We all have the ability to navigate change and challenge with grace. One way we learn to do this in yoga is by using our breath—a powerful tool that helps get us through difficult transitions by linking different poses with its consistency. Yoga also helps build physical and mental strength. As you shift your weight in a pose—and particularly as you move through transitions—fear, doubt, and instability can show up. Successfully navigating these moments requires a strong body and belief in yourself.
One method for finding strength is by using your core. When you’re fully immersed in your yoga practice, core is about more than just muscles. Engaging it means tapping into who you are, what you believe, and what you stand for. In short, yoga can help you find stability and rootedness at the core of your identity.
This challenging practice works with the physical body, but its benefits go further. Try engaging with feelings of discomfort (not pain) to identify how you respond to transition and change—moment to moment, breath to breath. The journey to a single-leg pistol squat, like the one to any advanced asana, will involve falling, failing, rising up, and trying again. Stay rooted in your breath, anchored by your center. Discover strength, mobility, and trust in your physical and mental stamina. This flow will fire up your core, elicit lower-body burn, and teach you to meet challenges with ease.
1. Supta Baddha Konasana variation (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Lie on your back, about midway down your mat. Bring the soles of your feet together to touch, and allow your knees to fall open like pages in a book. Take a few cycles of breath to settle into the shape of your body, the present moment, and your higher Self. (If you need support, use one block under each knee or thigh.) Let heavy hands fall to the ground, palms down, next to your hips. Firming up your feet against each other, inhale, and lift your hips a few inches off the ground. Exhale, and release back to the earth. Focus on maintaining the width of your knees rather than the height of your hips. Repeat for 5 breath cycles.
2. Urdhva Prasarita Padasana variation (Leg Lifts)
Use your hands to draw your knees to your chest. Extend your legs straight up to the sky, and activate your feet by pointing or flexing them. Press your palms into the earth on either side of your hips. With your lower back glued to the ground, breathe in. Breathe out, and lower your legs one-third of the way to the ground, keeping them straight. Inhale, then exhale, lowering your legs another third of the way to the floor. Inhale again. Exhale, and hover your feet 2 inches from the earth. Inhale, and lift your legs back to perpendicular with the floor. Repeat for 10 full cycles.
3. Vasisthasana variation (Side Plank Pose)
Hug your knees to your heart. Rock up and down the length of your spine. Cross your ankles, and roll over your feet to Tabletop. Practice Marjaryasana-Bitilasana (Cat-Cow Poses) to warm up. Inhale, extend your right leg back, and tuck your toes near the edge of your mat. Exhale. Spin your right heel to the floor with the outer edge of your foot rooted firmly to the ground. Extend your right arm overhead. Lift up and out of your left shoulder by engaging your left oblique. Keep your core active: Pull your navel toward your spine, and knit your ribs together. Hold for 3 breaths.
4. Parighasana variation (Gate Pose)
Grounding down through the outside edge of your right foot, zip your thighs together. Inhale, and use your obliques to sweep your left fingertips up and over. Slide your right hand down the side of your right leg. This should feel similar to a Peaceful Warrior side-body stretch on your left oblique. Exhale back to Side Plank Pose variation. Inhale to Gate Pose and exhale to modified Side Plank 5 times.
5. Chaturanga Dandasana variation (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
At the end of your fifth breath cycle, cartwheel both hands to the floor, and float your right leg off the mat to hip height. Lift your right heel to engage your glutes. Inhale, and shift your weight forward to your fingertips. Exhale, bend your elbows, and lower your chest and chin to the ground. Inhale, and press back up. Repeat for 3 breath cycles.
Repeat poses 3–5 on the other side.
6. Adho Mukha Svanasana variation (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
From Tabletop, walk your hands forward one hand-length. Tuck your toes, and lift your hips to Down Dog. Pedal your heels, shake your head, and wag your tailbone. Adjust the distance between your hands and feet to get comfortable. Inhale, and float your right heel skyward. Exhale, drawing your knee to your nose. Press your palms into the floor while moving your shoulder blades outward. Draw your navel up and in. Inhale, and float your right leg skyward. Exhale, draw your knee to your nose, and step your right foot between your palms.
7. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III)
Crawl your hands in front of your right foot, shifting your weight into it. Guide the crown of your head forward as your left foot floats off the mat. Engage your left glutes by lifting your back heel higher. Keep your hips in one line. Reach your arms behind your back like wings and turn your palms to face the earth. Roll your shoulders back to open your heart space. Float your knuckles upward another inch to encourage that same broadness in your collarbones. A soft bend in your standing (right) knee can help with balance or tight hamstrings. Eventually, work on straightening this leg by engaging your quads and pulling up and out of your standing (right) hip.
