Yoga shouldn’t be classified as an “easy” form of exercise. The muscle engagement, focus, control, balance, and breathwork required to operate in tandem can certainly feel just as challenging as a set of burpees. Any rumors of the practice solely being a form of stretching and meditation are false—yes, these elements are involved (and widely beneficial), but one can gain marked muscle tone and endurance from consistent yoga movement. One study found that participants who completed 24 cycles of sun salutations, six days a week, for 24 weeks, saw a significant increase in upper body strength, endurance, and, for the female participants, a decrease in body fat percentage.
Whether you’re a regular yogi or someone just beginning their practice, you may be interested in eventually kicking things up a notch to push yourself even further physically and mentally. Advanced yoga poses can help to work larger muscle groups and strengthen your body even more than a standard Chaturanga. Below, Liza Colpa, yoga instructor with YogaToday, a subscription-based virtual fitness platform that offers thousands of on-demand yoga, Pilates, and meditation classes, has shared a series of moves and detailed instructions for each that will work your body and mind at an even greater rate than you’re used to (and who knows, perhaps soon you’ll be snagging a front-row mat in class).
Benefits: Stretches and strengthens the wrists, biceps, and upper arms; opens up the chest and throat area.
From the plank pose, slowly lower your chest and chin down to the yoga mat. Using your core, hug the inner thighs in towards each other, lift one leg and then the other to rest on your hands and chin.
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
Benefits: Strengthens back and abdominal muscles.
Begin by laying flat on your stomach. Bend knees in to grab hold of your ankles. Push the back of the feet into your hands to pull up the legs and lift your chest. Hold position.
Benefits: Opens up the hamstrings, chest, and glute muscles.
From a seated position, see if you can get your right leg over the right shoulder. From there, place your right hand down to ground you, and take a hold of the right foot with the left hand. Hug the inner thighs in towards each other, broaden through the chest, and press the right foot into the left hand to extend the right leg straight behind you. Repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Helps with focus; strengthens core.
Begin in Staff Pose and place your hands next to your hips. Lift through your sternum and lean back slightly without having your back touch the floor. Balance on your sit bones and tailbone. Slowly start to straighten legs if you can, with toes slightly above eye level. While there, straighten your back and draw arms forward with palms facing inwards. Hold position.
Benefits: Opens the hips; strengthens the core, arms, and wrists.
From Garland pose or a yoga squat, walk the big toes together and see if you can rest your knees high on your triceps. Begin to rock back and forth on the wrists, and when you feel stable, leaning forward, use your core strength to hug the inner thighs up and in towards each other. Engage your core and lift the toes up and in towards the glute muscles.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Benefits: Improves posture; stretches body.
Begin in Staff Pose then cross your right leg over your left while stacking knees and bringing the right heel to the outside of the left hip. Then, bend your left knee and bring it to the outside of your right hip. Stick your right arm out as you inhale, with palms facing backwards and thumbs pointed down. During your exhale, bend the elbow and bring the arm behind your back with the palm facing out. Your elbow should point towards your sacrum and your right fingers should point towards the base of your neck. Then, stick your left arm out to the side and lift up to the ceiling. Bend your left elbow and bring the arm to the back of the neck, while keeping the right arm in position. Reach so both hands are close to touching and clasp hands if you can. Repeat on opposite side.
Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose)
Benefits: Total body engagement.
This pose strengthens and lengthens all parts of the body from head to toe, especially the inner thighs, back, arms, and wrists. From sitting, see if you can wrap the right leg over the right shoulder. Then send your left leg in front of your right hand. Hook the ankles, lean forward to lift the hips, and squeeze the inner thighs in towards one another. Repeat on the other side.
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
Benefits: Improves balance; strengthens core muscles.
Start in Extended Triangle with your left foot forward. Bring your right hand to your hip and turn your head to face the floor. Bend front leg and shift your weight to the ball of your front foot. Reach your hand forward or place it on the mat and lift your back leg so it is parallel to the floor. Reach your top hand towards the ceiling. Steady your balance by focusing your gaze and keep a slight bend in your front leg. Repeat on opposite side.
Benefits: Strengthens the upper body, arms, wrists, and shoulders.
