Yoga Poses

7 Tricks to Help You Ace Your Yoga Transitions 

Challenge yourself, boost your strength, and deepen your mindfulness with these preparatory pose drills.

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For a long time, I was convinced that if I just completed that thing, I’d feel better. This included life events, like getting that job or moving to that city. But it especially pertained to yoga poses. As someone with lifelong anxiety, I was always rushing through things to get to the end, hoping I would find peace there.

But whenever I did get to the other side of things, especially when it was a yoga pose, nothing remarkable ever really happened. No balloons fell from the sky or alarm bells rang. No one ran out applauding, “You did it!” My anxiety always remained. In fact, it was often heightened, and I’d find myself asking, “Now what?”

Then a major shoulder injury requiring surgery forced me to slow my asana practice way down. I could no longer do many of the poses that once came easily to me, such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). The shapes that I had been diligently working toward were further away than ever. Where I used to impatiently push through my practice, I now had to move with care and precision or else risk being in searing pain.

This approach required a slower, more deliberate pace than had been normal in my life up to that point. Even so, I felt so grateful to just be moving my body. Over time, I found working in a methodical fashion to be way more interesting than impatiently pushing through postures.

Then I experienced an epiphany: The thrill of the end result isn’t what I was chasing all those years. What I actually enjoy most was the process. The becoming. 

Build resilience and presence with transitions

Often, in our asana practice, we think of transitions as bridges to get from one point to the next. As if we just have to get through them to get somewhere. This is why so many of us rush in and out of poses. Similarly in everyday life, we grumble and force our way through change. Think of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the world in a seemingly perpetual pause. How many times did you say to yourself, “Everything will be OK once this is over?”

But there is great benefit to learning to get comfortable in the process. After all, life is really just a series of present moments blended together to form transitions. Like those old-school cartoons or flip books, where each page was a solid image, but when you flipped through, the images seemed to be moving.

Our asana practice can be a laboratory for us to learn how to be in the rest of our life. It is a place where we can learn about our tendencies and practice how to find peace within them.

For naturally fast-moving people, learning to work transitions can actually provide relief in many ways. Where we learn that we don’t have anywhere to go. The journey is the destination.

Taking our time coming in and out postures also requires stamina and stability. This gives us an opportunity to build strength and can show us where our bodies (and minds) tend to compensate, underwork, and/or overwork. The key with transitions is treating them like poses unto themselves, as pauses within the movement.

Transitions prepare us for the final pose. That destination that we are often so impatient to arrive at ends up being richer, because we were so present along the way.

Explore these drills to practice getting comfortable in transition. Note: You may already find some of these poses challenging. Even the shapes that might come easy to you may suddenly feel new and harder when you slow down and deeply focus on the transitions. Try some or all of these moves on for size, and see where they take your practice.

Yoga poses for slowing down

A woman demonstrates Supta Padangusthasana in yoga
Photo: Emilie Bers

Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) preparation

Why this transition matters

This bent knee preparation teaches us that the goal of Supta Padangusthasana is not to straighten the lifted leg, but rather how we straighten it. Often people get so consumed by lifting the leg that they sacrifice of the rest of the body, especially the lower back. This movement teaches us how to keep the spine long while working the leg toward straight. In physical therapy circles, this move is sometimes called “supine sciatic nerve flossing.” Holding a block behind the thigh creates feedback for keeping the pelvis level.

How to do it

Lie onto your back and bend your right knee into your chest. Extend your left leg along the floor. Grab a block and place it behind your right thigh, just under your knee. Align your knee over your hip. Keep your leg bent, press your right thigh into the block and the block back into your thigh.

On an inhale, straighten your leg slowly. As you exhale, bend your knee again. Repeat this on your breath for 5 rounds, observing what happens to your lower back and pelvis when you straighten your lifted leg and choosing to keep it as bent as needed in order to keep your right waist even and spine long. Switch sides.

A woman demonstrates Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) in yoga
Photo: Emilie Bers

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) preparation

Why this transition matters

In my opinion, the most important part of your body in any posture is your spine. The spine houses our spinal cord, which is the highway for our nervous system. Our entire body is reliant upon our spine to move healthily. This is a good thing to remember in Down Dog, a pose in which many people get consumed with trying to get their legs straight and heels down. Not good, because if your hamstrings or low back are tight, straightening your legs leads to rounding in your spine. Instead, make spinal spaciousness the goal of any pose. Bending your knees in straight-legged poses can help tremendously.

How to do it

From Tabletop, curl your toes under and lift your knees and shins off the floor an inch (hovering.) Pause here. This variation is excellent at turning on your deep-core stabilizers. As you inhale, slowly reach your hips up and back toward Down Dog, creating an inverted V shape with your body. Keep your knees bent as you do this. 

On an exhale, shift your shoulders forward back over your wrists, returning to your hovering Tabletop. Repeat 5 rounds by inhaling your hips up and back to bent knee Dog and exhaling back to your starting position, hovering Tabletop. After your fifth breath, lower your knees and sink toward Balasana (Child’s Pose) to rest.

A woman demonstrates Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) in yoga
Photo: Emilie Bers

Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge) preparation 

Why this transition matters

Yoga teachers will often say that when students come out of poses, they are most at risk for injury versus being in the pose itself. This could be because we are more tired and may be less mindful. A common transition in vinyasa flow classes is stepping back from Utkatasana (Chair Pose) into Low Lunge. This is a great way to develop outer hip strength and skip a Chaturanga. However, if we are already fairly fatigued from holding Chair, then stepping back without attention may put our knees at risk and could potentially set us up for a wobbly Anjaneyasana. Instead, work on tracking your standing knee over your ankle and keeping your outer hip firm while you step back. This means you will land in crescent already well-aligned.

