Jordan Smiley is a 500-hour RYT transgender yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer based in Denver, Colorado. With June being Pride month, we asked Smiley to create an empowering sequence that cultivates compassion for the Self and others, and explain why each pose makes him feel proud.
Yoga helped save my life.
It’s because of the practice that I have a peaceful relationship with my body, tools to coach my mind, and a continuously deepening sense of compassion—both for myself and for others.
Compassion is, I believe, the prerequisite for feeling proud to be transgender. Yet, the moments that make me feel the most proud often come from my yoga students, when they talk to me less about progress in postures and more about progress in the way they relate to themselves. “I can face my fibromyalgia after your class … because of yoga I’m getting sober … I’m less intimidated by others … your classes have helped me change my gender.” I beam when students tell me these things—when I can tell they are charging hard toward fearless and radical self-transformation.
The following sequence cultivates not only self-compassion, but also self-acceptance, or what I like to call self-awareness-as-self-love. Ultimately, transforming profound wounds is the path. What happens when we value self-awareness in daily life over Handstand selfies on the beach? We can stop the momentum of our traumas and our culture’s traumas, and we can act in awareness that our healing impacts others. Because at the end of the day, our self-transformation is for all, and that makes me proud of yogis, my queer and trans communities, and the radiant place where we intersect.
Through this work, may all beings be happy and free.
10 Powerful (and Empowering) Poses for Pride
1. Virasana (Hero Pose)
Step 1: From Sukhasana (Easy Pose), place your hands on the mat in front of you, roll over your ankles, and come onto hands and knees.
Step 2: Touch your inner knees together and separate your feet just wider than hips-width distance. Turn the tops of your feet down to the mat.
Step 3: Take hold of your upper calves and roll them away from midline. Place your sitting bones between your ankles, either on the mat or on a prop such as a block or a bolster. Sit up tall and place your hands on your thighs. Stay for five breaths in Virasana.
Modifications: Sit on a block, blanket, or bolster if the sitting bones do not touch the ground between your ankles.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: This pose makes me remember all of the people I consider to be heroes. Being heroic involves discipline, humility, and authenticity. In Virasana, we must be very honest about the depths we are willing and able to go to in choosing how to place the hips, and how long to stay. The pressure builds as we sit tall and breathe. I imagine this same degree of discipline in Barbara Smith, a black feminist and lesbian author, and one of the original people to use the term intersectionality, who ran activist organizations with other incredible women of color. They discussed the criticality of understanding how people are born into an intersection of socioeconomic, linguistic, cultural, and gender locations to name a few. Like dots on a multidimensional grid, we are all so unique, and we must live responsibly and responsively. I see this authenticity in Nikko Nelson, the first Wisconsin trans woman to be crowned prom queen. This shape helps me cultivate the qualities of those I admire.
2. Krounchasana (Heron Pose)
Step 1: From Virasana, place your left hand on the ground beside your hip, lean to the left, and take hold of your right ankle with your right hand. Use your right hand to help you unfold your right leg out from beneath your buttocks. Extend your right leg forward.
Step 2: Sit tall. Firm your shoulder blades back to maintain the lift in your chest, and draw your waistline in.
Step 3: Place the sole of your right foot on the mat, and bring both hands beneath your right thigh. Engage your right quadricep to straighten your right leg. Keep your spine long and walk your hands up the back of your right leg.
Step 4: Lean back slightly but keep your spine long. Bring the back of your right hand to the sole of your right foot, and hold your right wrist with your left hand. Hold for three breaths in Krounchasana.
Modifications: If the spine rounds forward or the right knee bends when you bind your hands around your foot, use a strap around the base of your foot instead, and keep your spine long. If the right sit bone is much heavier than the left, place the corner of a blanket beneath the right buttock.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: For me, Krounchasana is a measure of progress over time. You have to keep your core cylinder very awakened in this shape to maintain good spinal hygiene, and to keep that while binding your foot is the result of much practice lengthening and strengthening the legs. The trans and queer community has had to grow like this, one act of brave, honest inquiry at a time. And keeping the heart lifted and the chin raised is always more important than the climb to the top. I’m proud of my community for holding themselves this way in the world, with a strong and open heart first and foremost.
3. Baddha Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Bound One-Legged King Pigeon Pose)
Step 1: From Krounchasana, lower your straight right leg to the mat in front of you.
Step 2: Ground your hands on either side of your hips, press into your palms, and lift your hips off the ground. Lean to the left and swivel your left foot to the inside of your hips, so that when you set your hips down, your left foot is beneath your right hamstring.
Step 3: Press more weight into your left hand and lean slightly onto your left hip. Swing your straight right leg back behind you. Roll your right inner thigh up until the center of your right knee, shin, and thigh all face the mat.
Step 4: Snug your left thigh bone back slightly and isometrically draw your right hip forward to square your hips. Firm your outer hips to midline.
Step 5: Inhale and lift your arms overhead. Exhale and bind your hands behind your back. Press your knuckles toward the back of your right knee, wrap your shoulder blades back, and lift your sternum. Hold for three breaths in Baddha Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.
