Not only are traditional yoga poses enormously beneficial, they also have a rich history. And while it’s important to respect classic poses, it can also be fun to add variations to the time-tested asanas. Like taking a beloved family recipe and adding spices, herbs, or even a few new ingredients to create a flavor that appeals to your palate, putting a twist on your go-to poses can breathe new life into your practice, helping you access different muscle groups and simply making you smile and have more fun.
This sequence is packed with traditional poses, along with nontraditional variations on those asanas. Ideally, you’ll notice similarities between the classic pose and the “new” take, while also experiencing how each version opens up the body in its own, unique way.
Before you begin
Start with a seated meditation: Come to a simple cross-legged position and rest your hands on your thighs, sink your sitting bones into your mat, and lift your chest to elongate both sides of your waist. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and take a deep inhale, feeling your breath move all the way down toward your pelvis. Pause for a couple of seconds at the end of your inhale, and then slowly exhale from your chest all the way down toward your lower belly. Take a few more cycles of breath like this, and then open your eyes and make your way onto your hands and knees.
1. Cat-Cow Pose
Come to Tabletop, placing your hands under (or slightly in front of) your shoulders, and your knees under your hips. On an inhale, lift your sitting bones, chest, and head toward the ceiling, keeping your neck long (shown). As you exhale, tuck your tailbone, lift your lower belly, and release your head and neck toward the floor. Repeat this cycle for 5 total breaths, and then return to a neutral spine.
2. Eye-of-the-Needle Pose + variation
From Tabletop, thread your left arm underneath your right arm. Lay the back of your left shoulder on your mat, leaning back to open the inside of your left shoulder blade. Hold for 3 breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
Extend your right leg to the right and press the outside of your right foot into the floor. Slide your left hand down toward your right ankle, grabbing either above or below your right knee. Lean back slightly to open your upper back more deeply. Hold for 3 breaths, and then repeat on the opposite side.
3. Extended Puppy Pose + variation
Return to Tabletop, and then walk your hands forward until your upper body is in Downward Dog (pose 4). Bring your forehead toward or on to the floor or a blanket, and hold for 3 breaths.
Take your gaze out in front of you. Extend your right leg to the right, directly from your hip, and press the outside of your right foot into the floor. Press your chest forward as you lean your hips back, while keeping your left thigh vertical. You should feel a deep opening in your right inner thigh and groin. Stay here for 3 breaths, and then repeat on the other side.
4. Downward-Facing Dog Pose + variation
Adho Mukha Svanasana
From Tabletop, tuck your toes under, lift your hips, spread your fingers wide, press your inner thighs back, and release your heels toward the mat. Hold for 3 breaths.
Pull your right knee to your chest and rotate your right shin so it’s parallel to your mat’s top edge. Slightly bend your left knee and keep it bent as you flex your right foot and place your right ankle on top of the front of your left knee. Reach through your arms, lift your sitting bones, and press your right outer thigh back. Feel and breathe into the opening in your right hip. Hold for 3 breaths, and then repeat on the opposite side.
5. High Lunge + variation
From Down Dog, step your right foot forward, place your right ankle under your right knee, and extend through your left heel. Reach both arms overhead and elongate through your waist while relaxing your shoulders away from your ears. Hold for 3 breaths.
Keep your left arm reaching high as you slide your right hand down the back of your left leg. Press through your left heel; lift up out of both sides of the waist as you reach your left pinky tip up and back toward the wall behind you. Find length from your left ankle up to your left fingertips and hold for 3 breaths.
6. Revolved Lunge Pose, a.k.a. Easy Twist + variation
From High Lunge variation, bring your left hand to your mat or a block underneath the left shoulder and reach the right arm toward the sky. Lengthen the left side of your waist forward and keep lifting your left inner thigh. Hold for 3 breaths.
Keep the left hand planted and right arm up, and begin to straighten both legs. Be sure your left heel stays lifted and the left side of your waist is long. Feel the spaciousness in your body as you rotate your chest toward your right leg. Hold for 3 breaths.
7. Lizard Pose
From Easy Twist variation, place both hands on the floor inside your right foot and bring your left knee to the mat. Heel-toe your right foot to the right, moving your right toes and ball of the foot off the mat while keeping your heel on. Stay as is, or walk your hands forward. If you have more wiggle room, bring your forearms down to blocks or to your mat. Reach your chest forward as you press your right thigh back. Stay here, or bend your left knee and catch the outside of your left foot with your right hand (shown). Guide your left heel toward your left sitting bone while pressing your left shin back. Hold for 5 breaths.
8. Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend + variation
From Lizard Pose, walk your hands beneath your shoulders, straighten both legs, and turn your feet to the left. On an inhale, lengthen your spine; on an exhale, bring your hands to the floor (or two blocks) and walk them back so they align with your feet. Hold for 3 breaths.
Keep your hips where they are and walk your hands forward. Bend your right knee slightly and slide your left hand down the outside of your right leg, rotating your chest to the right as you reach your inner thighs back and reach through your right arm. Hold for 3 breaths.
9. Extended Side Angle Pose + variation
From Prasarita Padottanasana, slowly return to standing, turn your right foot to the right, and bend your right knee so it’s directly over your ankle. Take your right forearm to your right thigh and your left arm overhead. Hold for 3 breaths.
Keep everything as is but reach your left arm toward the back of your mat so it’s parallel with the ground, turn your left palm down, and reach your left fingers back toward the wall behind you. Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder to open the left side of your neck. Hold for 3 breaths, and then return to Down Dog.
10. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Come to seated, bend your knees, and place your feet hip-width apart. Take your left heel toward your right sitting bone and place your right foot outside your left knee, pressing your right big toe into your mat and your right hand into the floor a few inches behind your seat. Keeping your torso vertical, take the left elbow to the outside of your right knee. On your inhale, lift your spine; on your exhale, rotate your torso. Finally, bring your gaze toward your right shoulder without cranking your neck. Stay here for 5 breaths, and then move to the next pose.
11. Upright Eye-of-the-Needle Pose + variation
Keeping your legs in Ardha Matsyendrasana, take both hands behind you, lean back, and place your left foot on the floor. Rotate your hands so your fingertips point away from you; lift your hips, and then bring your pelvis back down to the mat close to your left heel. Breathe into your right hip for 3 breaths.
Take your right hand and grab the outside of your right foot, resting your right forearm on your right shin as you turn your torso to the left. Stay here, or bend the elbow and take your right forearm vertical, fingertips pointing toward the ceiling as you twist a little deeper to your left (shown). Hold for 3 breaths. Repeat poses 10 and 11 on the opposite side.
12. Bridge Pose
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Lie on your back, bend your knees, and bring your heels toward your sitting bones. Press your feet into the mat and lift your pelvis toward the ceiling. Tuck your shoulders underneath themselves and rotate your palms so they face the ceiling, or interlace your fingers underneath your pelvis. Press your upper arms and feet into the mat, squeeze your thighs isometrically, and lengthen your tailbone toward your knees while keeping your chin away from your chest. Hold for 5 breaths, lower back to the mat, and then repeat 2 more times.
13. Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Stay on your back and bring your left foot straight out in front of you. Draw your right knee into your chest and place a strap below the ball of your right foot. With one side of the strap in each hand, keep your arms long and your shoulders connected to the floor as you extend the right heel toward the ceiling. On your exhalations, gently lead the right leg toward the wall behind you. Hold for 5 breaths. Stay on the right side, release the strap, and take your right ankle on top of your left knee, prepping for Supine Pigeon.
14. Supine Pigeon + variation
With your right ankle on top of your left knee, lift the left foot off the floor and wrap your hands around the back of your left thigh.
Keep your legs as they are, and then release your left leg and slowly bring your right foot to the floor outside your left leg. Grab your right foot with your left hand and your left foot with your right hand, keeping the outside of your left leg connected to the floor and your right shin moving forward. Hold for 3 breaths. Repeat poses 13 and 14 on the opposite side.
15. Corpse Pose
Extend your legs in front of you and reach your arms overhead, finding as much length as you can from your fingertips to your toes. Release your arms to either side of your body, palms facing up and shoulders away from your ears. Close your eyes and scan your body from the crown of your head to your feet. If you locate any tension, breathe into that area and let that tension go. Stay here for 5 to 10 minutes.
About Our Experts
Teacher Laura Burkhart is a San Francisco–based 500 E-RYT yoga instructor whose extensive studies under Jason Crandell and Shiva Rea taught her smart sequencing and the benefit of fluidity, both of which helped her forge her intuitive, eclectic instruction style.
Model Stephanie Fong, a certified yoga and Pilates instructor, first studied Ashtanga Yoga, and then alignment-based vinyasa, with Crandell and Burkhart.