Yoga requires a great deal of mental and physical strength.
When I first began practicing yoga, I was weak. My arms would shake and I would collapse to the ground in any attempt at Chaturunga (aka low push-up). My Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) was wobbly and I struggled to hold the pose.
Over time I did gain strength, but it was never enough to make me feel truly comfortable in a fast-moving Vinyasa class. I would often find myself removed from the moment, frustrated at my inability to move in a way that felt good to my body.
My fitness journey eventually led me to the gym where I began strength training. This was when something magical began to happen in my yoga practice. As I grew stronger, I was able to move through the poses with more grace and ease, and my attention shifted from my thoughts to my breath. My practice really opened up for me.
I came to realize that yoga is not about some ultimate expression of a pose, or being able to do the fanciest arm balances. It is about connecting the body and the mind. As my body grew stronger, so did my focus. I left my thoughts and worries at the door, got on my mat, and moved.
Even if I don't make it to a yoga class, I like to spend time each day on the following exercises to help keep my body strong and limber. The entire sequence takes about 10-15 minutes, and will leave you feeling nice and strong, without feeling depleted.
Begin in Plank Pose with your palms flat on the ground and just underneath your shoulders. Keeping your tailbone lengthened, so that there is no arch in the low back, inhale and bend your elbows straight back by your ribs.
Lower down as far as you can go without arching your back or letting your chest or hips sag, then exhale as you push up.
Repeat 10 times, up to 3 sets.
Modified Chaturanga Push-Ups
If you struggle with Chaturanga, then this is variation is the move for you until you build up enough upper body and core strength.
Start on hands and knees and like the more advanced exercise above, keep your tailbone lengthened and shoulders stacked over the wrists.
Inhale, and bend your elbows straight back by your ribs and lower down without arching your back or letting your chest sag, then exhale as you push back up.
Repeat 10 times, up to 3 sets and stay on your knees until you feel strong enough to elevate them.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) With Leg Lift
Some people have a very hard time activating their glutes (aka butt muscles) and tend to let their quads do all of the work. This can lead to imbalances and will make for especially tiring Chair Pose (Utkatasana).
Lay on your back with knees bent and hands and feet flat on the ground. Lift your pelvis up and press through the soles of your feet onto your mat. Squeeze your butt muscles like your life depended on it, and push energetically through your heels.
Lift your right leg up towards the sky on an inhale. Exhale, and lower the straightened leg down toward the mat. Inhale as you lift back up.
Repeat 15 times, up to 3 sets. Switch sides.
Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
The mother of all core and upper body strength poses. It took me years to overcome the fear of falling, but once I finally did it, I became an inversion junkie.
Handstand builds an incredible amount of strength in your arms, shoulders and core, and requires a great deal of balance and focus.
Begin in Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) with your hands facing a wall. Keeping your hips elevated, walk your feet as far in toward your hands for a shorter Down Dog.
Lift your right leg toward the sky, keeping it straight. Bend through your left knee, and begin to take hops until eventually both feet come up towards the sky. If you're unable to fully invert, continue taking hops until you build up enough strength over time.
Once inverted, rest the heels on the wall behind you, squeeze your inner thighs together, engage your core, and push strongly through your hands.
Hold for about 30 seconds if you can, working up to a full minute.
Lower down one foot at a time and rest in Child's Pose (Balasana).
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Danurasana)
Wheel Pose creates openness and mobility in the shoulders and thoracic spine, which is especially important in today's world of being hunched over computers and laptops.
Begin by laying flat on your back with your knees no wider than hips-width distance apart. Bring your hands to the ground by the sides of your head with your fingertips facing your shoulders.
Inhale to lift up and come onto the crown of your head. Pause there, and draw your elbows in towards each other, then exhale as you push up into full Wheel.
Hold for as long as you can, up to 30 seconds and breathe deeply.
Repeat up to three times.
Urdhva Danurasana Push-Ups
I sometimes refer to this exercise as "The Exorcist."
Once you're comfortable with full Wheel Pose in your practice, inhale and bend through your elbows, lowering the crown of your head down toward the ground.
Exhale to push back up, straightening the arms. For some added fun, you can stick out your tongue and take a Lion's Breath.
Repeat the push-ups 10 times if you can, up to 3 sets.
Photos courtesy of the author