It can’t be stated enough that yoga is a unique type of exercise in the sense that it is both a practice of physical and mental discipline. An inspired yoga practice will be void of comparison, competition or over-exertion. That being said, many yoga practitioners see others performing poses full of strength and beauty and feel the desire to work towards advanced postures.
Here we’ll explore six advanced postures and the foundational poses that can help prepare your body for introducing them into your practice.
The headstand is an inverted posture which is rejuvenating for the neurological and cardiovascular systems. It requires core strength, shoulder stability and a little bit of courage.
Start in a kneeling position on your mat. Next, interlace the fingers around the back of the head and lean forward to place the crown of your head, just slightly forward of center, on the mat. Your forearms will come to the mat parallel to one another, with elbows hugging in and pointing directly to the back edge of your mat. That is your firm foundation! Press the forearms into the mat with shoulders pressing down away from the ears and tuck your back toes. Lift your hips to straighten the legs. If you’re not ready to bring the feet off the floor, stay in this position for a few breath cycles. Next, walk the toes as close as you can to your elbows, bringing the hips up over the shoulders. As you inhale, begin to lift the toes up off of the mat. Envision a straight line from the crown of the head, through the hips, out of your heels. Exhale and come down slowly and controlled. Spend a few moments in Child’s Pose to allow the blood to work its way back into the lower body before returning to a kneeling or seated posture.
(Variations: Tripod Headstand, Kick Up with Straight Legs, Using a Wall (or a friend) for assistance, leg variations)
(This Posture Leads to: Shoulder Stand, Handstand)
>> Read more: Your Ultimate Guide to Yoga Lingo
This beautiful arm balance requires strong wrists and an active core. This is a great posture for toning all of the arm muscles.
[Side note: Build up to this pose by practicing Chaturanga Dandasana (low pushup position) regularly! This pose also requires hamstring flexibility and hip mobility, which can be built up through practicing forward folds with straight legs (Standing Forward Fold, Pyramid Pose or Forward Folding Staff Pose) and hip opening postures like Pigeon Pose and Happy Baby Pose. Scales Pose and Shoulder-Pressing Pose help practice the core engagement and leg activation required for Eight-Angle Pose.]
There are multiple ways to enter into this pose, but here we present an approach from a seated position. Start in Staff Pose; rooted on the sit bones with legs straight out in front of hips, feet flexed. Bend your right knee, bringing the right heel as close to the sit bone as possible. Press the palms into the mat on either side of the left leg. Bring the right leg around the outside of the right arm, hooking it high over the right tricep. Bend the left leg, bringing the left foot to hook together with the right foot (TIP: Both feet need to stay strongly flexed for this to work!). Press down through the hands, engage your abdominals, and lean forward slightly to lift our sit bones up off the mat, supporting your bodyweight with the arms.
Straighten the legs by squeezing the right tricep and bicep firmly between the thighs. This action is KEY — if you don’t squeeze the legs onto the arm, you’ll likely have trouble. Continue to shift the torso forward, coming into Chaturanga arms (triceps parallel to the floor without dropping the shoulders below the elbows).
Another beautiful arm balance, the Grasshopper Pose adds a twist to the challenge. Begin in Mountain Pose. Inhale the arms overhead. Exhale and root down through the left foot, bringing the right ankle to above the left kneecap while pressing the right knee back. Inhale hands to prayer position at the heart-center. On your next exhale, bend the left knee and shift the hips back and down, as if sitting in a chair. Inhale, lift the chest slightly, lengthening through the crown of the head and twist the torso to the left, bringing the right tricep to the sole of the right foot. Drop the hips all the way down toward the floor and bring the hands to the mat, shoulder-width apart, fingers spread wide. Press the right foot firmly into the right tricep — this is vital. Keeping the elbows in, triceps hugging toward the body, shift the weight forward to come into an arm balance. Gaze should be slightly forward, neck still in line with the spine. Slowly straighten the left leg out to the right side and flex the left foot.
4. Eka Pada Koundinyasana I
Another powerful arm balance, this pose requires arm strength, core stability and mobility in the hamstrings and hips. You’ll work through Side Crow Pose, so practicing that pose is an awesome preparation for Eka Pada Koundinyasana I.
Begin in Mountain Pose. Bend the knees and drop down to Tiny Ball pose. Lengthen through the crown of the head and twist the torso to place the hands on the mat at the right side of your body, fingers facing the right edge of your mat. Keep the triceps engaged and shift your weight forward, supporting the outside of the right leg with the triceps of Chaturanga arms. Trust the strength of your core as you keep the weight shifting into the torso and lift the feet off of the ground.
Begin to straighten the legs, extending the top (left) leg back toward the back of your space, and working the bottom (right) leg up toward the left shoulder.
>> Read more: 31-Day Yoga Challenge
5. Peacock Pose
This beautiful arm balance is wonderful for strengthening the lower back and glutes, and for stimulating the digestive system. Begin in high plank pose. Rotate your arms outward so the insides of your elbows point straight forward and your fingers are pointing toward the back of your mat. Shift your weight forward and lower your abdomen down to rest on your elbows, keeping the arms squeezing in. The elbows should land above the hips, and slightly in toward the belly button (but NOT directly over the stomach). Keep your gaze down at the mat to protect the alignment of the spine. Squeeze your legs, as if they are zipped together, and slowly start to lift the legs by activating the muscles in the lower back. A natural engagement of the gluteal muscles occurs here as well. Do NOT hold your breath – breathe deeply into the back body and keep the abdominal muscles engaged as you lift your legs.
Ease into this pose! It requires large range of motion in the shoulders, lower back flexibility, open hips and chest. As the name suggests, this pose is a progression of Single Leg Pigeon Pose, so start there. From Downward Facing Dog, lift the right leg up into Three-legged Dog. Drive the right knee forward toward the chest, shifting the shoulders over the wrists.
Place the right knee on the floor as close to the right wrist as possible. Drop the sit bones straight down toward the floor, left leg extended straight behind. Resist the urge to shift the hips to the right just to make contact with the ground. You want your hips to touch floor with equal pressure. If you are comfortably rooted on the mat through the sit bones, bend the left knee, bringing the foot up toward the back-body. Reach back with the left hand to grab the inside arch of the left foot. Inhale your right arm straight up overhead, then bend at the elbow to drop the right hand behind the head. Walk the left toes up into the bend of the left elbow (where it will stay), and bring the left hand together with the right. Try to keep the hips and shoulders square to the front of your mat. Bring your gaze slightly upward. As you release, try a counter-stretch.
(Aids: strap, block)
(This pose leads to: One Legged King Pigeon with Foot Hold, King Pigeon)
Let these six poses inspire you to continue practicing and building strength. Always listen to your body to avoid pushing yourself too far. If any part of these postures is not available to you right now, work on the preparatory posture right before it to continue to increase your strength and flexibility. Remember, yoga is not about what someone else can do, but about your journey from where you are right now to where you want to be.
Disclaimer: The content of the Skinny Mom blog and website, including text, graphics and images, are for informational purposes only. The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have. Do not disregard professional medical advice. Not all exercises are suitable for everyone.