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Master Baptiste Yoga teacher Leah Cullis, who will lead Yoga Journal’s upcoming online course Pillars of Power Yoga (sign up here to be the first to know when this fitness- and focus-boosting course launches), presents 9 poses that help you tone and strengthen your glutes and legs. Your yoga pants will thank you.
Strong glutes support the low back, hips and knees, stabilize the pelvis, free up the hip flexors, and — it’s OK to admit it — look amazing in yoga pants. But since so many of us spend our days sitting in front of computers or in cars with our glutes and leg muscles turned off, a “yoga butt” takes a little bit of effort.
The following 9 poses strengthen and tone your butt and legs, boosting your confidence on and off the mat. These poses are physically challenging and demand your full presence, so set your drishti, or focus, in each pose in order to stay present and tap into your full power. Generating Ujjayi breath will also help. I suggest starting with 3–5 rounds of both Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B as a warm-up.
Come to tabletop on your hands and knees. Tuck your toes to create more stability, and hug your outer shins in. Lift your low belly up and engage your core. Reach your right arm forward at shoulder height, with your thumb up. Extend your left heel to the back wall at hip level and flex your foot. Re-engage through your low belly and reach your right arm toward the right side wall, straight out from your shoulder, with your palm facing the floor. Firm your left leg and kick your heel to the left at hip level with your toes facing the front of your mat. Lift from your butt and your back body. Hold for 5–10 deep breaths. Come back to tabletop and switch sides.
Chair Twist To Crescent Twist
Step your feet together at the top of your mat and sit deeply into Chair Pose. Keeping your big toes together, ground down through all four corners of your feet, shift your weight back into your heels, and draw your shins toward the back of your mat. Lengthen your tailbone and lift your low belly. Draw your hands to heart center. On your exhale, twist and hook your right elbow over left thigh. Shift your weight into your left foot, lift your right foot off the mat, and curl your right heel toward your butt. Gather your power into your center, hug your outer shins in toward your centerline, and draw up into your core to help stabilize. Gracefully step your right foot to the back of the mat for Crescent Lunge Twist. Land in a long stance, grounding down into all four corners of your front foot. From the floor to your core, lift up, and from your core to the floor, root down. Hold for 5 breaths in Crescent Twist. Keep your arms as they are and move from your power in your legs and butt to step up to the front of your mat back into Chair Twist. Repeat on the other side.
Big Toe Pose Leg Lifts
Step to the top of your mat in a Standing Forward Bend with your feet hip-width apart. Catch your big toes with your peace fingers. Press down into all four corners of both feet and inhale into a halfway lift. Firm your leg muscles to the bones. Shift your weight into your left foot and stack your left hip over your heel. Lift your right femur (thigh bone) up into your hip, and float your right foot a few inches off the earth. Activate your glutes and legs muscles, lift up into your core, and extend your right heel up and in line with your right hip. Hold for 5 breaths at the top, and switch sides. Repeat twice on each leg.
Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
Come to standing at the top of your mat and catch your hips in your hands. Ground down through all four corners of your left foot, and with your core strength, lift your right knee up to hip level and flex your foot. Catch your big toe with your right hand and extend your foot forward. (To modify, you can always bend your knee and hold your knee.) Stabilize your center by pulling your belly button in and up. Draw your upper arm bones onto your back and broaden across your chest. Hold for five breaths. Rotate your right leg out to the right side wall. Keep your heel away from your body as you flex your foot and firm your leg muscles. Extend your left arm to the left wall, turn your head and set your drishti to your lifted thumb. Hold for 5 breaths.
Lord of the Dance Pose
Ground down into your (right) standing foot, pressing down into all four corners. Ignite and lift your quadriceps (front thigh muscles). Bend your (left) other knee and catch your inner arch with your hand with your thumb facing up and shoulder open, and extend your right arm to the sky. Tilt your tailbone down to the ground and lift the front of your pelvis. Hug both knees toward your centerline, and with your inhale, kick your lifted shin behind you. The power of this standing backbend comes from leg strength. Keep your foot activated and kick your toes to the sky. Lift up through your chest, top hand, and lifted foot. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Return to standing to re-center and transition to the other side. Repeat twice on each side.
Crescent Lunge, variation
Step your right foot forward into a Low Lunge first (not shown). Drop your left knee to the mat, untuck your back toes, and press the top of your left foot down into the ground. Lift your arms and your chest high. Build your foundation, plug into your mat through all four corners of your right foot, and hug your heel toward the back of your mat. Activate your legs, scissor your inner thighs, and hug in to your centerline. On your inhale, lift your left knee up off the earth. Set your drishti and generate your full Ujjayi breath. Squeeze your inner thighs together, anchor your tailbone down, and lift your low belly. Feel the heat build in your glutes as you tone and strengthen. Hold for 10 full breaths and switch sides.
Bridge Pose with One Leg Lifted
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, variation
Lie down on your back and place your feet hip-width apart, with your knees stacked over your heels. Tilt your pelvis and lengthen your tailbone to the top of your mat. Ground down through all four corners of both feet, and press down through your triceps. Inhale and lift your hips high, and spin your inner thighs down toward the ground. Wiggle your shoulder blades in toward your centerline, clasp your hands, and interlace your fingers for a bind. Hold for five breaths. To intensify, root down through your left foot, bend your right knee into your chest, and then extend your right heel to the sky. Hold for five more breaths with the extension, then come down and switch to the left side. Repeat twice on each leg.
Thread the Needle (Reclining Half Pigeon)
Lie down on your back with your knees bent and cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Thread your right arm through the hole and with both hands, catch either your left shin or hamstring. Flex both feet and draw your legs toward your body. You can use your right elbow to press your right leg away from your body to help you get deeper into the muscles of your seat. Send your breath down into your hips, butt, and lower back. Hold for 10 breaths on each side.
Cow Face Pose
Come to a seat at the top of your mat. Extend your left leg long, and cross your right foot the outside of your left thigh, then slide your left heel back by your right hip. Stack your knees, and adjust your feet like levels, either moving them closer to your body or away from you until you find your sweet spot. Anchor your seat down, lift the crown of your head high, and lengthen your spine. On your exhale, hinge at your hips and fold forward. You can stay up on your hands, or move your forearms down to a block or your mat. Hold for 10 deep breaths or more. Come back up to your seat, unwind, and switch sides.