Master Baptiste Yoga teacher Leah Cullis, who will lead Yoga Journal’s upcoming online course Pillars of Power Yoga (sign up here to be the first to know when this fitness- and focus-boosting course launches), presents 8 poses to help you set your focus for the year ahead.
Instead of setting New Year’s resolutions, I like to set my intention for the coming year. Setting an intention is like throwing out your energetic aim or clarifying your focus both on and off the mat. Take off the pressure of making something happen, and instead use your intention as your Northern Star, gently lighting your path and guiding your way. When you start to wander, look up to your higher intention and integrate purpose into your next step.
Your yoga practice can be a vehicle for realizing your intention. The poses are containers for energy, so when you set an intention at the start of your practice, each posture becomes an opportunity to align with and bring to life what is most important to you. When you infuse your intention into each breath, every breath becomes an opportunity to purposefully move your life in the direction you want it to go.
The following 8 poses will support you in harnessing your energy to fuel your intentions. You can practice them together as one sequence (remember to do both sides) or add these poses individually into your practice to awaken the energy of your intentions. I recommend starting with 3–5 rounds of Sun Salutation A and Sun Salutation B.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose, which awakens the connection between the breath and body, is an opportunity to infuse your intention into every breath. If you ever feel disconnected from your breath or your intention, pause, take Child’s Pose, and re-establish your purpose.
Bring your big toes to touch at the back of your mat and spread your knees as wide as the edges of your mat. Drop your hips back to your heels, reach your arms forward, spread your fingers, and anchor your knuckles into the mat. Touch your forehead to the ground, drop the weight of your head, and allow your shoulders to soften. Stay here for 5 breaths or more.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Warrior II creates dynamic expansion through the whole body. With focused gaze, this pose teaches you how to hone your power of concentration and streamline your power into a single ray.
From Downward-Facing Dog, step one foot forward to the top of the mat and dial your other heel to the earth. Press the outer edge of your back foot into the mat and lift your inner arch, as you stack your front knee at a 90-degree angle. With your inhale, lift up and open your chest over your hips and spread your arms wide. Lengthen your tailbone toward the ground and lift your low belly. Spread your fingers and set your gaze over your front middle finger. Breathe deeply as you beam your attention to a single focal point. Feel your body light up with life force as you concentrate. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
High Lunge, Crescent Variation
Crescent Lunge is a full-body pose that trains all the muscles to work as one unit and helps you set your gaze forward.
Ground down into all four corners of your front foot and stack your back heel over the ball of your back foot. Draw in from skin to muscle and muscle to bone. Bend your front knee to 90 degrees and align your front knee over your ankle. Hug your inner thighs toward one another and square both hips to the front of the mat. Lift your low belly and scissor your inner thighs in toward your centerline. Lift your arms and chest high. Set your gaze forward at the horizon line, settle into your space, and take 5–10 balanced breaths.
Crow Pose (Bakasana)
Crow is an upper-body and core strengthener that awakens balance and lightness. Setting your drishti, or gaze, helps you access both the pose and your personal power.
From Downward-Facing Dog, walk your feet up toward your hands. Separate your hands on the floor shoulder-distance apart or wider and bend your elbows. Keep your tail high and hug your knees up high against the backs of your arms. Keep your drishti forward in front of your fingers as you shift your weight forward and start to lift your feet. Your drishti helps you to stabilize and access the lift through your core; from your vision, you start to access and embody your power. Press the inner arches of your feet together and awaken your toes to ignite the power line up to your core. Take flight! Hold for 5–10 breaths. Jump or step back to Chaturanga, then move through Upward-Facing Dog and Downward-Facing Dog, or simply step back to Downward-Facing Dog.
Lord of the Dance Pose (Natarajasana)
Lord of the Dance teaches us how to be grounded and stable, while gaining strength, balance, and poise. As you come into the pose, set your vision on one point and remember your intention.
Come to a standing position. Anchor into your standing foot and press down into all four corners. Bend your other knee and catch the inner arch of your other foot with your hand, thumb facing up and shoulder open. Reach your opposite arm to the sky. Tilt your tailbone down toward the ground and lift your low belly up and in to stabilize at your core. Hug both knees toward your centerline, and with your inhale, kick your lifted shin behind you. As you lift and power up your pose, cultivate a balance of effort and ease. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Tree Pose opens up space within you and invites your intention to take root.
Standing at the top of your mat, ground down through all four corners of one foot, and lift your opposite foot to the inner thigh of your standing leg. To modify, you can bring your lifted foot to your calf or even rest your toes to the ground and your heel against your standing ankle. Stabilize your center by pulling your belly button in and up and descend your tailbone toward the earth. Bring your palms to Prayer Position at heart center and bring your intention back to the forefront of your mind. Draw your upper arm bones back and broaden across your chest. With steady, rhythmic breath, lift your gaze high and lift your arms as if they were branches. Hold for 5–10 purposeful breaths.
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
This belly backbend is an amazing opener for the chest, shoulders, hips, and thighs. Create the balance of effort and ease—not pushing too hard or holding back—so you can access the full benefits of your intentional breath. Our personal power is always greatest when we cultivate balanced action from within.
Lie down on your stomach with your forehead on the mat. Bend your knees and catch the tops of your feet. Hug your knees in to hip-width. With your inhale, kick your shins back and lift your chest with the power from your legs. Press your outer shins in toward your centerline and spread your toes. Breathe deeply and allow your chest to open. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
Boat Pose strengthens and tones the core as you lift your vision and creates whole-body integration and balance.
Sit up straight, lift your legs off the floor, and balance on your seat. Hook your hands behind your knees and lift your heels to knee level or extend your heels toward the sky. Activate your feet, pressing the inner arches together and spreading your toes. Extend your hands forward and spread your fingers open. Draw your upper arm bones back, open across your chest, and lift your heart high. Tap into your core strength, lift your vision, and enjoy 5–10 breaths.