One of the greatest lessons I have learned from yoga is how to be strong and balanced. On the mat, I have learned to strengthen my muscles and hold balancing poses for several minutes, but the lessons have impacted my life off of the mat as well. For example, I have found how to balance my time between work and personal life, between my need for alone time and my need to be social, and between my aching to find stillness or movement. I have established strength in who I am and have become empowered through the practice. Today, I am sharing some of my favorite yoga poses for developing strength and balance.
“Falling out of the posture means you are human; getting back into the posture means you’re a yogi.” – Bikram Choudhury
For today’s sequence, remember to be kind and patient with yourself. It is normal to feel shaky in a strength building pose. It is normal to sway or fall out of a balancing pose. Do not worry about it! Instead, take your time returning to the posture and feel like a badass for your commitment, not for how well you are doing the pose. Building strength and balance takes time, so work on praising yourself for putting in to work instead of worrying about perfection.
Here is a break down of all the poses:
Extended Child’s Pose
From hands and knees, bring the big toes together and take the knees out as wide as the mat. Sit back onto the heels and walk the hands forward, bringing the forehead down onto the mat. Allow the belly to drop between the thighs and sink into the hips. Reach through the fingertips, but allow the shoulder blades to stay in place.
Cat & Cow Pose
From tabletop (hands and knees), make sure the shoulders are stacked above the hands and the hips are stacked on top of the knees. On the inhale, move into Cow Pose by arching the tailbone towards the ceiling, lifting the chest forward, and gazing upward with the head. On the exhale, move into Cat Pose by tucking the pelvis underneath, rounding through the spine by drawing the bellybutton upward, and roll the head downward. Repeat back and forth 8-10 times.
Start from standing on your knees, with the knees directly underneath the hips. Bring both hands to the lower back, with the fingertips wrapped forward towards the hips. Pull the shoulder blades together and open the chest towards the ceiling while pressing the front of the thighs and hips forward. Remain in this position if it is enough of a stretch for you, allowing the head to drop back if it feels okay on the neck. Option: Bring one or both hands down to the ankles, continuing to press the front of the legs forward. If you cannot easily breathe in this pose, you are going too far.
From table top (hands and knees), walk the hands towards the front of the mat while keeping your tailbone lifted towards the ceiling. Lower your chest and forehead to the floor, continuing to reach through the ceiling and arch your tailbone towards the sky.
Downward Facing Dog
From hand and knees, place the knees directly underneath the hips and the feet hip distance apart. Hands should reach out in front of the shoulder with the fingers spread wide and the palms fully pressing into the floor. Lifting the knees off of the floor, reach the tailbone up towards the ceiling and straighten into the legs. Press the heels towards the floor and look up at the belly button, relaxing the tops of the shoulders.
From downward facing dog, step the right foot up in between the hands, making sure that the knee is stacked right over the foot. Staying on your left toes, press into the left heel to straighten and strengthen the back leg. Center your hips forward by pressing your left hip towards the front of the mat. Lift the chest forward and pull the shoulder blades back.
Extended Side Angle Pose
From standing, step or jump your left foot back, about 3.5 to 4 feet apart. Reach both arms out to the side, actively reaching through the fingers. Turn the right foot towards the front of the mat and angle the left foot at ninety degrees. Bending into your right leg, try and get the thigh to be parallel with the ground and the knee directly stacked on top of the ankle. The left leg will remain straight and strong. Bringing the right elbow onto the right knee, continue to reach the left arm overhead. Options: Bring the right fingertips on to the ground for more intensity or bring the palms together in prayer pose in front of the chest for more balance.
Half Forward Fold
From standing forward fold, start to walk the hands back up the shins until you are able to flatten the back completely. The tailbone should press back behind you and the chest opens forward as you draw your gaze out in front of you. Optional: Keep the knees slightly bent in order to get the tailbone to arch back.
