I was 18—and completely unsure of myself—when I first started practicing yoga. I was insecure about who I was and where my life was going, and I never felt like I was enough. This manifested as poor posture: rounded shoulders and a downward gaze—a stance I held in a subconscious attempt to hide myself.
Gradually, my yoga practice revealed that being timid and fearful negatively affected the way I carried myself. Luckily, both practicing and teaching yoga has taught me how to make changes to my posture that not only radically shifted how I moved, but also transformed how I felt and presented myself to others. Over the years, I’ve worked on shifting my shy posture into one that’s more powerful—with my shoulders drawn back and my heart shining forward.
I designed the following sequence to help you access more freedom in your shoulders, chest, and spine. When you practice these postures, notice if you feel a sense of courageousness within. Ideally, this practice will empower you to show up with more confidence and bravery in your own life, too.
1. Balasana (Child’s Pose), variation
Start with your knees slightly wider than your rib cage with your big toes touching. Let your sacrum relax toward your heels, and stretch your arms forward with your palms facing up. After a few breaths, interlace your fingers and wrap your triceps under and down to create space in your shoulders and neck. With your elbows rooted to the mat, reach your knuckles back toward the nape of your neck. Stay here for 1–2 minutes.
See also Find Comfort in Child’s Pose
2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Come forward to Tabletop with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Spread your fingers wide, then tuck your toes under, pressing your legs up and back to Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Make sure your feet are hip-width apart, and press your thighbones backward. As you inhale, imagine filling up your back with your breath; as you exhale, think of letting your belly hollow out while drawing the front of your rib cage in toward your spine. Stay here for 5 breaths.
See also Dig Deeper in Down Dog
3. Down Dog Variation
Inhale, extending your right leg toward the ceiling. As you exhale, bring your right knee to touch your nose, rounding your spine. Then, return to Down Dog Split. As you exhale, shift forward and bring your right knee to touch the top of your left arm. Inhale to sweep your leg up; then exhale, and bring your knee to the top of your right arm. Inhale to return to Down Dog Split. Come to Downward-Facing Dog Pose, then repeat on the other side.
4. Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
Step your right foot forward between your hands, making sure your front knee is directly above your ankle. Release your back knee and foot to the ground, and square your hips to face forward. On an inhalation, raise your arms toward the ceiling, palms facing one another; on an exhalation, softly draw your lower abdomen in and up. You should feel a lifting sensation in this pose. Hold for 5 deep breaths, then return to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat on the other side.
See also Open-Your-Hips Flow Video
5. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)
From Down Dog, shift forward to Plank Pose on an inhalation. Make sure your wrists are above your shoulders and your heels are pressing toward the back of your mat. On an exhalation, shift forward, draw in your abdomen, and lower about halfway down for Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). From here, extend your arms, and allow your hips to lower. Roll onto the tops of your feet. Feel your rib cage move forward and up as you lift and open your chest; feel your shoulder blades move down your back toward one another. Take 2–3 breaths here. On an exhalation, roll over your toes and press back to Downward-Facing Dog.
6. Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
Step your right foot forward between your hands. Ground your back heel down at a 45-degree angle, and rise up to Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I). On an exhalation, open your hips to come into Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II). On an inhalation, straighten your front leg, and reach forward as much as possible—drawing your abdomen in while slightly tipping your pelvis forward. Exhale, and release your right hand down to the middle of your shin. Reach your left hand skyward. Stay here for 5 breaths, then rise back up to standing, and repeat on the other side.
See also Angle of Repose: Trikonasana
7. High Lunge, variation
From Down Dog, step your right foot between your hands to Low Lunge. Using the strength of your legs on an inhalation, rise up to a High Lunge, reaching your arms overhead. As you inhale, find length in your spine, and bring your hands together in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) at your heart; as you exhale, rotate your entire torso to hook your left elbow to the outside of your right thigh. Press your palms firmly against one another to rotate your rib cage skyward until your thumbs meet the center of your chest. You may even gaze above your top right shoulder. Stay here for 5 breaths, then return to Down Dog.
See also Bharadvaja’s Twist
8. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
On an inhalation, step back to Plank Pose, bringing your feet together to touch. On an exhalation, shift your weight to your left hand. Flex both feet, balancing on the outer edge of your left foot. Inhale, and extend your right arm skyward, directly above your shoulder. To deepen the pose, extend your top arm toward the front of the room with your palm facing down, creating a bow-like shape with your body. Take 5 breaths here, then return to Down Dog. Repeat poses 7–8 on the other side, then move through a vinyasa or into Down Dog.
