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Students and teachers constantly ask me how to sequence intelligently to make challenging poses more accessible. The answer is simple: Look for the key actions and shapes within the “impossible” pose. Even the biggest and baddest of asanas have actions that can be mastered by all levels of practitioners. If you can teach them to your students (or yourself) in a different relationship to gravity, you’ll be in the fast lane to achieving your challenge pose.
Let’s try this with a Handstand variation—one leg in full Handstand with the second leg extending parallel to the ground. This take on Handstand requires core and pelvis awareness, with a stable shoulder base. Practice the following traditional poses that mimic the shape and actions of our challenge pose to get you on track for the full experience.
Supta Padangusthasana, variation
Traditionally for this pose, you would bend your knee into your chest, hook your big toe, and extend the leg, but let’s make a few adjustments to work the actions of Handstand.
Lie on your back with your legs straight. Extend your arms overhead shoulder-width apart, rotating your upper outer arms in to neutralize your shoulders. Corset your ribcage (it’s a wrapping action as if your ribs were made out of ribbons and you were tying them together). Animate both of your legs and slowly draw the left one straight up toward the ceiling to stack above your pelvis. Keep your leg internally rotated, and either extend through the ball of your foot or flex (it’s totally your choice). Keep the same action in your other foot. Slowly lower the leg back to the ground (Full Handstand shape), and then repeat with your right leg. Do 10 reps per leg.
Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana, variation
The traditional entry to this pose encourages people to bend their knee into their chest, hook the big toe and then extend (it’s also much more forgiving on the hip flexor). Sadly, that’s not our game plan here. We’re going to up the challenge game and go hands-free.
Begin standing with your arms reaching overhead shoulder-width apart, palms flexed toward the ceiling, and upper outer arms firming in. Keep your core engaged as you did in the first posture, by a slight lift of your lower belly and corseting of your ribs. Keeping your left leg straight, begin to lift it, ideally working toward parallel to the ground. Drop your outer left hip slightly and firm your outer right hip in. Either flex your left foot or extend through the ball. Hold for 2–5 breaths and then lower the leg. Repeat on the second side.
Start standing with your palms together in front of your heart. Hinging at your hips, shift your torso forward, parallel to the ground, as your left leg simultaneously elevates behind you, parallel to the ground. Flex your left foot rolling the pinky edge down to help you square off your hips and encourage the internal rotation of your lifted leg. Once the leg is set, you can keep the foot flexed or choose to extend through the ball. Press your palms forward to straighten your arms, separating them shoulder-width apart. Keep your gaze forward toward your hands without putting pressure in the back of your neck. Final touch: flex your palms and take 8 breaths. Repeat on the second side.
Come into Downward-Facing Dog with your heels touching the baseboard of a wall. Lift one foot and press it into the wall to lift your second foot and follow suit. Straighten your legs so that you create a half-box shape with your shoulders over the heels of your hands and your legs in line with your hips. Keep the outer arms firming in and your corset solid, as you slowly extend your left leg straight up into the air (realize that as this leg lifts higher, your corset will want to pop open). Flex or point the foot keeping the leg externally rotated. Take 5–8 breaths and then repeat with the second leg. Bend both of your knees and place one foot down onto the ground at a time to exit safely.
See alsoChallenge Pose: Handstand