Feel like you’ve hit some sort of yoga plateau? You don’t have to completely revamp your practice to get out of an asana rut. Mixing new poses, like these hybrid variations on traditional poses you know and love, into your practice can jolt you right out—and boost fun and strength in the process. What’s more, trying a small dose of something new might just make you more open-minded in other aspects of your life. Slip one or all of these new moves into your routine.
From HIIT Yoga
Ever notice how fatigued (ahem, noodle-y) your thighs feel once you hold Utkatasana for 5, or more, breaths? That’s because the isometric movements of yoga sap energy from the large quadriceps muscles. On the other hand, switching a traditional static pose into something more dynamic, like a hop, forces your body to harness power from the surrounding muscles (hamstrings, glutes, abs) and leave the quads with more energy, says Alexis Novak, an HIIT Yoga instructor in Los Angeles. Think of HIIT Yoga as yoga running on Energizer batteries—you’ll keep going, and going, and going...
Start in Chair Pose (Utkatasana) with arms above head. Sit low, preparing to spring up. Jump your body up into a hop, pulling arms and hands back to catch the momentum of the hop. Gently lower back into a hop. Repeat 25 to 35 times.
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From Buti Yoga (aka yoga + tribal dance)
Buti Yoga may very well be one of the most fun yoga hybrids out there. By fusing power yoga, tribal dance, and plyometric moves you get the physical benefits of asanas, particularly the stabilizing abdominal muscles, with a twist. Incorporating dynamic movement into Wild Thing (Camatkarasana) works the hamstrings and glutes as well as your quads and core when you press back up, says Buti Yoga founder Bizzie Gold.
Start in Wild Thing (Camatkarasana). On the inhale, bend your right leg and draw your right hand into heart center as you slowly lower your hip just above the floor. On the exhale, lift the hip and extend your arm up overhead. Switch sides and repeat.
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Grab a partner to fine-tune your alignment. When poses share points of physical contact, you’ll be instantly alerted if one of the partners is a little “off.” This biofeedback not only highlights when positioning is awry, but the cross-body tension ignites the body’s stabilizing muscles to emphasize asymmetrical strengthening, says Britta Rael, an AcroYoga teacher in San Diego. The result: simple poses become more challenging, and you also cultivate your trust muscles, which are vital to developing communication and sensitivity with others.
Grab a partner and determine who wants to be the “Base” and who wants to be the “Flyer.” Then, have the base lie on their back with knees stacked over hips at 90 degrees. Have the Flyer stand close to the Base’s shoulders. Bend over and clasp hands around their legs just below the knee. The Base then clasps the flyer’s legs just below the knees. The Flyer straightens arms directly over the Base’s knees, then lean shoulders over wrists, stacking weight over the Base’s knees. As the Flyer bends knees toward chest, the Base lifts the Flyer’s knees by extending arms. Both partners should be a reflection of each other in a in a tabletop position.The Base and Flyer can “crawl” by moving opposite legs and arms in tandem. For better stability, keep arms straight and core engaged.
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From Ginga Flow (aka Yoga + Capoeira)
Transforming a lunge with a Capoeira-inspired movement gives your practice a sense of rhythm. This Brazilian martial art incorporates dance, acrobatics and tuning into music. Incorporating the Ginga position into your practice intensifies the benefits of a high lunge, such as hip and groin opening, says June Li Lo, creator of Ginga Flow and yoga instructor in New York City. Flowing from high lunge to a goddess-like squat and back to high lunge will strengthen your legs and core, specifically minimizing lower back injuries. By adding the shifting arm movement, you’re also boosting your practice with cardio. What’s more, since Ginga is a stance used in fighting, it amps up your focus and awareness.
Get into the Ginga position with a High Lunge—right foot firmly planted in front, knee in line with ankle, and thigh parallel to the ground. Keep the left leg extended back with back heel lifted and knee slightly bent. The right arm is relaxed by your side, the left arm is lifted with the forearm just above chin level to protect the face. Step the left (back) foot to the side into a low Goddess squat position, keeping both feet firmly planted and parallel to each other. Maintain the same arm position. Move the right foot to the back, going back to the lunge position. Your left foot should be planted in the front. At the same time, put the left arm along your body and lift the right forearm to chin level. Repeat the sequence several times for a cardio boost.
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From Yoga Lined-Up (aka Yoga + "Rolfing")
Want to improve your posture, alignment, and biomechanics on the mat? “Yoga Lined-Up” incorporates Dr. Ida P. Rolf' method of structural integration. Dr. Rolf was the first to show that proper alignment is linked to various healing methods. Anchoring your core to the earth is key to centering the entire body, say Structural Integration teachers John Latz and Mariano Ardisson, founders of Ayama Yoga and Healing Arts in North Miami Beach. This natural reference point for alignment aids in releasing clenched muscles and tension (think tight shoulders and back). Bringing those principles into your yoga practice may help you find a new sense of freedom in your body.
Position yourself in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), building your pose from the ground up. Align the center of the heel to the second toe on your front foot. Press down through the center of your lower leg as you aim for a 90-degree angle in the knee. Imagine you are lengthening the femur bone from your pelvis and feel the sit bone dropping down and back. Press down the back foot through the heel while your back leg is at a 30-degree angle. Lengthen your back leg from the inside of the groin, activating your adductor muscles. Widen your pelvis by extending your legs, while dropping your sit bones. Now focus on growing your spine (imagine the top of your head reaching to the sky), while anchoring to the ground through the legs. The chest and extended straight arms should feel as if they are floating in the middle—the pose should feel light, spacious and effortless.
