Intermediate Yoga

Open Hips + Shoulders for Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)

Continue to open your hips and shoulders, and ease into backbending, with these prep poses for Kapotasana.

Continue to open your hips and shoulders, and ease into backbending, with these prep poses for Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana).

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Low Lunge

Anjaneyasana

Benefit
Stretches the hip flexors and core and strengthens the back and quadriceps.

Instruction
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), step your right foot back, keeping your left knee over your left ankle. Gently place your right knee on the ground. Engage your lower belly and lengthen your spine. Sink your hips as low as possible without crunching the lower back, feeling a deep stretch through your right hip flexor. Inhale to raise your arms straight up, bringing your palms together if possible and squeezing your elbows toward each other. Finally, allow your head to lower back. Gaze at your thumbs and hold for 5 breaths.

See also Pose of the Week: Crescent Lunge

Standing Backbend at the Wall

Benefit 
Stretches the shoulders and opens the chest

Instruction 
Depending on your height, stand about 1 to 3 feet from the wall, back to the wall, feet hip-width apart. Root down into the base of the big toes and the heels while engaging your quadriceps. Internally rotate your thighs and squeeze them toward each other. Exhale to engage your lower belly and inhale to lengthen your spine. Inhale again to lift your arms alongside your ears. Squeeze your elbows toward each other and reach for the wall, aiming for shoulder height. Lower your head. Press your palms against the wall while lifting your chest. Stay for 5 breaths. To come out, bend your knees slightly and lift your torso. Draw your chin toward your chest and release your arms.

See also Unlock Your Backbends: How to Drop Back and Reap the Benefits

Little Thunderbolt Pose

Laghuvajrasana

Benefit
Stretches the quadriceps, strengthens the lower back, and builds physical and mental endurance

Instruction
Follow the directions for the full expression of Ustrasana. Then change the grip of your fingers and clasp your ankles, bringing your thumbs to the insides of your feet, and your fingers to the outside. Engage your lower belly to minimize compression in your lower back. Lower the head backward, then exhale to bend your knees more, slowly moving back as you walk your hands toward the backs of your knees. Try to keep your arms straight. Keep going until either the top of your head touches the floor or you begin to reach the edge of your control. Do not collapse through the lower back, chest, or neck; do not move into the full expression of this pose if you feel strain or pain in your lower back. Try to take 5 breaths, then come back up by pushing through the hands and rolling up the spine.

See also Challenge Pose: Backbend into Little Thunderbolt Pose (Laghuvajrasana)