Modifications: Keep the hands on the earth or blocks in place of the bind.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: For me, yoga has been a journey that spirals healing and awareness through the individual, and that individual work must and will move outward to the level of shared reality and relationship. I often hear my students say that they are relating to the people in their lives with more bodhicitta, or heart of compassion, because of their practice. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana with the bind feels like the way LGBTQIA folks offer their hearts to the world, despite the hardships they face. The hands may be bound, one leg may be restrained, but the hope is that the heart rises in response to—and perhaps because of—this restriction.
4. Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana (One-Legged Downward-Facing Dog)
Step 1: From Baddha Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, inhale, release your bind, and reach your arms overhead. Exhale and plant your palms beneath your shoulders.
Step 2: Inhale, curl your right toes under and lift your right knee. Exhale and straighten your elbows to lift your left leg up behind you as you raise your hips.
Step 3: Wrap your shoulder blades around your outer ribs to deepen your armpits. Hold your shoulders square with the top of the mat.
Step 4: Straighten your left leg by engaging your quadricep, and point through your toes. Externally rotate your left thigh by rolling your left knee to the left. Keep your left leg straight and turn your hips to the left. Narrow your sitting bones by engaging your glutes, and draw your waistline in. Hold for three breaths in Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana.
Modifications: Keep your lifted left leg parallel with your right, or lower your left foot to the floor for a symmetrical Downward-Facing Dog.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana is in best alignment when the chest stays square with the top of the mat while the lifted leg and spine respond with twisting. Bayard Rustin was the chief organizer of the historic March on Washington, and also happened to be gay. His contribution to two major minority groups required a steady grasp on the earth and a willingness to reach into the unknown. This pose trains the same courage, steadiness, and stamina.
5. High Lunge, Crescent Variation
Step 1: From Eka Pada Adho Mukha Svanasana, turn your left hip down to square your hips with the mat. Inhale and firm your hands.
Step 2: Exhale and draw your knee toward your nose, lift your upper back toward the ceiling to draw your shoulder blades apart, and step your left foot forward between your hands.
Step 3: Stack your left knee over your left ankle and straighten your right knee until your right heel stacks over your right toes. Inhale and extend your arms overhead. Hold for three breaths in High Lunge, Crescent Variation.
Modifications: Keep your hands on the mat or on blocks on either side of your left foot in place of raising them overhead.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: This pose makes me so proud of the young LGBTQIA folks I know who are fearlessly tearing down and rebuilding our society’s agreements about gender. So many of our yoga spaces have men’s and women’s locker rooms, and my heart riots when I must direct my students to chose. Having experienced my own traumas in bathroom spaces, I try to give the same information to every student, and advocate for all-gendered restrooms. In 2014, a first-grader who also happens to be a trans girl won the right to use the bathroom of her identified gender in Colorado Springs. This pose feels like holding that courageous little flame up as we take a big stride forward. As though to say, more light, more light, more light.
6. Exalted Crescent Lunge Pose
Step 1: From High Lunge, Crescent Variation, inhale and lift through the crown of your head, exhale and reach your right arm forward and your left arm back. Twist to the left.
Step 2: Draw your hips in from left to right. To keep your pelvis facing forward, hug your left thigh bone in and zipper the back of your right leg, from heel to sit bone.
Step 3: Hold your right thigh with your left hand. Press your sitting bones down and contract your belly to bring your pubic bone toward your low ribs. Reach your right hand up and back. Hold Exalted Crescent Lunge Pose for three breaths.
Modifications: Omit the bind by spreading your arms wide, and twisting your upper body to the left.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: I feel so proud in Exalted Crescent Lunge Pose because the pose can’t be done without help from the back and the front leg. My queer and trans students are such a solid foundation of support and solidarity for me and each other. This foundation allows a certain kind of freedom, or dance, in the upper body.
7. Runner’s Lunge Pose
Step 1: From Exalted Crescent Lunge Pose, inhale and return to High Lunge, Crescent Variation by turning your chest forward and reaching both arms overhead. Exhale, and bring both of your hands down inside your left foot.
Step 2: Inhale and draw your shoulders and hips further apart; exhale and lower your chest down to the height of your thigh.
Step 3: Slide your left shoulder underneath the back of your left knee. Plant your left hand on the mat to the pinkie-edge side of your left foot, and your right hand beneath your right shoulder. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and hug them in toward your ribs. Draw your shoulder blades away from your ears and your collarbone toward the top of the mat. Press your shoulder into your knee, and isometrically pull your left foot back to press your knee pit into your shoulder. Straighten your right leg. Hold Runner’s Lunge Pose for three breaths.
