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Sacred Balance: Yoga Poses for Strength and Flexibility

Posted on March 15 2018

Sometimes, yoga feels like being in The Wizard of Oz. Every student thinks she or he lacks something vital to gaining mastery in her or his practice. If you’re bendy, you probably wish you were stronger. If you can hold Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) for 90 seconds without even flinching, you might look around and lament your tight hamstrings.  The beauty of yoga is that every physical ability is needed at some point in your practice. It really is “all good.”

As yoga teacher Shiva Rea puts it, “Yoga is a constant dance between strength and flexibility.” One might be more natural for you than the other, but your practice has already started to address that imbalance, even if you don’t realize it. For example, each Sun Salutation strengthens your arms, legs, back, and core while stretching your back, hamstrings, and wrists. Simply straightening your legs as you fold in standing or seated poses moves you closer to your flexibility goals. Expansion and compression of your muscles as you flow through asanas leaves you stronger, longer and more open at the end of every class.

When you’re heading into challenging poses like the ones below, shedding your fears has to be the first step. The physical reaction to thoughts like “my arms are weak” is a self-fulfilling prophecy since you’re more likely to tense up or enter into poses without discernment. The next step is letting go of the pressure you might feel to get there right now. Yoga is not the Olympics. There are no judges and no “10s.”  Think of your practice as an opportunity to play in your body. As you try these poses, let your inner child have some fun. If you get into some extreme poses, enjoy this new territory. But, like a child learning to do a cartwheel, enjoy the sensation of being where your body wants to be.

Here are some poses to try: 

Eka Pada Bakasana  (Advanced Crane Pose)

Benefits: This twisted inversion challenges your stability off the grid. 

How to do it: Start in a short Adho Muka Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Lift your right leg up and place your right thigh on your right upper arm. Bend into your arms. Hop your left foot off the floor. If you feel secure doing that, slide your left foot back and engage your lower core to lift your left leg. Remain in the balance for a few breaths, then release and repeat on the other side

Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose)

Benefits: This deep backbend opens your whole front body. 

How to do it: Kneel with your feet slightly closer together than your hips. Hinge back from your waist without pushing your hips forward. When you've reached your maximum, gently release your head toward the floor and your hands to your ankles or calves. Lift your hips to the ceiling and bend your arms, deepening the arch of your back. Stay in the pose for up to 30 seconds, then release and rest in Balasana.

Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Crow Pose) 

Benefits: This arm balance lets you play with your center of gravity to “fly.” 

How to do it: Begin by crossing your right ankle on your left thigh. Bend over your leg and let your hands touch the ground. Wrap your right toes around the outside of your left arm and bend your left knee more.  Slowly bend your arms, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides. Snug your right foot onto your arms and shift your weight into your hands. If you can, release your left foot and push out through the ball of your foot. Hold for a few breaths if you can, then come into Balasana (Child’s Pose) to release before trying the other side.

This is a challenging practice, so don’t let yourself be overwhelmed. Focus on each of the building blocks—each body part—then, step in the pose and breath. Don’t stress yourself by expecting to reach the full pose on the first attempt. Learning to do poses like these is a powerful reminder of how exciting it is to challenge yourself and try something new. So go play!

 

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