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New Takes on Old Poses: #YJInfluencers Share Their Favorite Yoga Innovations

Yoga is thousands of years old, but it's also constantly new and changing, as creative teachers discover genius ways to enhance or modify traditional poses. We asked 9 of our #YJInfluencers to share their favorite "new" or innovative pose, why they love it, and explain how to get into what may be a somewhat unfamiliar shape.

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Twee Merrigan, Unsupported Half Moon (Niralamba Ardha Chandrasana)

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The first time I experienced this variation of Half Moon Pose, I was in Simon Borg-Olivier’s Yoga Synergy class in Sydney, Australia. Simon likes to make a clicking sound with his mouth to cue his students that it’s time to transition from one pose to to another. I had never experienced this clicking cueing, nor this captured sense of calm as my arms hovered in space while balancing in Unsupported Half Moon. Sure, I had lifted my supporting bottom arm from a block or the floor before, but this was different. I became one of the the Indian deities carved on the stone temple gates that I had meditated on for hours during my pilgrimages to South India. Feel this sense of beauty, balance, and timeless art within your own practice as you add a lunar quality of the arms to the solar activation needed to balance with such strength and grace. 

Try it:

1. From Tadasana, turn your right foot clockwise to a 45 degree angle. Bend both knees sending energy down into the earth. Feel the rebounding energy coil back up through your right leg. 

2. While shifting more weight into the right foot, keep the center of your knee in line with your middle toe, and above the ankle. Extend your balancing right leg toward straight while lifting your left foot off of the earth. 

3. Using your abductors, lift the left leg straight out to the side wall. Lean your torso to the right side wall. Lift your right arm overhead, bend at the elbow (by your right ear), and let the right hand relax as your fingers dangle by your left ear. 

4. Extend both the left arm and left leg parallel to the earth’s surface, hovering in space with lightning rod activation from heart to fingertips, pelvis to toe tips. 

5. Notice both the lunar and solar qualities of this posture as you hover with ease and steadiness beyond time or space. 

6. Repeat on the left side, turning your foot counterclockwise at a 45 degree angle. 

See also Iyengar 201: Challenge Your Brain & Body with a New Take on Half Moon

Hemalayaa, Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) with Jnana Mudra

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Jordon Anast

Activate your inner superhero by adding magical Jnana Mudra to Warrior II and bring peace, concentration, and spiritual progress to your practice.

Try it:

1. From Downward-Facing Dog, bring your right foot forward between your hands.

2. Press your feet firmly into the ground, as you rise up to Warrior II.

3. Allow your arms to flow a bit … I like movement in the poses to keep the energy moving.

4. Then flow your right arm above your head, keeping your other extended out. Bend both elbows slightly so there are no locks in the joints.

5. Bring your index finger and thumb tips together, and extend the other fingers out.

6. Breathe and enjoy!

See also 5 Self-Awakening and Empowering Mudras and Mantras

Sofiah Thom, Wielding Your Inner Sword in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

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I love Warrior II for the strength and grounded feeling it provides. I feel rooted in my legs and connected to the earth through my hips and pelvis. When I bring my inner sword or tangible dancing sword into this asana, it evokes my inner power and focus, discernment, integrity and truth … all qualities that the sword represents and embodies. When I lift the front foot, it invites grace and brings my awareness into the strength I posses in my legs and core as the dancing warrior.

Try it:

Set-up: Come into Warrior II with the left foot forward to start. From Downward-Facing Dog, step your left foot forward to land between your hands with your toes pointing forward. Shift your right foot so that it is rooted down parallel with the back of your mat, and check that your left heel is in alignment with your right inner arch. Keep your left knee bent at 90 degrees and on an inhale, sweep your right arm above your head and all the way back to take your body upright, while your left arm reaches forward. Arms and fingertips are reaching in opposite directions extending from the heart. Right leg is straight and strong with inner arch lifting. Spine and core are straight and strong. Face forward and breathe deeply. Time to pull out your sword!