With the knees together and pointing to the right side, see if you can rest the right hip on your right elbow, and your right knee on the left elbow. Lean forward, engage the core, and feel the toes lift off the ground. From there, see if you can split the legs apart, reaching the left leg up and back.
Benefits: Helps build strength in upper arms.
Start in a standing forward fold with knees slightly bent. Pull your right hand through legs to clasp your right calf, placing the right shoulder behind the right knee. Then, place your right hand on the floor behind your heel with fingers facing forward. Repeat on your left side. Slightly lean chest forward and slowly lower your legs onto the back of the upper arms. Lift feet off the mat and straighten legs.
Benefits: Strengthens arms, core, shoulder, and back; increases circulation.
From Dolphin Pose, walk feet to the heart. Send your gaze between the wrist, and lift one leg and hop to lift the other. Once you are stable and the legs are overhead, engage your core, press the forearms into the ground, bend the knees, and begin to send your gaze forward and up, opening the chest as the feet come towards the head.
Tolasana (Scale Pose)
Benefits: Improves balance skills; strengthens abs.
Begin in Lotus Pose with legs crossed. Place the palms of your hands next to your hips, with fingers spread wide. Inhale and press hands deeply into the floor while lifting your torso and legs off the ground. Tighten your core and squeeze your thighs to help maintain the position. Exhale and lower to the floor.
Benefits: Alleviates stress, calms the mind, helps with memory, stimulates the lymphatic system, strengthens the core and back.
Making a basket with the hands, keeping the elbows shoulder-distance apart, place the crown of the head down onto the mat. Press the forearms into the ground, and then lift your knees and walk the feet towards the face. Begin to lift one foot, then the other. Once knees are tucked and feet are off the ground, send knees over hips, then ankle over knees until the legs are straight.
Benefits: Improves balance and focus.
Begin in mountain pose with feet slightly apart. Place hands on hips and press your pelvis down. Bend both knees and lift your right foot while wrapping your left leg over the right thigh. Curl your right foot behind the left calf. While remaining there, lift both arms out in front of you and wrap your left arm over the right, crossing the left elbow over the right upper arm. Slide the right hand toward your face, cross the forearms, and press palms together, raising your elbows to shoulder height. Hold and repeat on opposite side.
Benefits: Stretches the hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings.
Step the right leg to the outside of your right hand. Heel-toe the right foot out to the side of the yoga mat, and begin to use the ball of your foot to curl toes under and straighten your back left leg behind you as much as you can. Then, see if you can twist to the inside of your right leg and reach around and take hold of your left foot. Press the left foot into the hand, then draw the hand into the foot to find a deeper stretch. You can also try this on your forearms.
Benefits: Stretches the entire back of body, including the hamstrings, buttocks, glutes, shoulders, and neck.
Start in Corpse Pose, then bring knees toward chest. Straighten legs toward the ceiling and then, using the strength of your abs, lift hips off the floor and roll up until you are supported by your shoulders. Stack hips above shoulders. Slowly lower legs backward over your head until toes reach the ground behind you. Rest your toes on the ground, feet flexed. Release your hands and place arms onto the floor, palms down or hands clasped.
Benefits: Stretches the thighs, hips, quadriceps, chest, and glute muscles; opens the upper back.
From a three-legged dog, while your right leg is lifted, send your right knee behind your right wrist, and your right heel towards your left hip point. Then, walk your left foot behind you. From this Pigeon Posture, twist to the left and see if you can take hold of the top of your left foot. See if you can send the left foot into the crook of the elbow, then send your right hand back behind you to take a hold of your left hand.
Forearm Hollow Back Pose
Benefits: Strengthens arms, back, and shoulders.
Start in feathered peacock pose, then bend your knees coming into a pike shape. Point toes and press heels towards your buttocks. Drop your head, pushing down firmly through your forearm. Bring your head and chest through the arms. Reach your buttocks back and knees in the opposite direction, then extend one foot towards the ground while the other hovers above your hips.
Nataranjasana (Dancer Pose)
Benefits: Stretches shoulders, core, chest, and quadriceps; strengthens core stability.
Transfer your weight into your right foot, and take a hold of the left foot with the left hand bending at the knee. Then, take hold of the inside of your left foot. Press the top of the foot into the hand. Lift your foot nice and high by pressing the foot back and up.
Hanumanasana (Full Front Split)
Benefits: Increases hip flexibility; stretches hamstrings, quads, and groin muscles.