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From Yogalates (aka Yoga + Pilates)
While the number of breaths in a pose may differ by individual practice, the one thing that all disciplines have in common is that you’re generally stable in each asana. Infusing your yoga practice with Pilates may seem a bit counterintuitive, but the circular motions in Yogalates activate intrinsic muscles that will strengthen your body from the inside, says Kara Thomas, fitness and wellness director, as well as Vinyasa Reformer instructor at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Utilizing these accessory muscles—say moving your leg in concentric circles (eight times forward and eight times back)—doesn’t just perfect your alignment, it also activates your hips and obliques, both of which are essential for good balance.
Position yourself in a modified Half Moon on your right knee. Point the toes and move the entire leg, from the hip, in small circles. Eight circles forward and eight circles back. Create a side leg extension by lifting up, still standing on the knee. It should look like a modified Warrior II. Reach back with your right arm into modified Peaceful Warrior. Repeat on the other side.
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From BandzYoga (aka Yoga + Resistance Training)
The physical emphasis in yoga is to push, rather than to pull. After all, you’re trying to ground and stabilize your asanas. Over time, however, you may notice that while your outer hip and triceps muscles are getting stronger, your secondary muscles like glutes, hamstrings, and biceps could use a little TLC. These imbalances can eventually lead to injury and undue stress on joints, says Nathania Stambouli, creator of BandzYoga and owner of Goda Yoga in Culver City, California. To improve your muscular balance so that opposing muscles mirror each other in strength and flexibility, add resistance training to your flow. Using resistance bands activates dormant muscle groups and offers extra luxurious stretches.
Tie a knot in a light or medium resistance band to make it about 1.5 feet wide, upstretched. Place the band around the soles of your feet and position yourself in Downward-Facing Dog. Keeping your arms straight, core engaged and feet flexed, lift your right leg straight back behind you, toes pointed slightly outward. Squeeze your glute at the top of the extension. Shift your shoulders over your wrists into Plank and bring your right knee toward your right tricep (try to touch knee to arm, if you can), contracting your right oblique muscles (side core). Extend the leg back up behind you, contracting the glute and hamstring. Release the right leg back into Downward-Facing Dog. Do 10–20 repetitions, then repeat on the left side.
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Traditionally, triceps are engaged through Chaturanga Dandasana. However, the three muscles that make up the triceps are difficult to isolate. Adding triceps moves with weights to your practice will build strength and tone your arms, as well as help stabilize the shoulder and elbow joints, says Chelsea Jasin, Senior Instructor at CorePower Yoga who teaches YogaSculpt in Denver, Colorado. Not only will you have a safer, sturdier Chaturanga Dandasana, you will have more confidence going into (and holding) arm balancing poses.
Place a set of weights (3–5 lbs) at the top of your mat. Start in a forward fold, then grab your weights and inhale to Utkatasana, keeping weights at hip level. Extend arms and weights back, moving through your shoulders to protect elbow joints. Return to starting position, your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees and arms close to the body. Repeat 15 to 20 times.
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From Hip-Hop Yoga
Add some Jacob Banks to your yoga playlist (we like “Worthy”). Hip-hop tunes give your breath rhythm, while their dynamic beat elevates your motivation. Adding a crunch into your high lunge will strengthen abs and glutes, and in turn, will assist in pose-to-pose transitions in your overall practice, says Sarah Larson Levey, co-founder of Y7 Studio, a hip-hop yoga studio in New York City and Brooklyn.
Start with a High Lunge, then transfer all of your weight to your front (right) foot. In one motion, pick up the back leg, bringing the knee to your chest, as you engage the lower abdominal muscles. Hold at chest level for 1 breath. In one motion, return to High Lunge. Repeat 5 times. Switch sides.
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From Yoga + Barre
The graceful dance elements of Barre are known to lengthen spinal muscles, which we tend to abuse with chronic sitting and hunched-over texting. Much like Yogalates, a Barre workout utilizes Pilates techniques that wake up those secondary muscles, particularly those that build up the core. But unlike Pilates, Barre tends to implement these techniques with a cardio kick. Give your Warrior III a Swan Lake makeover by adding an Arabesque and a Passé to the sequence. The flow will tone your hamstrings and glutes as you transition to condition inner thighs and the entire core, says Gabriella Dorado, Barre-Yoga Fusion instructor at Solstice Yoga +Barre in Atlanta. Adding this combo to your typical practice will definitely help you stay steady as you transition from balancing poses to Tadasana.
Stand about 2 feet from a barre or a wall. Hold on lightly, keeping feet parallel. Hinge the upper body forward, as you move your right leg straight back to hip level (or just below). Pulse for 25 reps. If you want to challenge your core, lift the standing heel. Lengthen your left arm in front of you, and lift your chest slightly, about 25 degrees. As you pull and bend the right knee forward (your right big toe will lightly touch the left knee), lift and slightly twist the body away from the wall as your arm opens up. The momentum will naturally lift the heel of your standing left foot. Repeat the flow for 10 reps. Switch sides.
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