See also 12 Yoga Poses to Spark Creativity
8. Tadasana variation (Mountain Pose)
Exhale, and draw your hands to Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) at your heart center. Bring your left knee to your chest. Inhale, rise up to standing, and balance. For additional support, hold the underside of your left leg. Stay here for 3 breaths.
9. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Root down through your right foot. Bring your left peace fingers and thumb to your left big toe, and take a yogi toe lock. Kicking through your left heel, extend your left leg straight at hip height (or if needed, keep a bend in your left knee). Pull your right quad up to encourage a lifting away from the earth. Press your abdominals back while keeping your chest broad and spine long. Stay here for 3 breaths.
10. Pistol Squat
From Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose, wrap both hands around the sole of your left foot. Continue to kick your left heel forward while pulling your abdominals back. Lift your sternum up to keep your spine long. Slowly, start to bend your standing knee and send your hips backward as you would in Utkatasana (Chair Pose). Keep your left leg active. As your hips lower toward the earth, maintain the length in your spine. With control, lower your seat to the floor.
If you’re working toward pistol squats, try placing your left heel on the floor, 12–18 inches ahead of your right foot. Fold at your hips, bend your right knee, and place a hand on the floor beside your feet. Keep your left leg as straight as you can, feeling the stretch in your hamstring. Put as little weight as possible in your left heel so that you can slide it forward as your hips lower to the earth.
11. Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat Pose)
Keep holding your left foot with your left hand. Reach your right hand to your right foot. Extend both legs while holding your big toes. Flex your feet, and pull your navel toward your spine. Roll your shoulders back, and aim your heart upward. Pause for 3 breaths to find stability. Release your legs and feet, and lower down to a Hollow Hold: Zip your thighs together and activate your feet. Keep your shoulders lifted. Press your navel toward your spine to ground your low back to the mat. For more of a challenge, take your arms overhead. Hold onto your legs if you feel your shoulders and head drooping, your hip flexors over-engaging, or if your core needs help maintaining the integrity of the posture. Repeat poses 6–12 on the other side.
12. Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
From Boat Pose, hug your knees into your chest, and gently rock up and down the length of your spine from tail to head. After a few initial rocks, try to gain enough momentum to plant your feet flat on the mat, sweep your biceps by your ears, and shift your weight back into your heels while sitting your hips toward knee level. Draw your navel back toward your spine, and knit your bottom ribs together. Stay here for 3–5 breaths.
13. Bakasana (Crow Pose)
Keeping your knees bent, plant your palms 6–12 inches in front of your feet. Shift your weight forward into your palms and finger pads, lift your heels off the ground, and put a soft bend in your elbows. On an exhalation, nestle your knees to your outer armpits, and hug your knees, elbows, and core toward your midline. On an inhalation, lift one big toe off the mat and then the other. When you start to feel confident enough to lift both feet off the mat, draw your big toes together and your heels closer to your glutes. Hold for 5 breaths, then step your feet back to Plank Pose or float your feet back to Chaturanga and move through your variation of a vinyasa.
14. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
From Downward-Facing Dog, roll forward to High Plank. Lower your knees down to the ground, separating them wider than hip width. Feel free to wiggle around as needed to find the distance between your knees that best supports your body (which may be no distance at all). Allow your forehead to find the mat as you crawl your hands toward the top of it. Use the pressure of your palms against the earth to sink your hips closer to your heels. Stay here for at least a minute.
15. Halasana (Plow Pose)
From Child’s Pose, roll up to kneeling and swing your feet around in front of you. Slowly lower down to your back. Using more core than momentum, put your hands and shoulders on the ground, and lift your legs up and overhead. To intensify the hamstring stretch, tuck your toes on the ground behind you, and play with bending and straightening your knees. If your hamstrings feel tight or tense, keep your knees bent. On an exhalation, pull your navel back, and deepen the compression of your front body. Hold for 3 breaths.
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16. Savasana Corpse Pose
Slowly lower your spine back to the mat, followed by your legs. Allow your legs to spread out wide to the edges of your mat, and let your palms rest face up on the floor by your hips. Close your eyes, unfurrow your brow, and unclench your jaw. Trust that all the strength and support you cultivated in your practice will resonate in your heart and mind. Right now, let go of the need to control or manipulate the experience of your stillness. Simply let go and just be. Stay here for at least 5 minutes.
About the Author
Kristin Calabria is a Los Angeles–based yoga and fitness instructor currently pursuing her master’s in social work. Learn more at kristincalabria.com.
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