1. Set Your Aim. Keeping your gaze fixed on the left hand in Warrior II, flex your wrist so that your fingers begin to reach upward. Lock your gaze on your left middle finger.

2. Draw Your Sword. Turn the palm of your extended right arm face up. Spread your fingers wide, and invite your inner sword of strength, truth, and discernment to be with you. When you are ready, draw your fingers slowly into a fist around the hilt of your sword.

3. Strike! Inhale and rise up onto the toes of your left foot, And as you exhale, swing the sword over your head, visualizing it hovering just above your gaze and left middle finger. You can stay here with your sword drawn, or continue to draw it forward and back with the breath. Take a few moments to be in your power and strength as a true graceful warrior. 

See also #YJ40: 10 Poses Younger Than Yoga Journal

Benjamin Sears, Hands-to-Feet Posture variation (Padahastasana variation)

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Jonas Park

This elevated Padahastasana (Hands-to-Feet Posture) variation uses the challenge of balance to create a better fit of the upper body to the lower body and a cleaner fold. Get up on your toes and over yourself to upgrade your awareness of hip flexion and facilitate low-back decompression, mitigate the potential of hamstring attachment injury, and safely work into the belly of the back of the thighs—the lungs of your legs. A well-executed forward bend has at least two backbends: your hips going up, and a slight arch in your middle back, which brings your lungs to the front of your body. 

Try it:

1. With feet hips-width apart (turn your foot inward until your big toe touches the heel of the other foot as a measure), bend forward, bend your knees to 90 degrees, and lay your body on your legs with your knees and armpits fitting together. Place your hands under your heels, with fingers facing forward.

2. Keep your knees at 90 degrees, inhale, look forward, and pull up on your heels to slightly backbend your upper spine and slide your ribs along your legs, lengthening your back.

3. Exhale, lean forward into the balls of your feet, lift your heels all the way up, lift your hips, and straighten your legs only as much as you can maintain contact between your lower ribs and thighs. This part is crucial—avoid the temptation to straighten your legs, because it is the body-to-legs contact that provides an extension template for your spine. The whole purpose of this variation is learn to fold from your hips, not to push your knees back.

4. As best you can, keep your knees in your armpits, slide your hips up, hollow your belly (like in Uddiyana Bandha), lean forward, and wrap your elbows backward. Continue to explore the balance point, lift hips over your head, and lengthen your back for 5 breaths.

5. On your last exhale, keep your weight forward and bring your heels down. Take 5 more breaths to explore how the elevated-heels variation has up-leveled your awareness in the traditional heels-down Padahastasana.

See also Foundation-Strengthening Hip Openers + Twists

Jackie Smyth, Half Moon variation with a wall (Ardha Chandrasana variation)

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Leaning your weight back into a wall behind you gives your center more power to extend out into your limbs. The gift of the wall allows you the support to take up a little more space in every direction.

Try it:

1. Come into Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) with your front foot parallel and about 6 inches away from the outside edge of your foot. 

2. Gaze a foot forward from your pinky toe, bend your front knee, and on your next inhale, lift into Half Moon Pose.

3. Draw the outer edge of your hip along the wall toward your back foot, giving your torso more space and length to operate. Flex your back foot, and spread through your wingspan.

4. For further opening, press the back of your top hand into the wall above you- which allows your torso to revolve further.

5. Come out via Triangle, which feels yummy and expansive with the wall as well.

See also 8 Ways (Besides Handstand) to Use a Wall in Your Yoga Practice

Meredith Cameron, Top of Ankle Lunge

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The purpose of this Lunge is to teach us how to use our legs. Using the legs is oddly difficult. In Taoism, the lower body is considered unconscious until (and if) we wake it up. Once the lower body begins to awake, we are supported with our physical roots and we can allow the upper body to stop working so dang much (giving our organs some much-needed relief!).

Try it:

Front leg: Set up the lunge so the front foot is used fully (in my classes, we find four points of the foot and become aware of which parts of the foot are sleepy and which parts are used too much, as we always go for efficiency in yoga stability). The knee over the ankle provides a 90 degree angle.

