These eight great poses are the perfect addition to power up your practice! If you are new to yoga asana, you may want to practice the first four postures for a while before attempting the last four. Arm balances and inversions require a heightened sense of body awareness and integration. Remember that the practice of yoga is not about “getting somewhere” but accepting exactly where you are right now. A truly advanced practice is a practice where one maintains the union of breath, body and mind.
1. Start by strengthening your entire body with plank pose. Shift your body weight forward into an upper push-up “plank” position. Make sure that your hands are about shoulder distance apart and the creases of your wrists are somewhat parallel to the short length of your mat. Your shoulders should be directly above your wrists or slightly forward. Draw your abdominal muscles in and up towards your spine and engage your legs. Stay for ten breaths and then rest in Child’s Pose or Downward Facing Dog.
2. Work your way to Chaturanga Dandasana. From plank pose, yield your shoulders slightly forward of your wrists. Keep your entire body engaged. Start to bend at your elbows and lower yourself so that you are hovering off the earth. Your arms should be at a ninety-degree angle. Make sure that your shoulders are not lower than your elbows. Hold for a full cycle of breath and rise back up to plank pose. Avoid caving into the lower back, lengthen down through your tailbone and draw in your abs.
3. Side Plank Pose / Vasisthasana. Start in Plank Pose. Bring your feet together to touch at the back of your mat. Walk your right hand up about a hand’s distance and extend your left arm towards the sky. Always keep a slight bend in your elbows. Bend your knees and lengthen the tailbone down. Keep your abdominals engaged and draw your bottom ribs in. If you feel stable, keep your left foot on top of your right foot. If your breathing is labored, place your left foot on the floor in front of the right foot. Stay for five to ten breaths and repeat on the other side.
4. Boat Pose / Navasana. A strong core is essential to maintaining ease in arm balances and inversions. Start seated. Bend your knees and place your feet flat onto the earth. Place your hands behind your hamstrings and lean back until your arms are extended. Lengthen the tailbone a bit so that you are not arching your lower back. Draw your abdominals in. If this is fine, let go of the legs and extend your arms so that they are parallel to the earth. Stay here for five to ten breaths or lift the legs. Repeat five times.
5. Crow Pose / Bakasana. Begin in a squat position. Step your feet a few inches apart from each other and bend your legs. Place your hands about shoulder distance apart and make sure that the creases of your wrists are parallel to the short length of your mat. Bend your elbows and draw your knees towards the outside of your triceps. Bring your big toes together to touch. Engage your pelvic floor and abs and hug your legs into your arms. Transfer more weight onto your hands. Eventually, you will lean forward a bit until the toes lift off and you will be balancing in crow pose!
6. Side Crow / Parsva Bakasana. Begin in chair pose with your feet together and your knees together. Bring your palms together in front of your heart. Twist to the right, bringing your left elbow towards the outside of your right knee. Check to see that your knees are still parallel to the short length of the mat. Start to slide the back of your left arm towards the outside of your right thigh; then place the left hand down towards the outside of your right knee and your right hand about shoulder distance apart and squat down. Shift your weight towards both hands and let your feet naturally come off the earth.
7. Handstand / Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Start in Downward Facing Dog with your fingertips a few inches away from the wall. Step your left foot in about halfway up the mat. Keep your arms straight and your shoulder blades on your back. Engage your abdominals, pelvic floor and inner thighs and start by taking a couple of gentle hops. Keep your right leg completely straight and strong and lift the leg from your right inner thigh. Keep your hips square. After you feel comfortable with the hops and you have kept your arms straight and your shoulder blades on your back, push through the left foot and kick all the way up so your heels are placed on the wall.
8. Intro to Forearm Stand / Pincha Mayurasana. Grab a block and strap. Begin facing the wall in a variation of Downward Facing Dog Pose with your forearms and palms on the floor. Wrap the strap around your upper arms and secure it so that your arms stay shoulder distance apart. Place the block horizontally in between your hands so your index and thumb fingers are holding onto the block. Your fingertips should be at the base of the wall. Rotate the triceps in and biceps out while rooting into the earth with your forearms and palms. Keep your shoulder blades on your back. Hold this posture for a few breaths while drawing your bottom ribs and your navel in, towards your spine. Gaze towards your feet.