There are so many reasons to add a few more challenging yoga poses to your lineup of forward folds, warriors, and downward dogs. Not only do tough postures work different muscles and boost your flexibility, but they also serve as a fun goal to work towards as a practicing yogi.
“On a physical level, more challenging yoga poses require balance, flexibility, mobility, and strength,” says
Lisa Braun, a yoga instructor with Equinox. The toughest moves tend to be the impressive-looking backbends, inversions, splits, and other postures that require a ton of flexibility, which you might be inspired to work towards over time.
yoga poses are considered challenging because they call on your mind-body connection. These are the moves that teach you how to breathe and stay calm while your limbs are in an uncomfortable position, Braun explains. It can be tough to stay focused, remain still, and hold yourself in a weird posture for an extended amount of time, which is where the mental component comes in.
Of course, it takes both physical and mental practice to nail a tricky pose. “Conquering challenging poses doesn’t happen overnight,” Braun says. And, BTW, you don’t have to know how to get into a side crow pose in order to
participate in yoga or reap the many benefits of the practice. “You know your body best,” says Braun, so you should only try these more advanced poses if you feel ready. With that in mind, here’s a list of challenging yoga poses that you can slowly incorporate into your routine. Firefly Pose Sabrina Washington, a yoga teacher with CorePower Yoga, is a fan of the firefly pose. This posture will challenge your balancing skills as you hold your legs above your shoulders in a “V” position. Pro tip: It’ll help to get your hips moving with a standing wide-legged forward fold. Hold that for one minute, then warm your shoulders up with a twisty eagle arm stretch before attempting this pose.
- Step your feet wider than hip-width apart.
- Fold your torso forward.
- Place your hands on the ground or on yoga blocks shoulder-width apart and behind your heels.
- Bend your elbows to create a “shelf” for your thighs.
- Press your hands down and engage your core.
- Squeeze your thighs around your arms.
- Try crossing your ankles to find balance.
- Once you have the balance, straighten your legs.
- For the fullest expression of the pose, lower your “seat” so your toes point up toward the sky.
For this tricky move, Washington suggests warming up with a
half-pigeon pose on the right and left sides for one minute each, followed by a one-minute revolved chair pose on each side to get your obliques ready.
- Start in a standing figure-4 pose with your left ankle on top of your right thigh and right knee bent.
- Connect your palms together at your heart.
- Twist your torso to the right.
- Hook the back of your left tricep to the sole of your left foot.
- Lean forward to plant your hands down on the ground, shoulder-width apart, with your elbows bent at 90 degrees.
- Grip your fingers into the mat and lean forward.
- Your right foot will begin to lift off the ground.
- Engage your core muscles, then extend your right leg long.
- Switch sides.
Standing Revolved Hand To Big Toe Pose
pose is all about balance and stability. To warm up, Washington recommends trying a reclined hand to big toe pose first. Once you feel stable, begin to extend your leg forward.
- Stand in the center of your mat.
- Ground your left foot into the mat.
- Keep a small bend in your left knee.
- Lift your right foot off the mat, bend your lifted knee, flex your foot.
- Round your torso forward.
- Grab the outside of your lifted foot with your left hand.
- Grab your inner arch with your right hand.
- Lengthen your torso upright and extend your right leg forward and parallel to the ground.
- Release your right hand from your foot, then extend your arm back.
- Slowly trace your gaze back to your right hand.
- Exit the pose with control and repeat on the other side.
Splits Vuk Saric/E+/Getty Images
It can be a fun challenge to
work up to a split. Not only does it look cool, but it’s also a good stretch for the hips and hamstrings — and one that can feel very grounding, Braun says. To get there, take your time gaining hamstring flexibility by doing half splits.
- Come into a tabletop position.
- Step your right leg in between your hands.
- Lean forward onto your fingertips or blocks for a half split.
- Straighten your right leg by bringing your right heel forward and drawing your toes towards your chest.
- Feel a stretch, not a strain, in your legs.
- To do a split, slide your front leg forward while straightening your back leg behind you.
- Keep your hips square.
Backbends are some of the most challenging yoga poses you can do, Braun says, especially if you sit for long periods of time or have a limited range of motion in your lower spine. For this reason, it’s important to slowly work your way up to doing this pose. Once you nail it, you’ll notice that it provides an amazing stretch in the front of your body, and it helps
improve your posture, too.
- Lie on your back.
- Bend your knees.
- Place the soles of the feet hip-width apart on the mat close to your butt.
- Bend your elbows.
- Place the palms of your hands overhead near your ears, fingers facing your feet.
- Press down into your palms and feet as you lift your shoulders and hips up off the floor.
- Straighten your arms as you lift your head off the floor.
- Try to keep your feet parallel and knees in line with your feet.
- As an added challenge, lift one foot off of the floor.
“This pose requires equal flexibility and strength, especially with your wrists and core,” Braun says.
- Do a forward fold.
- Bend your knees, come onto your toes with your heels off the floor, and twist to one side.
- Place both hands flat on the mat shoulder-distance apart, fingers facing forward.
- Lean forward by bending your elbows.
- Try to keep your shoulders even as you shift your body weight to your arms.
- Point your toes to help lift you off the ground and pull your feet towards your glutes to engage your hamstrings.
This move requires strength, flexibility, balance, and confidence, Braun says. She notes that it’s important to breathe as you do tough yoga poses as it’s common to get a little stressed. That’s why these moves also have a mental component as you push past your worries and self-doubt.
- Begin in staff pose, seated with your legs extended out in front of you.
- Bend your right knee.
- Bring your thigh out towards the right.
- Slowly press your right leg behind your right arm to get into
compass pose, with your leg straight up.
- Place your hands on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
- Tilt yourself slightly forward as you lift your hips and left leg up.
- Hook your left ankle over your right and press your ankles together.
- Bring your chest forward and bend your elbows while swinging your legs to the right.
- Press through your heels to straighten your legs.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Studies referenced: Sherman, KJ. (2010). Comparison of yoga versus stretching for chronic low back pain: protocol for the Yoga Exercise Self-care (YES) trial. Trials. doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-11-36. Sources: Lisa Braun, yoga instructor with Equinox Sabrina Washington, yoga teacher with CorePower Yoga
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