Back leg: The top of the ankle is firmly pressed into the floor. From there, lift up and out of yourself without losing that 90 degree angle in the front leg. It’s hard, so no need to throw your hands in the air just yet. If you can only get a tiny bit off the ground, perfecto! This is how we also teach ourselves our physical boundaries and then we have a place to work from with intelligence.

Why? The top of the ankle, in Taoism, in connected to the front of the pelvis. So if it’s hard to nail down the top of that ankle, is the psoas or front of hip not easily available? Connecting the dots makes so much sense! The heel of the foot is connected to the back of the pelvis. Work both feet so you are getting OUT of the lower back and hips and giving freedom to the entire upper body. We want to go up, up, up! The bigger the backbend (and I also say “personal” backbend, because the word backbend can be scary), the more we MUST let the legs support us! Let ‘dem legs do the work!

See also Taoist Philosophy 101: The Meaning of Yin and Yang

Lauren Eckstrom, Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) Adjustment with a Partner

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This is a nice variation of Seated Forward Bend for couples or friends who practice together. The person providing the adjustment also receives the benefit of a shoulder stretch, backbend, and front body opening.

Try it: 

1. One partner comes into Seated Forward Bend and takes several breaths.

2. The second partner walks behind the seated partner and places their feet sitting-bones distance apart, 6-12 inches away from the sitting bones of the student.

3. The second partner squats and rests their back onto the first partner’s back, aligning  sacrum to sacrum. The second partner may find that they need to walk their feet forward for proper length and stability; this will vary depending on the height of each person. 

4. The second partner reaches overhead and grasps the first partner’s feet with their hands.

5. Stay for 8-10 breaths

6. If you’re a yoga teacher, as always, be sensitive with assists and adjustments. Stay attuned to the student, always being sure to never provide pressure that pushes them or interferes with the quality of their breath or appropriate range of motion.

This posture is from the forthcoming book A Journey into Yin Yoga by Travis Eliot, due out May 12th with a foreword by Tiffany Cruikshank. You can preorder the book here.

Erica Mather, Turbo Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana variation)

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Turbo Dog, a Forrest Yoga pose, is basically Downward-Facing Dog with bent elbows. For people who have very flexible shoulders, with straight arms it can be hard to access the chest muscles, lats, and serratus anterior (the muscle that pulls your shoulder blades away from the spine) in Down Dog. We end up just “hanging” in our armpits. I love how Turbo Dog has helped me to turn on these muscles to stabilize my shoulders in Down Dog, as well as in arm balances and inversions. Additionally, it helps me to access the entire front body, engaging my core all the way to the pubic bone. The hallmark feeling is neck lengthening.

Try it:

1. From hands and knees, set up with hands slightly ahead of the shoulders. 

2. Bend elbows straight back, and halfway toward the floor, not by “bowing” but instead by mobilizing your shoulder blades.

3. Inhale and widen your upper back, sliding your shoulder blades toward your armpits. Exhale and reach your upper arms down. 

4. Inhale to prepare. Exhale, straighten legs and shift your chest back toward your thighs as you would in Downward-Facing Dog, but your elbows remain bent

5. Inhale, press your hands into the floor. Exhale, reach your upper arms down, and squeeze your elbows toward one another lightly, engaging your pecs.

See also Forrest Yoga: 6 Tips for Women Trying to Conceive

Laura Burkhart, Downward-Facing Dog Variation (Adho Mukha Svanasana variation)

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I love this variation because it spices up an ordinary Downward-Facing Dog while opening up the hips. It’s a great way to warm up the body and prepare for deeper hip openers and backbends.

Try it:

1. Make your way into Downward-Facing Dog.

2. Pull your right knee to your chest, and rotate your right shin so it’s parallel with the front edge of your mat.

3. Slightly bend your left knee and keep it bent as you flex your right foot and place your right ankle above your left knee.

4. 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.

5. Hold for 3 breaths, and then repeat on the opposite side.

See also 4 Steps to Master Adho Mukha Svanasana