Stand at the front of the mat with the feet about hip distance apart. Spread the toes wide and press all four corners of the feet into the mat. Activate the legs, tuck the pelvis slightly under, and pull the bellybutton in towards the spine. Arms should be by your sides, palms facing forwards, allowing the shoulder blades to pull down and back, expanding the chest. The top of the head presses up towards the ceiling as the feet press into the floor, lengthening the spine.
Beginning in mountain pose, plant your left foot firmly on to the ground, spreading the toes and energizing the leg. Bring your right toes to the side of the left foot and open the right knee out to the side, hands pressed together at heart center. To intensify this balancing pose, place the bottom of the right foot to the inside of the left calf or thigh. If stable, hands can be extended overhead. To find stability in this pose, pull the belly button in and focus your gaze at one point directly in front of you. Repeat on the other side.
Lord of the Dance Pose
From standing, shift all the body weight onto the right leg. Bend the left knee and bring the left foot up towards the tailbone. Reach the left hand back to grab either the outside of the left foot or ankle. Begin to lift the left foot up and back, away from the torso, and actively press into the left hand. The right hand should reach forward, parallel with the floor. Pull in the belly button and keep the hips aimed forward for stability.
Standing Forward Fold
Start standing in tadasana. On an exhale, hinge forward at the waist with a straight back and bring your hand towards the ground. Depending on flexibility, bring your hands to the shins, floor, or yoga block. You can also keep a slight bend in the knee. Allow the hand and shoulder to relax downwards.
Start laying on your belly with the feet stretched back behind with the tops of the feet pressed into the mat. Bring the palms underneath the shoulders, fingers spread wide, and the elbows are pulled in. On an inhale, press into the palms as you lift the chest off the ground and pull the shoulder blades back together. The elbows should stay tucked into the sides as the chest opens and the head remains neutral, not allowing the chin to reach upwards.
Forearm Plank Pose
From hands and knees, place the elbows directly underneath the shoulders and palms directly in front of the elbows, pressing into the forearms and palms into the mat, and lifting into the tops of the shoulders. Tuck the toes and step each foot back, bringing your body into one straight line. Tuck the pelvis, pull the bellybutton up towards the spine, and press the thighs together. Aim to make one long line with the body, not allowing the tailbone to lift or the hips to drop too low.
From Downward Facing Dog, shift onto the outside edge of your left foot, and stack your right foot on top of the left. Now swing your right hand onto your right hip, turn your torso to the right as you do, and support the weight of your body on the outer left foot and left hand.Try and make a straight line with the body by not allowing the hips to drop. Options: Increase the intensity by reaching your right hand towards the ceiling or lifting your right leg. Try side plank on your forearm.
Lying on your back, bend the knees and place the feet on the floor, close to the tailbone and about hip distance apart. Place the hands palms down on both sides of the hips. On an exhale, lift the hips and the buttock up towards the ceiling. Try to keep the thighs parallel to the floor and roll the shoulder blades underneath. Option is the clasp the hands together below the lower back, continuing to pull the shoulder blades together.
Lying on your back, place your hands on both sides of the hips with the palms down and bend the knees, placing the heels on the mat close to the tailbone. On an exhale, lift the feet off of the floor and bring the knees up towards the chest. Continue to lift by curling the pelvis and then the back torso away from the floor, so that your knees come toward your face. Bending your elbows, bring your hands the the lower back to support the body. Raise the pelvis above the shoulders, lifting the feet up towards the ceiling, and continue using the arms and shoulders for support, walking the hands higher up the back as needed. Begin to lower the feet towards the floor behind the head. Option: bind the hands to pull the shoulder blade closer together and increase the stretch in the neck and shoulders.
Don’t skip this one! This may not seem like it, but it is the most difficult yoga pose that you can accomplish. Laying flat on your back, bring the arms to your side with the palms up, allowing the shoulders to roll back. Allow the toes to fall out to the side and tuck the chin in slightly to make sure the back of the neck is straight. Relax the body as much as you can and rest here for 3-5 minutes.
Ready to build some strength and find more balance? Keep this routine nearby you by printing out this one page PDF.
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Questions about the routine or how to build strength and balance off the mat? Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!