In the yoga tradition, there is always a balance: A mixture of two opposites. The word hatha, as in hatha yoga, is a combination of the words ha (the sun) and tha (the moon). To represent the opposites of day and night, hot and cold, light and dark, or yin and yang.
As yoga practitioners in this day and age, we typically strive to create a balance between strength and flexibility. Some yogis come to the mat with both, but they typically lean in one direction or the other—either wanting more strength or more flexibility. So for those who are looking to build some muscle, earn some yang points, or just balance out their flexibility, here are five yoga poses for building total-body strength. These hardcore strength moves will tone you up and make you stronger from the inside out.
Sanskrit: High Chaturanga
Benefits: This classic pose transcends yoga because many other fitness modalities incorporate it as well. Plank is great for building core strength and arm strength. It also prepares you for more advanced poses like arm balances.
Step by Step: Start on all fours. Stack your hands under your shoulders. Then step both feet back so you are balancing on the balls of the feet with your heels lifted. Draw your navel inward and firm up the front of the body. Keep your core and upper thighs engaged. Hold for 10 breaths.
Sanskrit: Vasisthasana variation
Benefits: This variation of Vasisthasana tones up the arms, legs, and sides of the core while saving your wrists from the pressure of a typical Plank. It also improves balance, focus, and concentration.
Step by Step: Start on your hands and knees. Bring your right forearm down to the mat and line your elbow underneath your shoulder. Step both feet back until the legs are fully extended. Then come onto the outer edge of your right foot, stack your left foot on top of your right foot, and lift your hips off the mat so your whole body is in a long line. Extend your left arm overhead and hold, but make sure you’re breathing! After 10 breaths, gently lower your hips down to the mat and switch sides.
For bonus points, scoop your left arm underneath your torso and then lift it back up 10 times, with hips lifted off the mat the whole time.
Benefits: This pose tones the legs, abs, and arms. Utkatasana is a sneaky pose because it can be easy to hold for a couple breaths, but you can really feel the burn, the longer you hold.
Step by Step: Start standing in Tadasana (Mountain pose). Bend your knees and sit back as if you were sitting into a chair. Extend your arms overhead and turn your palms toward each other. Draw your navel in and up to activate your abs; then relax your shoulders down and back. Hold for 20 breaths. Try a few rounds to really build up the heat.
Sanskrit: Utthita Parsvakonasana
Benefits: Traditional Side Angle fires your leg muscles as well as the side and front of the core—but the Warrior variation also engages the arms for an even stronger workout.
Step by Step: Begin in Warrior II pose with the right foot forward and right knee bent. Bring your right elbow to rest on your right thigh and engage the leg muscles to keep you steady. Extend your left arm forward so it reaches in the direction of your right toes. Activate your core and slowly extend your right arm straight out in front of you, so the chest is hovering above the right thigh. Imagine you’re holding a big beach ball above your head and turn your palms to face one another. Hold for 10 breaths. Then release the arms and switch sides.
Sanskrit: Virabhadrasana III
Benefits: This one-legged balance is great for building strength in all the little muscles around the ankles, but it also recruits larger muscles like the abs, thighs, and glutes to help stabilize your body in this position.
Step by Step: Stand in Mountain pose. Bring your hands together in Prayer mudra in front of your chest to focus your balance. Bend your left knee slightly, and extend your right leg behind you with the toes pointed down. Slowly extend the arms forward and separate the hands with the palms facing into one another. Reach forward with the hands and the crown of the head while reaching back with the ball of the right foot. Hold for 10 breaths and switch sides.
Strength can be developed in any body type with the right yoga practice. Incorporate these poses into yours to build strength and give yourself the confidence to execute challenging poses later.