abdominis muscles. It's also really hard to do! If you want to hit those same deep core muscles but aren't feeling the traditional variation, try heel taps with bent knees. Raise your legs to reverse table top, keep your legs and feet active, and then slowly lower your heels to the mat. Lift back into reverse table top, and repeat. This movement works your deep core while preventing strain in your lower back.
For an added challenge, keep your shoulders off the mat the entire time.
Leg Lifts with Hip Tuck
If you want to take it up a notch but still not feeling the full boat to low boat movement, try straight leg raises. It's an up-level from the bent knee heel taps, but still gives your low back relief if it's feeling tender. Lift your shoulders off the mat, extend your legs to hover, and then lift them towards the sky. For even more of a challenge, add a hip lift at the top. That extra lift will engage your full core—including the mythical uddiyana bhanda.
Half Boat Leg Extensions Level 1
If you're feeling strong, instead of using momentum to flow through boat to half boat, try this fun variation. To prepare, reverse table top your legs, lift your chest off the mat, and try to push your quads away from you with your hands. Then, keep your inner thighs touching, engage your core, and slowly push your legs to hovering a few inches off the mat. Pull them back into reverse table top, pressing your hands against your legs hard to keep them at a 90 degree angle.
Half Boat Leg Extensions Level 2
If you need a little more, repeat that same movement drawing your legs from reverse table top to extended and hovering, only this time with your hands behind your head. Resist the urge to pull your knees in all the way to your chest in between reps. That 90 degree bend at the top keeps your low belly activated and engaged even through the transitions.
Leg extensions like this specifically targets the deep, low belly muscles—which are the hardest muscles to engage and the most important for advanced inversions and handstands.
For even more of a challenge, extend your arms overhead or up in the air.
Remember: what you need changes day by day. Sometimes you might want to practice the most advanced variation of every pose, and others you might need to lay low. Learn to listen to that voice that tells you what you need and trust it wholeheartedly. That's the real yoga.