If you've been to a few yoga classes, there's no doubt you've done your fair share of Sun Salutations that include Down Dogs and Chaturangas galore. These basic poses all work your upper body, but if you're in the mood to try something new and more challenging, give these advanced yoga poses a whirl. Once I started practicing them regularly, I noticed a huge difference in my upper body strength and muscle definition.
It may not be the safest idea for an expectant momma to train for an ultra-marathon, race through the lake waterskiing, or hit the trails mountain biking, but she can and should still do moderate exercise. During my pregnancy, prenatal yoga was my saving grace. It strengthened my muscles, increased flexibility and balance (which I lost as my belly grew), and helped me mentally and physically prepare for labor. I've already led you through a sequence to open tight hips and hamstrings, and here's another one that will stretch your hips and back, which should alleviate some of the lower back or pelvic pain many pregos complain of.
If you love the way Downward Facing Dog stretches out your hamstrings, calves, and lower back, but don't love the wrist pain the pose can cause, then here's a variation to try. With your forearms on the ground, the Quarter Dog variation takes the weight out of your hands and wrists. Even though this pose seems relaxing, it's not as easy as it looks. This pose will not only intensely stretch the backs of your legs, but it's also a workout for your arms, shoulders, and upper back.
|Sanskrit Name: Catur Svanasana|
English Translation: Quarter Dog Pose
Also Called: Dolphin or Puppy
- Begin on your hands and knees. Your wrists should be underneath your shoulders, and your knees underneath your hips.
- Inhale as you tuck your toes under your heels. Then exhale to lift your hips, coming into Downward Facing Dog.
- Spread your fingers wide and lower your forearms to the mat. Check to make sure you're creating a straight line between your elbows and middle fingers. Try to straighten your legs and lower your heels toward the ground as much as you can. Your heels should be slightly wider than your toes, so the outside edges of your feet are parallel with the outside edges of the mat.
- Relax your head between your arms, and direct your gaze through your legs or up toward your belly button. Hold for five breaths.
What's not to love about a forward bend? These poses feel so good after a run to lengthen the lower back and hamstrings — just the tight places that need a good stretch. If you liked the variation of the pose known as Big Toe Standing Forward Bend, since you hold your toes to pull yourself more deeply into the pose, then you're going to love this variation for the deeper stretch it provides while simultaneously giving your wrists a sweet release.
|Sanskrit Name: Padahastasana|
English Translation: Foot to Hand Pose
Also Called: Standing Forward Bend
Learn more details in this pose when you read more
Balancing poses mostly require a tremendous amount of focus, but this one, which is a creative cross between Sage and Half Moon, requires strength in your upper body and core as well. As challenging as it is, it's also a really fun pose to try, because it makes you feel so open, adventurous, and bold.
|Sanskrit Name: Utthita Ardha Chandrasana
English Translation: Extended Half Moon Pose
Also Called: Balancing Star
- Begin in Downward Facing Dog pose. Step both feet together so your big toes are touching.
- Move your right hand over to the left six or so inches so it's at the upper center of your mat.
- Step your right foot forward two inches, and plant the sole of your right foot firmly on the mat so your toes are pointing to the left.
- Roll open to your right side and lift your left hand off the mat. Raise your left leg up into the air.
- Stay here balancing on your right hand and foot. Try to keep your shoulders, spine, and hips in one straight line, and gaze toward your left hand. Press your right fingertips into the mat to take some pressure out of your wrists. Hold here for five deep breaths, trying to keep your core strong and the pose steady.
- Release your left hand and foot back to the mat, take a vinyasa coming back to Downward Facing Dog, and repeat this pose on the left side.
If taking yoga is one of your goals, let me introduce you to Downward Facing Dog. It's probably the most basic yoga pose, and no matter what style of yoga you study, you'll end up in this pose more than a handful of times in one class. Even though it looks pretty straightforward, it's a challenging position to hold since most of your weight is in your upper body. It's also difficult if you have tight hamstrings, so don't be frustrated if your knees are bent or your heels don't touch the ground.
|Sanskrit Name: Adho Mukha Svanasana|
English Translation: Downward Facing Dog Pose
Also Called: Down Dog
To find out how to do Down Dog, read more
If you've taken a few yoga classes, you'll find that depending on the instructor and the style of yoga, some poses are easy and relaxing, and some are better saved for those with incredible strength and flexibility. That's part of the beauty of yoga — there's a pose fit for everyone's needs and abilities.
Since the backs of our legs are a common tight area, here are three ways you can stretch those hamstrings. Head to Knee A will be the easiest, and allow you to focus on stretching one leg at a time. The middle pose, Intense Side Stretch, is a bit more challenging, and the last pose, Split, is meant for those with very flexible hamstrings. Choose the pose that best suits you, or follow the entire sequence, moving from easiest to hardest.
Head to Knee A
Intense Side Stretch
If yoga is one of your favorite forms of fitness, then check out the Yoga Stretch and Tell group. And tell us which hamstring stretch is your fave.
I love the holidays, but the rushing around stresses me out. I can feel my body collapsing forward into a scrooge-like hunch. Opening the front of my body with backbending pose feels like a gift to my tired spine. While the Bow pose doesn't have anything to do with presents, it's a wonderful stretch. Here's a variation that focuses on bending one leg at a time, which allows you to work on stretching out your chest and shoulders more effectively. It will strengthen your back too.
To learn my trick for getting into this pose read more
There's been a lot of talk about trees at my house lately: Christmas trees, that is. Why not bring some of the O Tannenbaum holiday spirit into your yoga practice with Tree pose? After all, it is one of Jennifer Aniston's favorite poses, but you don't have to stop there. l've been taking it up a notch on my side arm balances, aka Sage pose, by adding Tree to the position. This is one of my favorite variations of Sage because it targets your upper body, core, and hips all at the same time.
|Sanskrit Name: Vasistha Vrksasana
English Translation: Sage Tree Pose
Also Called: Sage with Bent Knee
Learn the finer details of the pose when you read more
Good ol' Crow post perfectly illustrates that yoga is not all about stretching. Arm balances take arm strength and a balanced core. The twisted variation known as Side Crow may look more difficult than your basic Crow, but some people find it's actually easier. This pose strengthens your shoulders and abs, and the twisting will also increase flexibility in your lower back.
|Sanskrit Name: Parsva Bakasana|
English Translation: Side Crane Pose
Also Called: Side Crow
Learn the details of the pose when you read more