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, yogi Jean Sherfick will explore six advanced postures and the foundational poses that can help prepare your body for introducing them into your practice.
- Supported Headstand
- Eight Limb Pose
- Eka Pada Koundinyasana I
- Peacock Pose
- One-Legged King Pigeon
Step 1: Come to a kneeling or low squatting position with your head tucked and elbows in a triangle on the floor. You can clasp the hands together or create fists with both. Keeping the knees close to the chest, slowly roll forward, lifting the feet off the floor until the spine is straight up and down. The legs stay together for better control.
Step 2: Open the hinge of your hips by slowly lifting the thighs up and away from the chest. Keep the knees bent for counter balance. If you're wobbling at this point, lower the legs until your find your balance again.
Step 3: Straight the legs over the hips. Think of making yourself long and tall, pressing your feet against the ceiling. You can point or flex them. Hold this pose for a few breaths, then tuck the knees into the chest and reverse your path until the feet are on the floor.
To Exit: If at any point, you feel like you've lost your balance, first protect the neck. Tuck the chin into the chest and roll out of it like a somersault. If you're falling to the side, flex the feet and curl the toes underneath to catch you. This is an advanced pose, so please have a spotter with you if you're attempting it for the first time.
Step 1: Begin in a seated position with your legs stretched out in front of you (staff position). Bend your right knee and tuck it in as close to your sit bones as possible. Place your hands on either side of your left leg.
Step 2: Lean into your left side, weight in the palms. Take the right leg, still bent, and press it to the top of your right tricep. Your sit bones are still on the floor.
Step 3: Extend the legs. Slightly bend the left knee so you can cross the left leg in front of the right, hooking the ankles. Push into your palms until your sit bones come off of the floor and your leaning forward. Squeeze the right arm with the thighs for stability.
Step 1: 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, coming into a Standing Figure-Four position.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: 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.
Step 4: 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.
Step 5: Slowly straighten the left leg out to the right side and flex the left foot. Hold for 3-5 breaths, and slowly exit the position in the opposite order from which you came. Repeat pose on the other side for balance.
Step 1: Begin standing tall, feet together (mountain pose) and bend the knees so the sit bones come to the heels and hands touch the floor. Walk your hands slightly in front of you so your forearms are at an angle and bend the elbows to 90 degrees. This creates a shelf for your leg to rest.
Step 2: Enter your side crow position, which means keeping both knees bent and stacking them together on top of the triceps.
Step 3: The legs are together now, but to fully engage in Eka Pada, you need to split them. Extend the top leg backward. Open the bottom knee to full extension in the other direction. Your chest should be parallel with the floor.
Step 1: Come into your high plank and gently rotate the wrists 180 degrees. Squeeze the elbows into the ribcage.
Step 2: Lean forward, bending the arms so the tummy can rest on them. The elbows should be right above the hips. The feet are still on the floor at this point, legs zipped together.
Step 3: Squeeze the glutes as you lean forward more and raise the feet off of the floor. Keep the legs straight as they lift. They should end up higher than head level. Look at the mat.
Step 1: Begin in downward facing dog and extend one leg up then bend it as your bring it underneath the chest. Let the knee drop to the side and rest. This is pigeon pose.
Step 2: Bend the back leg and reach the same-side arm straight behind you. Bend the elbow to hook the foot into the hinge of your arm. Raise your other arm and bend it so the fingertips can meet and grasp each other. Keep the chest open and lifted with a nice stretch under the arms.
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.