Intention Pose of the Day: Navasana

Oh, how everyone is on the ‘core’ bandwagon these days.  Some seeking postural therapy, others striving for the slim and trim waistline.  This has brought on a wave of yoga sequencing crazes by yoga teachers with Navasana (Boat Pose) being tossed in repeatedly.  As much as I appreciate the sensation of ‘core’ engagement that Boat pose offers, I find the use of this seated pose excessive and, in many cases, inappropriate for the masses.

With a huge proportion of our society working and living most of the daily hours in a seated position, our bodies are suffering from lower cross syndrome – the basic condition of chronically shortened hip flexors coupled with weakened back line muscles all of which bring forth an array of health issues including lower back pain.

The typical urban yoga class likely has several students dealing with lower cross syndrome and symptoms.  With already having tight hip flexors (which is called ‘closed-locked’ due to being tight and chronically short), we excitedly present a series of core sequences integrating Boat pose and other seemingly beneficial poses thinking this will offer therapeutic postural benefits.  In the end, as teachers, we could be doing far more harm than good.

So what’s wrong with Navasana?  Let’s break it down!

Navasana creates the sensation of working your core for the following reasons:

*your body is in a piked position (hips are flexed) with your hip flexors being the dominant muscle group facilitating this pose and holding both your upper and lower body in position

*your back muscles (ie extensors) engage to prevent the torso from collapsing in on gravity, so you feel the back body ‘working’

*your abdominal muscles work in synergy with the back muscles and act as stabilizers as you essentially balance on your sit bones – they also assist the hip flexors in maintaining the piked position of the body

*your quadriceps get blasted once you fully extend (straighten) the legs – MAJOR NOTE: remember that your middle quadricep muscle (rectus fermoris) is also a hip flexor, so by extending the legs, you increase the lever length of the entire leg – this dramatically  increases the forces on the hip flexors that transmits via a kinetic chain to the hips and spine

Despite what seems to be strengthening benefits to the abdominal, back and thigh regions, the hip flexors are the dominant muscles in this pose creating the angular shape.  The other muscles are secondary groups completing the lines of the pose.

Take home message:

So if we know (as teachers and students) that the majority of people are enduring some degree of lower cross syndrome due to habitual sitting and work patterns, does it make sense to exacerbate these conditions with poses that clearly work the muscles that cause these chronic problems?  One could argue that Boat Pose offers great strength benefits to the back, abdominals, and thighs.  I would propose that one could readily do many other postures that offer the same strengthening benefits while avoiding further development of lower cross issues:

*Lower Back – Locus pose / Free Support Cobra / Balancing Cat / Spinal Lift / Warrior 3

*Thighs – Warrior 1 / Warrior 2 / Chair Pose / Crescent Lunge / Eagle Pose

*Abdominals – Plank pose / Plank on elbows / Balancing Cat

When doing any yoga pose, a simply question should be asked: ‘is this posture relevant to my lifestyle in a manner that enhances my overall wellness?’  Just because we are working muscles progressively and hard, are we practicing smart?

2 Replies to “Intention Pose of the Day: Navasana”

  1. there are many ways to practice Navasana – just as with any pose, you can choose which muscle groups (and other body parts) support you in it – you’re right of course, that hip flexors automatically do the brunt of the work when you simply ‘take navasana’ – that’s why I lead my students slowly, methodically, away from the hip flexors – into the hamstrings, and the calves, and the psoas – we do a lot of wiggling around initially, supporting the leg weight with hands-to-shins, trying to find and fire the low belly, lifting the ribcage to deepen the breath, softening the thighs, deepening the groins, etc, all before letting the legs float – I do this even with beginners (with more advanced students, we may try to support the pose with blood vessels, or synovial fluid, or any manner of flakey but interesting and instructive things) – there is no posture that’s inherently problematic, but the instruction leading into it needs to be intelligent and comprehensible – few postures are ‘correct’ when we do them with the muscles that fire when we first try it – I’m sure you know all this, but worth clarifying – there are many many different ways to support any given posture – Navasana can soften and heal AND strengthen the core, all at the same time (I would argue that those things go together, in fact) – namaste`

    1. great comments Rolf … I would follow up your comments with, given the complexity of finding the appropriate firing of muscles, it may be more worthwhile to explore other poses that are more accessible and readily engage the muscles one wishes to strengthen … namaste, Kreg

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