10 Insanely Challenging Yoga Poses That Will Build Serious Strength
There’s no shortage of hard yoga pose #inspo on the net these days. But what if you’re actually inspired to try one yourself? Where would you even start? Megan Hochheimer, founder of US-based Karma Yoga Fitness, who frequently posts her own impressive “physics experiments” (her words), shares the benefits of pushing the boundaries of your practice, the requirements for nailing next-level poses, and of course, 10 hard yoga poses to set your sights on along with some pro tips. (Note that many of these tricky poses have a variety of names; the ones included here are what Hochheimer calls them.)
First and foremost, have fun with it: “Where else can you be a grown-up and get to be barefoot and roll around on the floor and breathe as loud as you want? In your yoga practice, all those things are welcomed, so there’s no reason why some of these tricky poses can’t be a fun adventure.”
The Benefits of Hard Yoga Poses
You’ll learn more about your practice.
“Sometimes I’ll see something in a picture and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, definitely I could do that.’ But then I end up laughing at myself because there’s no way,” says Hochheimer. On the flip side, with good prep work and practice, she’s nailed poses she never thought she’d be capable of. “It’s cool to find where those nuances are in your own body. That self-study is something that is so encouraged in yoga.”
You’ll hone functional strength.
“When you build that strength to get up and down off the ground, balance on one foot or balance on your hands, you’re honing those parts of your physicality that are going to help make all the rest of your activities of daily living so much more enjoyable,” says Hochheimer.
You’ll finesse your proprioception.
Other perks include working on your proprioception which, when dull, can lead to balance issues. “In most of these tricky poses there is this element of balance, whether one knee is on the ground, one foot is on the ground, you’re arm balancing, or you’re in an inversion,” explains Hochheimer. “When you start to build that, you’re building concentration and proprioception.”
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The Hard Yoga Pose Prerequisites
Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously.
Some poses could take years to master while you may be able to do others right away. “What’s really important is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously about any of it,” says Hochheimer. “If you’re going to approach this in a really competitive way, sometimes that invites injury. Whereas if you approach it in a playful way, and just stay with yourself through the process, I think that it’s a very healthy exploration.”
Bail Like A Kid.
Know this: You’re going to fall out of arm balances and inversions. “All of us who have learned how to do them fall in one way or another, so the more you can understand your body mechanics and how you do that, the safer you can be when you do have to bail.” When you’re a little kid, you’re riding your bike, you fall off, you roll into the grass and you’re not hurt that badly. So, before attempting any of these poses, just do some cartwheels and rolls on the ground to get back in touch with that part of yourself and practice safely falling.
Really, Really Warm Up.
The better you warm up, the better you’ll be able to get into these poses. And not for nothing, Hochheimer notes that they’ll look more aesthetically pleasing to boot. A 10-minute vigorous flow should get your heart rate up and muscles warm, but be sure to specifically target the areas you’ll use in each pose as well.
Take Videos or Photos.
“Sometimes in my head, I thought things were going to look one way, but then they look a different way in a picture or video,” Hochheimer says. “Viewing them afterwards helps me to make tiny adjustments or understand that I need to do my homework and develop more triceps strength with decline push-ups, or foam roll, or whatever it is. That helps you learn because you’re not just then repetitively going back into these patterns of failure.”
Practice—And Consider Pro Help.
Remember: These are hard yoga poses! “With all yoga, a lot of it is practice so just keep coming back to it,” advises Hochheimer. Working with an experienced teacher can help you to more safely and quickly nail them.
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1. Camel Variation
Expert Tip: Camel Pose is such a great opening of the front of our body that sometimes gets tight with a lot of our more strenuous Vinyasa. The arm variation here is a big shoulder stretch. Be sure to warm up your shoulders extra well before trying it.
READ MORE: These Are The 4 Best Yoga Moves For A Toned Tummy
2. Peacock Pose
Expert Tip: Remember that your legs are just as strong when you get upside down as they were when you were standing on them – keep them super active in this pose.
3. Tripod Headstand Variation
Expert Tip: Work on your scapular mobility before you try this one. To do so, hold a yoga block overhead between the hands at its widest angle. With straight arms, try to “push” the block towards the ceiling without shrugging your shoulders up around your ears. As you “pull” the block back down, don’t bend the elbows but do use the back muscles to create the sensation of the pull. Keeping squeezing the block between the hands through both phases of the movement. Repeat several times for scapular mobilisation.
4. Baby Grasshopper
Expert Tip: Sit on the floor with the right leg extending out in front. Step the left foot over the right leg and twist the torso to the right so that both hands come to the floor in line with the left foot. Press into the hands and bend elbows into chaturanga (upper arm parallel to the floor). Practise engaging the inner thigh to lift the right leg up (or use a block under the right hip to get lift-off). Lean towards the right inner arm and use core muscles to hold the body still as the left-hand grabs the right big toe.
5. Eight-Angle Pose
Expert Tip: This one grows out of that Baby Grasshopper. Work on your Chaturanga or tricep push-ups as prep work and focus on squeezing your inner thighs in the pose.
6. Baby Crow Pose
Expert Tip: If there’s a pose here to try first, it’s this one. It’s deceptively tricky-looking, but not as hard for most people to accomplish. It’s almost like a flying Child’s Pose. Start in a forearm plank, then walk your feet a little wider and start to tippy-toe in until you feel your knees touch the backs of your arms. Then, come into a Cat spine, look forward, and shift your weight forward.
7. Split Pose Variation
Expert Tip: Work on hamstring, quad, and hip flexor mobility before attempting this pose. You could try Pigeon Pose and half splits with blocks.
8. Side Plank With Big Toe Grab
Expert Tip: Here, you’re working internal rotation of one leg, external rotation of the other, core strength, and balance. The prep for balancing in this pose can be found in the Pose of Infinity: Lay on your right side with a yoga strap in your left hand. Rest your head on your right hand or arm. Extend both legs and try to keep the body in a straight line. Reach down and pull the left foot into the strap. Slowly extend the left leg up towards the ceiling. Use the strap in your left hand to control the stretch and hold the left foot up and focus on keeping the torso and right leg stable (try to limit the wobble forward and back). Repeat on the other side.
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9. Bound Forward Fold
Expert Tip: This one goes in the family of the Kneeling Compass (and it’s a prep for Bird of Paradise). The difference is that this one requires a bind, which means you’re taking double internal rotation of your shoulders. Use a strap in your hands as they come across your back to make it more accessible.
10. Flying Split (Eka Pada Koundinyasana)
Expert Tip: This balance-challenging pose is a partner to Kneeling Compass because it requires the same joint actions, hamstring flexibility, and external rotation of the top leg, internal rotation of the bottom leg. Work on your Chaturanga or tricep push-ups as prep work.
*Words: Caitlin Carlson
*This article was first published on Women’s Health US.
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