Modifications: Keep your hands on the mat inside of your left foot, and/or lower your right knee to mat or a blanket.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: This version of Anjaneyasana feels so fierce to me! I like to joke that it’s the embodiment of a drag queen or king, or an icon like Ricky Martin or Lady Gaga … or even Ellen DeGeneres prowling to the edge of the stage to get closer to the crowd. It’s intense and full of potential, like a coiled spring. This is how I see queer leadership both in the public eye and among our own circles. We must be close to the ground, the issues, knowing when to push forward and when to pull inward. This posture trains us in supporting both ourselves and the weight on the shoulders equally.
8. Baddha Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (Bound Standing Splits Pose)
Step 1: From Runner’s Lunge Pose, keep your left shoulder underneath the back of your knee, and your left hand planted on the outer edge of your left foot. Inhale and transfer your weight to your left leg; exhale and lift your right leg up behind you. Contract your right quad to straighten your lifted leg.
Step 2: Root through your right palm and press your left shoulder and left calf against one another. Externally rotate your right thigh by turning your right knee to the right. Lift your right foot up toward the ceiling and point your toes.
Step 3: Bend your right knee and squeeze your hamstrings to pull your thigh and calf together. Take hold of the top of your right foot with your left hand and point your right knee upward. Hug your core in and look up to your lifted knee. Hold Baddha Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana for three breaths.
Modifications: Keep your hands on the mat or blocks, or move your left hand out from the pinkie-toe edge side of your left foot and to the mat beneath your shoulder.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: When I was moving back to Colorado from the Northwest, I made a point to pass through Laramie, Wyoming. Laramie was the hometown of Matthew Shepard, a college student who was brutalized and murdered in 1998 for being queer. The hate crime sparked a wave of protest and demands for tougher investigations and laws into crimes against our community. The Matthew Shepard Foundation Angels still come to protests, dressed in white linen and wings to block hate rhetoric at LGBTQIA gatherings. Despite all of the progress, I was terrified stopping to buy gas in Laramie, but aware enough to know why I was scared. Baddha Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana trains us to experience balance and to look up, despite precarious situations.
9. Svarga Dvijasana (Birds of Paradise)
Step 1: From Baddha Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana, keep your left shoulder underneath the back of your knee, and your left hand planted on the outer edge of your left foot. Exhale and release hold of your right foot and set your right foot down on the mat, one footprint wider than hips-width distance.
Step 2: Bend your left knee and reach your right hand upward as you twist your chest to the right. Internally rotate your right humerus bone by turning your right bicep and palm back toward the back of the room. Bend your right elbow and place the back of your right hand on your low back. With your left shoulder still beneath your left knee, bend your left elbow toward your low back and clasp your right wrist with your left hand.
Step 3: Walk your right foot in until your foot is beneath your hips. Transfer your weight to your right leg. Keep a gentle bend in your right knee, round your spine, and come up to standing, bringing your left leg with you in the bind.
Step 4: Snug your shoulder blades back and lift your chest. Drop your shoulders away from your ears and lift through the top of your head. Draw your low belly up and in to stack your ribcage over your pelvis.
Step 5: Straighten your left leg and externally rotate your left thigh bone by turning your left knee to the left. Point your left toes, and take turn your head to the right. Hold Svarga Dvijasana for three breaths.
Modifications: Pass a strap from your right hand into your left in Step 2 rather than binding the hands.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: The name of this posture says it all! Dvijasana means “twice born,” an experience that queer and trans folks are very familiar with! In the native culture I grew up in, some beings were said to have two spirits, and the work of maturing was to honor them both but to be in one body. This coexistence and merging of the two is the second birth. This is most definitely what yoga and trans reality have in common, this union of opposites. In this shape, you root down diligently to hold the form of a rare and unique flower in full bloom, and the inner experience is quite heavenly when the work and blossoming are balanced. All the while you look over your shoulder as though to say, it’s no big thing. For me, it’s a gorgeous exaltation of queerness.
10. Samasthiti (Equal Standing Pose)
Step 1: From Svarga Dvijasana, bend your left knee and round your spine to lower your left foot to the floor. Release your bind and step your feet to hips-width distance.
Step 2: Inhale and rise to standing, reach your arms overhead.
Step 3: Exhale and touch your palms together before your heart.
Step 4: Lift the muscles on your thighs and lightly contract your buttocks. Draw your waistline in and stack your ribs above your hips. Inhale and lift through your sternum. Exhale and soften your shoulders away from your ears. Hold Samasthiti for three breaths.
Modifications: Allow your hands to hang beside your hips, palms facing forward.
Why It’s a Proud Pose: My beloved teacher Jeanie Manchester always holds us in Samasthiti for five breaths during Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) practice. The purpose is to come back to a place of equality while standing tall. Not “come to,” but instead, “come back to.” With the help of the yoga community and other mindful communities, I believe we can return to a place of our original equal standing, together proudly revering the universal heart that we all share.
Repeat the sequence on the other side.
About Our Writer
Jordan Smiley is a full-time 500-hour RYT transgendered yoga teacher, yoga teacher trainer, and mentor based in Denver, Colorado. He aspires to practice and inspire radical transformation and lionhearted love. Instagram: @jordansmiley. Online: www.theinbodymeantproject.com