See also Sequence by Shape: Side Plank B
9. Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose), variation
On an inhalation, reach your right leg up into Down Dog Split, then exhale to step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Release your back knee to the mat. Turn your right foot slightly to the right, and roll onto the outer edge of your foot. Stay here, or reach your right arm up and then back, twisting your torso. You might even grab your left foot and draw your heel in toward your left sitting bone. Hold here for 5 breaths, then gently release your back foot. Walk both hands back beneath your shoulders, tuck your back toes under, and step back to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
10. Dolphin Pose
From Down Dog, come down to your hands and knees; then place your forearms on the ground, parallel, with your elbows beneath your shoulders. Press your palms firmly into your mat, tuck your toes under, and press your hips up and back to extend your legs. To emphasize the opening of your upper back and shoulders, continuously press your chest back toward your thighs while relaxing your head down toward the floor. It’s OK if your heels don’t reach the ground; the naturally occurring shortened angle of your hips in this posture will be more difficult on your hamstrings. Stay here for 5–8 breaths, then rest in Child’s Pose—this time with your knees together and your arms reaching back (which rests your shoulders).
See also 4 Steps to Master Dolphin Pose
11. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Roll up and sit on your heels. Swing your legs around so they face the front of your mat, then lie down on your back. Bend your knees, plant your feet hip-width apart, and walk your heels in close to your butt. Walk your shoulders away from your ears to create a long neck. As you inhale, press into your feet to lift your hips, hugging your inner thighs toward one another. On an exhalation, walk your arms toward one another and clasp your hands underneath your back. On your next inhalation, fully press your hips up toward the ceiling, and lengthen your tailbone toward your knees. Hold here for 5 even breaths. Then, unclasp your hands, and roll your spine down to the mat.
See also Bend Back, Feel the Buzz
12. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose or Wheel Pose)
With your feet hip-width apart, heels close to your butt, place your palms down with your fingertips touching your shoulders. Hug your elbows in toward one another. Then on an inhalation, press into your hands and feet simultaneously to lift yourself up, resting the crown of your head on your mat. On your next exhalation, fully extend your arms, this time lifting the crown of your head off the floor. Take 5 deep breaths here, and at the bottom of your last exhalation, slowly tuck your chin to your chest and lower yourself back down to your mat. Note: If Wheel Pose isn’t part of your practice at this time, repeat Bridge Pose.
See also Face Fear in Backbends
13. Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose)
Take your feet off the mat by bringing your knees directly above your hips. Place your hands on your kneecaps and start to make gentle circles (with your knees together) in one direction 5–10 times. When you’re done, bring your knees back to center above your
hips, and place your arms in a cactus shape on your mat with your elbows bent. Lift your hips and move them 1–2 inches to the left, then allow your knees to gently fall to your right, keeping them level with your hips. Stay here for 1 minute, then repeat on the other side. Once you’re finished, gently hug your knees into your chest.
See also Master Revolved Abdomen Pose
14. Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pos)
Rock yourself up to a seated position, and bring the soles of your feet together with your knees spread apart. Sit up tall, hold your feet with your hands, and rock your weight into the fronts of your sitting bones (so that your pelvis tips forward slightly). On an inhalation, lengthen your spine and lift your chest; on an exhalation, gently fold forward over your legs. Stay here for 1–2 minutes, then return to a seated position on an inhalation.
See also A Home Practice for Happy, Open Hips
15. Matsyasana (Fish Pose), variation
Place two yoga blocks about 6 inches apart at the back of your mat. Put the block that’s closest to the back edge of your mat at its highest height and the one that’s closer to you at medium height. Lie back onto the blocks with your legs in constructive rest (feet hip-distance apart, knees touching). Stay here for 2–3 minutes; slowly roll to one side, remove your blocks, and roll onto your back.
16. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
As you rest on your back, breathe naturally. Place your arms by your sides, palms facing up (which rests the shoulders), and allow your feet to splay apart. Close your eyes, and direct your attention inward. Observe where you feel warmth and energy freely flowing through your body. Observe the natural ease in your breath from all of the newfound space created in your chest and rib cage. Notice any emotions that come to the surface after opening your front body—and your heart. Breathe into the newfound space in your heart, filling yourself up with your own loving energy. Rest here for 5–7 minutes, or until you feel completely relaxed.
About Our Pro
Teacher and model Kat Fowler is a yoga and meditation teacher and mentor in New York City. She teaches classes and leads trainings in Manhattan at Yoga Vida and online. For more information, visit katfowleryoga.com.