10 Poses to Help Build Strength and Grace


By By Andrea Ferretti, sequence by James Higgins  |  

Build up your strength and grace by practicing this sequence of 10 poses.

The dawn of the New Year is empowering and an ideal time to focus on building strength. But if you work too hard and find yourself trembling as you hold Plank Pose for 25 breaths, sweating it out in Warrior I, or huffing and puffing with frustration in Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), your hearty resolve will quickly fizzle. It’s during those moments that you can recall what the great sage Patanjali wrote in Yoga Sutra 2.46: sthira sukham asanam, or “the postures should have both steadiness and ease.” Intense overexertion in every pose will not lead to a stronger, healthier body.

Instead, take a cue from San Francisco Bay Area vinyasa flow teacher James Higgins, who created this strength-building sequence. Higgins’s style is to interweave deliberate periods of rest within challenging flow sequences and to take a whole-body approach. Instead of charging aggressively ahead to try to tone a particular body part, observe your vulnerable or weak areas and integrate them with the rest of your body. “The body has all these independent parts—the forearms, the upper arms, the shoulders. And they all make up the whole,” says Higgins. “Focus on finding connections through these segments, and you will build strength through integration.”

Of course, Higgins reminds us, true strength comes from deep within. “The whole practice of yoga is to align with spirit,” says Higgins. “When you let go of focusing only on external strength in the poses by tuning in to the breath and the flow of movement, you’ll find the truth of your strength, which is in your spirit. Spiritual strength always trumps egoic strength.”

Before You Begin

Meditate

Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position with your eyes closed.

Take 10 slow Ujjayi breaths. Create a clear stream of breath, filling your lungs to capacity while you explore the inner body.

Let your mind ride with the breath, making each consecutive breath smoother than the one before. Take your time and be thorough with your exhalation. Enjoy
the experience of your breath.

After 10 breaths, allow your natural breathing to return. Release any hint of tension from the body. Keeping the mind quiet and relaxed, take time to
experience your well-being and dedicate your practice to the greater good.

Build up to holding each pose in the sequence for 1 to 2 minutes. The first 5 poses in this sequence will build heat in the body. When you come to the floor after Forearm Plank, you can begin to incorporate rest between each pose.

1. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)

Stand with your feet parallel and hip-distance apart. Bend your knees deeply. Roll your inner thighs down toward the earth and spread your sitting bones while you hug the shins toward each other and ground your tailbone toward your heels. Lift and roll your shoulders back, sliding the chest and armpits up. Breathe slowly and deeply and soften your face.

2. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

From Utkatasana, straighten your legs and fold forward. Hug your shins in and feel the weight of your hips pressing down toward the feet while you pull all the leg muscles up and onto the bones. Draw your belly in toward the spine and roll the bottom of your rib cage toward the toes as though you were going to hook it over them.

3. Anjaneyasana (High Lunge)

Step your right foot back, keeping your heel lifted as you come into High Lunge. Lift the right thighbone up and, with equal emphasis, guide the tailbone down toward the floor. As you reach your arms up toward the sky, draw your belly in, roll your shoulders back, and lengthen the rib cage up, away from the hips. Breathe deeply into the fullness of your lungs and soften your face. Do both sides, then step into Uttanasana.

4. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Step or hop into Downward Dog. Spiral your inner thighs back and hug your shins toward each other. Draw your belly and ribs toward your spine and lengthen your side body. Lift your armpits away from the floor as you press your shoulder blades flat onto your back. Melt the center of your chest toward the earth.

5. Forearm Plank

Come to a tabletop position and place your forearms on the floor. Curl your toes under and press back through your heels, taking your knees off the floor.

Lift your thighbones up, pull your ribs toward your spine, and press your tailbone toward your heels. Feel your core engage and melt your heart toward the

earth. When you release, rest on your belly, with your forehead on your hands, for 5 to 10 deep breaths. Relax fully.

6. Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Rest on your belly with your arms by your sides. Roll the legs inward. Inhale and lift your arms, legs, torso, and head slowly off the floor. Hug your

muscles toward your bones as you extend through the limbs out to your hands and feet. Keep your shoulder blades flat on your back and breathe smoothly and

deeply. Do this twice, pausing to rest for several breaths in between.

7. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

From your belly, reach back and grab the ankles; softly lift the chest, knees, and thighs from the floor. Push your shins back to help lift and open your

chest. Soften your face, breathe deeply, and feel your way into the full pose.

8. Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Draw your hips back to your heels, with your arms outstretched in front of you, palms together. Separate your knees hip-width apart, with your big toes touching behind you. Gently bow forward and relax the hips and shoulders.

9. Sirsasana II (Tripod Headstand)

If you’ve never attempted Headstand, do so only with an
experienced teacher nearby. If you have experience with
Headstand but need the support, set yourself up close
to a wall. From a kneeling position, place your palms and the top of your head on the floor. When you look at your forearms they should be perpendicular to

the floor. Walk your feet in toward your hands, draw your shoulders away from your ears, and spread your collarbones wide. Press your hands into the floor,

squeezing your elbows in. Engage the legs and lift them slowly overhead. Draw your tailbone toward your heels and press the thighs and lower rib cage

backward while extending the legs, hips, and feet toward the sky.

10. Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Come back to Child’s Pose and connect to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual centers. Feel the benefits you’ve received and surrender to your

natural ease and goodness. Be humble and, with gratitude, open your mind and heart to the wonderful practice of yoga.

After You Finish

Rest

Set up for Savasana (Corpse Pose) and stay for at least 5 minutes.

Before you sit up, roll into the fetal position for 2 minutes of quiet nurturing.

Sit up tall, and for a few moments mindfully direct your breath toward your well-being and the well-being of sentient beings everywhere.