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.
It is important to prepare the lower back and hamstrings for Navasana. You can also create movement at the waist by twisting and gently backbending. Here is a sequence of simple postures to help you enter Navasana more easily and intelligently.
Spend about 5 minutes warming up by doing a few Sun Salutations or Cat-Cows. You can add any variations you feel comfortable with.
Padangusthasana, or the Big Toe Pose
Keep your knees slightly bent and reduce the distance between the chest area and the thighs. Lift the inner groins while firmly putting the feet down. This will lengthen your hamstrings while also bringing together the chest and the thighs.
Adho Mukha Svanasana or Down Dog
In Navasana, the angle of hip flexion is similar in Downward Dog. You can also look at it this way: Downward dog is identical to the Boat pose except that its orientation to the floor is different.
You can also lengthen your hamstrings with Downward Dog by pressing firmly through the tops of the thighbones while rooting the inner heels and lifting the inner groins.
Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose
Place your hands on either side of your chest and lift them by pressing into the floor. As high as you can feel space in the lower back, come up. Draw your shoulders back and lift from the sternum. In Navasana, you will also raise the sternum.
In a prone position, place the elbows shoulder-width apart and below the line where the shoulders meet. Curl the toes and straighten your legs with the feet hip-width apart. Lift the pelvic floor and the navel to maintain a neutral lower back.
Keep your neck long and neutral by gazing forward. Keep your pelvis upright by using both your abdominals and hip flexors. This will prevent unnecessary strain on the lower back.
Tiger Curl Pose or Vyaghrasana
On an inhale, lift the right foot up and back, then on the exhale, bring the knee towards your chest and chin. As you protract your shoulders with your hands, lift the leg towards the front of the body. This exercise will help strengthen your abdominals and hip flexors.
Trikonasana, or Triangle Pose
Extend the front leg from Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II). Reach forward and place your hand on a block or the floor to lengthen one side of the body.
As you rotate your chest upwards, ground through your feet and hug each other. Triangle Pose also helps to stretch the hamstrings.
You can hold each of the postures above for anywhere from 5 to 10 breaths. You can challenge yourself by having longer, but try to maintain a balance of ease and effort.
Navasana is now ready for you.
Start in Dandasana or Staff Pose. Your spine should be upright and the soles of your feet flat on the mat. Leaning the upper body forward, reaching with both arms, and bending the upper backward until your abdominal muscles are activated to prevent the body from falling. Continue lifting through the sternum until the spine becomes long. Hold for five breaths, and then bring your spine to neutral.
Repeat the second time with either the heels at the level of the knees or the feet raised to hover over the floor. As long as the spine length is not compromised, you can either lift your feet or straighten your legs. If you extend your knees fully, but around your lower spine, it is better to keep the knees bent.
Be sure to balance on the sit bones and tailbone, not your sacrum. Hold for five breaths and then release. As you gain strength in your core, hip flexors, and back body, you can practice a third exercise, where you experiment with different degrees.
Spend 3-5 minutes cooling off, including Baddha konasana (Sleeping Pigeon Pose) and Anjaneyasana, to release tension in the hip flexors. Add a simple backbend, such as a Cobra or bridge pose, to open the entire front body.