As you grow into your yoga practice, you’ll begin to use your body in ways you may not have thought possible. One beautiful thing about yoga is that it meets you where you are and it’s always ready to go further with you — when you’re ready.
The more challenging yoga postures require a commitment to attention and focus. It’s easy to injure yourself by pushing too far without attention. As you explore and build aptitude with more advanced postures, use them as an opportunity to deepen your capacity for bringing awareness to your movements, breathing, and feelings within your body. You’ll soon see how your yoga practice begins to influence all aspects of your life as you fine-tune your concentration and focus.
Here are five challenging yoga poses to explore as you build strength, confidence, and curiosity.
1. Yoga Push-Up Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Taking time to practice this pose correctly will enhance all of your other postures. It can help tone and strengthen your wrists, arms, core, and back. Yet, it’s easy to injure yourself in this pose. Many people do it incorrectly or unconsciously so be sure to approach this pose with attention and modifications, as needed.
- Begin in plank pose with your wrists under your shoulders and your core and thighs engaged. (Modification: Bring your knees to the floor.)
- Squeeze your elbows to the side of your body, pointing them back toward your heels.
- Lower your body down toward the floor and hover over your mat with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Hold this position for 10 to 30 seconds and then lower yourself all the way to the floor.
As you progress, you can try pressing back up into plank position from the hovering Chaturanga Dandasana pose. However, you’d ideally learn this posture with the guidance of an experienced, qualified teacher because it puts your shoulders and wrists at risk of injury without proper alignment.
2. King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
This amazing pose gives advanced yogis an opportunity to practice the subtle exchange between balance and flow. It requires you to maintain balance and stability through your legs and core while increasing your fluidity and flexibility through your hips and spine. As you arrive at each stage of this posture, take time to pause and breathe so you experience every step and can then choose your next move from there.
- Start in a deep, low lunge with your left knee on the floor.
- Squeeze in and up around your hips and through your core.
- Bend your back leg and loop a strap around your foot. Rest the top of your left foot on the floor, taking the strap into your hands and lifting your arms.
- Breathe into your shoulders so you start to feel them open up.
- Start lifting your left foot off the floor while pressing it back in resistance to the strap at the same time. This action of opposing forces will help open the front of your body, especially the left hip.
- Pause at this point and breathe into the present moment, becoming aware and attentive of how these actions feel in your body. (If you need extra padding under your left knee, fold your yoga mat over.)
- Walk your hands down the strap toward your foot, taking your time while breathing and pausing all the way. When your hands reach your foot — or as close as they can possibly reach — open and lift through your heart, breathing for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Slowly come out of this pose and rest in child’s pose or sit in easy pose on your mat for a few breaths before practicing this pose on your other side.
3. Upward-Facing, Two-Foot Staff Pose (Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana)
This pose is a powerful chest-opener and an advanced backbend. As a prerequisite, you should be very comfortable in upward-facing bow pose (urdhva dhanurasana) and the standard yoga headstand (shirshasana). This pose is great for improving balance and strengthening your back, shoulders, neck, and thighs.
- Come into the full wheel or upward-facing bow pose.
- Steady your breath and allow your legs, back, and arms to warm up by using your breath to fully energize and replenish your limbs on each inhale.
- Bend your arms and rest the crown of your head on the floor.
- Open through your heart center, keeping your chest lifted and your shoulder blades reaching down your back. (This will protect your neck.)
- Slide one elbow gently to the floor as your hand moves past your ear to cup the back of your head. Do the same with your other arm and interlace your fingers behind your head.
- Press into your forearms and lift your head off the floor. (If that movement is unavailable to you, maintain the posture with your head on the floor. This could be the modified posture for you, pressing your hips up and your chest forward with your feet directly under your knees.)
- Walk your feet forward until your legs are straight (or nearly straight), pressing down through the inner edges of your soles to continue straightening your legs.
- Hold this full posture for five breaths and then come out slowly and attentively, resting flat on your back for a full minute.
4. Sage Visvamitra’s Pose (Visvamitrasana)
In closing, here are a few final tips to keep in mind before you get started with your prenatal yoga practice:
- If you are at risk for any complications during pregnancy, such as preterm labor or heart disease, make sure you are cleared by your doctor or midwife before signing up for a prenatal Yoga class.
- It is always best to take it slow. Our bodies are constantly changing during pregnancy, and so are our physical capabilities. Avoid certain postures that can abnormally curve your spine if performed incorrectly. Use modifications and props such as yoga belts, bricks, and walls to make the asanas easier.
- Do NOT sign up for Hot Yoga or Bikram Yoga classes during pregnancy. The heated rooms can cause pregnancy complications and may cause overheating. That being said, always bring water and remember to keep drinking fluids throughout any prenatal yoga class to keep from overheating or getting dehydrated.
- Make sure to stop if you experience any bleeding or leaking fluid, dizziness, pain/swelling in your calves, decreased mobility, or increased pain in the abdomen or abnormal contractions, and contact your doctor/midwife right away.
5. Standing Split Pose (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana)
Standing split pose really puts your balance to the test. It’s also a great pose for developing leg and core strength. Since your head will nearly touch the floor in the final stages of this pose, it also has the benefits of other inversions, including enhanced circulation and a boosted immune system.
- Start in a high lunge or crescent lunge pose.
- Lean forward — with your back leg straight and extending through the heel and your toes on the floor — so your torso comes to rest on your right thigh.
- Place your hands on the mat on either side of your right foot.
- Walk your hands back toward your heels and launch off your back foot, coming to a standing position on just your right leg.
- Inhale as you straighten your standing right leg while raising your back left leg off the floor.
- Pay attention to the internal rotation of your left leg. This will help you keep your left hip level with your right hip instead of allowing it to rise and open out to the left.
- Keep your right kneecap facing forward to help stabilize you against the floor. (This is important because your standing right leg may tend toward an outward rotation.)
- Fold forward and concentrate on bringing an equal amount of energy into each leg. Ground yourself down into the floor on your right leg and rise through your left leg. (Your raised left leg may not rise very high at this time. Do not place too much attention there. Instead, focus on the alignment cues in these instructions and keep practicing.)
- These poses are fun challenges that can serve as long-term goals for beginning practitioners, or as benchmarks for those who are advancing in their practice.
Keep in mind however, that even the most basic poses still offer significant benefits when done with the proper focus and alignment. Yoga is about holistic health and wellness of body, mind, and spirit, not about showing off!