From half monkey pose, shift your torso up and place your fingertips directly under your shoulders. Flex your front foot while engaging your quad. Begin to slide the back knee back and the front heel forward until your front sit bone makes contact with the ground. Make sure to square your hips as much as possible and pull your naval in.
Benefits: Strengthens the upper body, core, glute muscles; lengthens hamstrings.
With the knees together and pointing to the right side, see if you can rest the right hip on the right elbow, and the left side of the leg on the left elbow. Lean forward, engage the core, and feel the toes lift off the ground.
Benefits: Increases circulation.
Start in a cross-legged position sitting up straight. Grab your right ankle and rotate the foot to face up towards you. Place the ankle as high as you can on the left hip, feeling a full external rotation in the right hip and knee. Then, grasp the left ankle and bring it over the right thigh to settle into the right hip. Let your knees sink towards the floor continuing to sit up straight.
Side Plank With Lifted Leg Variation
Benefits: Opens up hamstrings.
From the side plank posture, lift the hips nice and high and send the right knee into the free top hand. See if you can wrap two fingers around the big toe. Then, extend the leg forward and up to stack over the top of the right hip.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-legged King Pigeon Pose)
Benefits: Stretches the thighs, inner hips, and buttocks.
Start in one-legged Pigeon Prep Pose, then make sure your hips are squared and squeeze your inner thighs. Open toward back leg and reach the hand on that side back grabbing your foot and pulling it in. Bring the same-side arm around to the outside back of leg to flip your grip. Grab hold of the pinky-toe-edge of your back-leg foot. Make sure your elbow is facing down, then turn toward the front of the mat. If you can, reach your other hand back so both hands are holding the foot. Lift your belly and chest and press your foot back to complete the pose.
Standing Hand to Big Toe
Benefits: Stabilizes the core and opens up hamstrings and hips.
Transfer the weight into the right foot. Lift the left foot off the ground and interlace fingers around the left knee. From here, see if you can wrap two fingers around the big toe and extend the left leg forward and out to the side. Hug the inner thighs in towards each other for stability.
Benefits: Improves balance; builds core strength.
Start in a handstand with your legs together. Bend one of your legs while keeping the other straight. Drop your chest and lift head up to make a mini backbend while shifting the toe of the bent leg toward head. Bend the straight leg to bring the toes to touch.
Standing Forward Fold to Tripod Headstand Press
Benefits: Stretches hamstrings and back; strengthens arms, back, and core.
From a wide-legged forward fold, rest your head on the ground and place the hands to the side of your face. Make sure elbows are over the wrist and hugged in. From there, you can move both knees to the bent elbows, or use your core and inner thigh strength to reach the legs to the side and up into a straddle.
Benefits: Improves balance; builds core strength.
Start with your forearms planted on the ground and bring your legs up into a handstand. Follow the same method of the scorpion handstand and bend one of your legs while keeping the other straight. Drop your chest and lift head up to make a mini backbend while shifting the toe of the bent leg toward head. Bend the straight leg to bring the toes to touch.
Wild Thing Into Bow Pose
Benefits: Opens up the chest, back, and hip flexors.
From a three-legged dog, flip your dog, and have your free right foot touch the ground. Pivot your foot to press all four corners down into the yoga mat. From here, send the hips up and reach the free right hand back. Keep lifting through the hips until you create enough space in your upper back to send the right hand down to the floor and flip the left fingertips to face towards your feet. From here, walk the feet closer to the hands, coming into the full bow.
Twisted Floor Bow Pose
Benefits: Builds strength in back muscles.
Start in a Sphinx pose and extend your left arm forward. Walk right arm over to the left and come down onto your right shoulder. Use your left hand to pull your left foot in, grab your left toes with your right hand, and use your left hand to grab the inside of your right foot. Kick back with your right foot and lift your right knee to lift yourself up. Push down on your right elbow and lift your chest up.
One-Legged Crow Pose
Benefits: Improves balance; strengthens wrists, shoulders and core.
Start in crow pose, point your toes, pull your heels in towards your buttocks engaging hamstrings. Pull stomach in and spread your shoulder blades wide. Pull right knee in toward your chest and begin to shift your weight forward as you extend and straighten your right leg at a diagonal angle up to the sky.