Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Students of Anusara yoga often have beautiful, awe-inspiring backbends. With their fingers spread wide and their hearts soaring, they convey immense freedom and joy-even in “baby backbends” like Cobra or Locust.
That’s because Anusara founder John Friend teaches that it’s not just the shape of a pose that can make it magnificent or therapeutic, but the energy and intention behind it, as well. So in addition to learning alignment, Anusara students also learn about Muscular Energy (hugging the muscles to the bones) and Organic Energy (extending energy out).
This sequence eases you gracefully and playfully into Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose), a pose that combines an arm balance with a backbend. It also enables you to work with the two types of energy. “By first engaging your muscles and drawing your energy in, you’ll be strong in the outward expression, reaching far beyond your perceived boundaries or limitations,” says Desiree Rumbaugh, an Anusara teacher based in Scottsdale, Arizona, who created this sequence. “Even if you can’t get into the full pose today, the variation allows you to taste the richness and freedom that happen when you infuse an asana with your energy.”
Before You Begin
Breathing and Meditation: Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Using both hands, grasp your thighs and turn them inward, one at a time, and then place your hands, palms facing down, on your legs. Slide your hands toward your waist to create ease in the neck and shoulders. Take 10 full breaths.
Invocation: Chant Om or an invocation of your choice.
Warm Up: Begin by stretching and breathing, either sitting or standing.
Before the Sequence: Do Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose). Then do Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), with the balls of your feet on a rolled-up blanket and your heels on the floor. Do 5 Sun Salutations. Then integrate the action of your arms and shoulders by doing Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand). Next, do standing poses like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), and seated poses like Paschimottanasana
(Seated Forward Bend) and Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee-Forward Bend).
Featured Sequence: Do all 10 poses, then repeat on the second side.
After the Sequence: Do Headstand and Shoulderstand.
1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Begin on your hands and knees. Spread your fingers and press your hands firmly into the earth. Inhale and lengthen the sides of your body and exhale, allowing your upper back to soften. Keep your heart descending and your spine long as you lift your hips and straighten your legs. Lift your sitting bones up and take your tailbone down toward your heels.
2. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
Lie on your belly with your hands on the floor, by your chest. Spiral each leg inward and press your feet and toenails down firmly. Inhale as you lengthen the sides of your body, then exhale, pressing your tailbone down. Press the lower tips of your shoulder blades toward the back of your heart while keeping the upper shoulder blades broad and open. Root your hands into the earth, and curl up toward the sky.
3. Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), bend your left knee and place your left foot on your inner right thigh. Press that thigh against the foot. Keeping the arches of your feet lifted, spiral your legs in, back, and away from each other. Now take your tailbone down toward the earth—your legs will spiral outward as you do this. Once you’ve established your steadfast power, reach your arms up and look up with an open heart.
4. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III)
With your right leg forward and your left leg back, engage Muscular Energy for a supportive foundation. Take your
tailbone down to gently lift your lower abdomen. Bend your front leg slightly and lean forward, focusing on the strength and stillness in your core. Come into the balance by stretching both legs. Keep the left leg spiraling inward as you hug both legs toward the midline. Stay for 5 deep breaths.
5. Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
With a wide stance, turn your right leg out and your left leg in slightly. Bend your right knee to 90 degrees. Place your right fingertips on the floor about 12 inches in front of your foot, with your thumb in line with your little toe. Hug your legs to the midline and then draw your tailbone and right buttock down to engage your lower abdominals. Once you feel steady, use Organic Energy to open and stretch fully, from your heart through your legs, arms, head, and hands.
6. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
From Tadasana, bring your left knee toward your chest. Hold the outside of your left foot with your left hand. If your hamstrings are tight, use a strap around the bottom of your foot. Engage your muscles to the bone. Then hug both legs to the midline to find your core. When you’re steady, bring your left leg out to the side. Breathe steadily; breathing takes concentration, but it helps you balance.
7. Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
From Tadasana, step your right foot forward four feet. Spiral your left leg in 45 degrees. Draw your tailbone down and your abdominals up. Lengthen your side body and press the lower tips of your shoulder blades into your back. Hug your shins toward the midline as you exhale and bend forward.
8. Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
From Tadasana, bend your knees, take your left leg off the floor, and wrap it around your right leg. Squeeze your legs together, which gives your leg muscles a massage and
encourages circulation. Wrap your arms around each other, with the right one on top, until the palms meet. Squeeze them together, too. How much can you bend your legs? The more you hug to your midline, the more resilience and balance you’ll create.
9. Wild Thing (Vasisthasana variation)
From Downward Dog, bring your weight into your right hand and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot. Step your left foot back and place your toes on the floor with your knee bent at 90 degrees. Exhale and, keeping your right leg straight, push your body away from the floor. Use your legs and buttocks to lift your tailbone and hips as high as you can, until you are almost standing on your right foot. Keep breathing and curl your head back, extending your left arm from your heart and expressing your power and freedom.
10. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
From Downward Dog, bring your weight into your right hand, stack the feet, and come onto the edge of your right foot. Bring your left leg into Tree Pose, then grab the outside of your left foot, press your right palm down, and lift your hips. Extend your left leg while holding the big toe. Firm both shoulder blades into your back. Spiral your chest up, lift your heart, and drop your head back.