4 Steps to Boat Pose for Everyone

Middle age beautiful woman smiling and practicing yoga's Boat Pose or Navasana.

Boat Pose (Navasana) is a challenging posture that strongly activates your core, hip flexors, and legs. While the shape might look fairly simple to make, it really takes a lot of strength, as well as mobility, to be able to support the weight of your spine and legs against the downward pull of gravity.

So while Paripurna Navasana (which roughly translates to Complete, Perfect, Whole, or Full Boat Pose) might not be in the cards for everyone, there is a variation of Boat Pose that can work for just about every practitioner.

So grab your favorite props to support you and get ready to find a version of Boat Pose that you love.

Step-by-Step Boat Pose Tutorial With Variations for All Levels

To comfortably practice this posture, you may wish to have two blocks nearby.

Step #1: Start Seated

Student sitting on her mat and ready to practice Boat Pose or Navasana.

To begin your Boat Pose practice, start in a comfortable seat.

  1. Sit in the center of your mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Rest your hands either on blocks, fingertips, or the floor beside your hips.
  3. Root your sitting bones down into the floor and lengthen through your whole spine to stretch the crown of your head to the sky.
  4. Gently expand your chest forward toward your thighs.
  5. Energetically squeeze your legs toward each other. Option to place a block between your thighs and squeeze it to remind yourself to hug into the midline of your body.
  6. You’re already working the muscles of your back body, core, and legs, so you have the option to stay and hold here or continue to the next step.

Step #2: Lift One Foot at a Time

Getting started with Boat Pose? Try lifting one leg at a time.

If it feels appropriate for you to progress, you can add on to your Navasana by lifting one foot at a time.

  1. From your Boat Pose setup, flex your ankles and lift your toes from the floor.
  2. Option to keep your hands where they are or take hold behind your knees and energetically pull your knees toward your chest. Simultaneously counter this by energetically lifting your chest.
  3. Lean your weight back just slightly so that you feel as if you’re balancing on your sitting bones.
  4. Then, lift your right foot off the floor and draw your shin roughly parallel to the mat. Continue to squeeze your legs toward each other. Hold for a moment and then release your right heel back down and lift your left.
  5. Continue to flow as you lift one foot at a time, all while maintaining the length in your spine. Continue hugging your legs together.
  6. This variation adds a bit more load to the work you’re already doing in the muscles of your back body, core, and legs. So you have the option to continue with this movement or move on to the next step.

Step #3: Lift Both Feet and/or Your Arms

Yoga student practicing Boat Pose with the shins parallel to the mat and arms stretched out.

If you feel ready to add more load in Navasana, you can try to lift both feet simultaneously.

  1. When you have one foot lifted in Boat Pose, lift your opposite foot to meet your lifted one.
  2. Lean your torso back slightly to find balance on your sitting bones. Root firmly into the floor to elongate your spine away from the mat.
  3. Continue to squeeze your legs toward each other as you balance in this shape.
  4. Option to stay as you are. Or release your hands from behind your knees and stretch your arms forward toward the top of your mat, framing your legs.
  5. This variation adds quite a bit more load to the work you’re already doing in the muscles of your back body, core, and legs. So you can stay here or move on to the next step.

Step #4: Straighten Your Legs

Yoga Student practicing Boat Pose with legs straightened.

If you’d like to try the most traditional variation of Boat Pose, you can straighten your legs.

  1. With both legs lifted and your arms released, straighten your legs up toward the sky as you continue to squeeze your legs together. Lengthen your back body, press your chest forward toward your thighs, reach your arms forward, and balance on your sitting bones.
  2. Stabilize your breath in this position and keep all of the strong action throughout your body to support the added load of your straight legs.
  3. Hold for a few long, deep breaths before slowly releasing.

Find a Variation of Boat Pose (Navasana) That You Like

While Boat Pose is certainly a very hard and challenging shape, it can be modified to meet you where you are in your practice—no matter your level.

There are so many amazing benefits to Navasana, so don’t skip this pose just because you’re not a fan of the traditional variation. There’s always a place to work in this shape—and every pose!—to build all the same strength and stamina.

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP, yoga writer

Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.

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