How to do it

From Chair pose, inhale and lift your right thigh up toward your chest. As you exhale, slowly step back to Anjaneyasana. Hug your right hip into your midline as you move, and keep your right knee tracking on top of your right ankle. Land lightly. 

Inhale just one breath in Low Lunge; then use your next exhale to push off your front leg and step back up to one-legged Chair. Lower your lifted leg into Chair and either repeat on your other side or stand up first to reset. Move through this drill 5–8 times. 

A woman demonstrates Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) in yoga
Photo: Emilie Bers

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) preparation 

Why this transition matters

Learning to maintain your center while everything else is in transition, both literally and metaphorically, is an important skill. One of my favorite places to work such core-focused transitions is in standing poses. Particularly the ones that traditionally rely on the arms for additional support. In this variation, you’ll hover on the precipice of coming into Triangle Pose, but with your arms reaching in opposite directions. This teaches you to rely on the support of your legs and core to hold you steady. 

How to do it

Turn to face the long end of your mat. On an inhale, lift your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, and step your feet as wide as your wrists. As you exhale, turn your right leg out so that your toes face the front edge of your mat. Angle your back foot and toes in slightly. Keep your arms shoulder height and turn your right palm up to the sky, externally rotating your right arm. 

On your next inhale, begin to shift your pelvis toward your back leg, hovering halfway between upright and full triangle. On the exhale, lower your bottom arm down lightly. Then inhale your torso right back up, going up and down for 5 full repetitions. Hold Trikonasana at the end for a few breaths before inhaling your torso completely upright. Bring your hands to your hips. Parallel your feet and repeat on the second side.

A woman demonstrates Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose II) in yoga
Photo: Emilie Bers

Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose II) Preparation

Why this transition matters

Another reason that transitions are beneficial is that many of them involve an element of balance. It is a balancing act to be between two poses when you’re being pulled in two different directions (between where you just were and where you are going). This Warrior Pose III drill teaches us how to maintain our physical balance and our internal balance. It demands mental focus.

How to do it

Return to Low Lunge. Exhale and lean forward as you push off your front leg, coming into Warrior Pose III with your arms anywhere they need to be for you to ground. Arm placement options include your hands on blocks under your shoulders, hands at heart center, hands on your hips, your arms reaching out to frame your face or your arms framing your torso.

Pause for an inhale. Now, on your breath, exhale and bend your standing knee, while pulling your hands into prayer at your chest. Inhale, straighten your standing leg, while reaching your arms forward in line with your ears.  Repeat on your breath for 5 full rounds. After your last breath, place your hands on the floor and step back to a lunge. Switch sides.

A woman demonstrates Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) in yoga
Photo: Emilie Bers

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) Preparation

Why this transition matters

One of the yoga tricks I was convinced would change my life was being able to Handstand in the center of the room. I used to think it was a requirement to being a legitimate yoga teacher. But can I tell you a secret? I have been teaching for almost 15 years, practicing for over 20, and I still can’t successfully hold a handstand without the assistance of a wall or another person. And now I can tell you with all my heart: It doesn’t matter! Also, taking the pressure off trying to “nail” it has led me to discover some super fun transitional variations that are much more accessible.

How to do it 

From Downward Dog, take a long inhale and bend your knees slightly as you reach your hips back. On your exhale, bend your knees deeply and look between your hands. At the end of your breath (so, before you inhale again), hop up, kicking your heels to your bum. (We call these “Donkey Kicks.”) Land back in that crouching Downward Dog. Take an inhale and repeat on your breath for 5 full rounds. You are welcome to do these in succession or pause between each round.

A woman demonstrates Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) in yoga
Photo: Emilie Bers

Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose) Preparation

Why this transition matters

In my classes, another category of poses that I notice people rushing into is twists. Perhaps it is because they are difficult to breathe in for many people, and they just want to get it over with? But if you take your time easing into twists, you can create the space necessary to achieve fuller breaths in the final pose. Also, learning to twist without the aid of the arms pressing against something teaches us how to use our internal leveraging system of our abdominal muscles, which is a great way to build core strength.

How to do it 

Find a seat. Bend your left knee, pulling your left heel to your outer right hip, so you are on the outside edge of your knee and shin. Check in to see if your hips feel stable. If not, you can sit on a block or blanket. Cross your right leg over your left, with your right foot on the floor and your knee pointing up. 

On an inhale, reach up through your left arm. As you exhale, reach your right arm out to the side and begin to twist. Pause. Inhale again, and on your exhale, hook your right elbow outside of your right knee, placing your left hand behind you. Pause briefly, then take an inhale to return to the L-shaped position with your arms. That is one round. Continue for 2 more. After your last breath, release your twist. Straighten out your legs and repeat on your second side.

See also: 

Inversion Challenge With DJ Townsel: How to Nail Transitions

Use Core Strength for Smooth Transitions in Sun Salutations

More yoga sequences by Sarah Ezrin


Sarah Ezrin is a yoga teacher trainer, mama, motivator, and writer. Based out of San Francisco, where she lives with her husband, son, and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love one person at a time. Learn more at sarahezrinyoga.com

Photographed by Emilie Bers at All Together Collective