Variety really is the spice of life. And when it comes to our asana practice, variety makes stepping onto our mats every day more interesting and exciting. But it’s also incredibly healthy for our tissues.
Practices like vinyasa allow us to incorporate a variety of movements and positions which stimulate circulation, invite hydration, and strengthen or lengthen different muscle groups. They also improve our coordination. Plus movement variability adds excitement, making us eager to challenge ourselves in new ways.
There are infinite possibilities when it comes to thinking outside the box on your yoga mat. So don’t hesitate to explore whatever your body craves, and just see where it takes you.
Here are six simple but perhaps unfamiliar pose variations to inspire your own asana adventure and to spice up your practice.
Offer your wrists some tender, loving care with this simple spin on these classic shapes.
• Start on all fours in tabletop position. Roughly align your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
• Turn your hands out, so that your fingers point toward the long edges of your mat. Either stay here or continue rotating your hands until your fingers point toward the back of your mat, stopping wherever it feels appropriate for your body. Root down into the heels of your hands and spread your fingers evenly apart.
• As you inhale, tilt your tailbone toward the sky, soften your belly toward the floor, draw your shoulder blades toward each other, and peel your chest open toward the top of your mat. If you’d like, lift your gaze toward the ceiling.
• As you exhale, press firmly down through the heels of your hands to round your back—reaching your tailbone toward the floor, hugging your navel toward your spine, and spreading your shoulder blades apart. If you’d like, tuck your chin toward your chest.
• Continue flowing between cat and cow as you follow your breath. Soften into the release in the back of your wrists as you undulate your spine.
This slight variation of this common posture adds a bit more “heat” to the pose by making the muscles of the forearms, shoulders, and core work extra hard.
• Come into your neutral downward facing dog.
• Actively integrate your core by cinching in around your waistline (think of cinching a drawstring) and drawing your low belly in and up.
• Stabilize your shoulders by plugging your upper arm bones into their sockets and firmly pressing the floor away with your hands.
• Keep all of this activation as you peel your palms away from the floor and rise up onto your fingertips, tenting them.
• Isometrically squeeze all of your fingers into the center of your palms and root down into your fingertips.
• Hold for a few breaths. You could also return to this variation of down dog continuously throughout your practice.
If you’ve practiced one too many “regular” chaturangas in your lifetime, spice up the pose with a little twist.
• Start in a neutral plank with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your feet roughly hip-distance apart. Activate your core and reach back through your heels. Firmly press the floor away with your hands.
• Keeping the stability you created in your plank, roll to the pinky-toe side of your left foot and the big-toe side of your right foot—so that your feet are toe to heel and your pelvis and torso are slightly rotated to face toward the right.
• Maintain the rotation in your torso and inhale as you shift your weight forward slightly; feel your core and quadriceps strongly activate as you lean your shoulders forward past the crease of your wrists (you may need to microbend your elbows to do so).
• As you exhale, bend your elbows straight toward the back of your mat and lower to the chaturanga height that’s appropriate for you. Strive to maintain equal weight in both arms. Note that your left hip will inevitably be lower than your right as you lower in the twist but keep your core active to prevent your hip from simply “drooping” toward the floor.
• Hold for a moment and then firmly press the floor away to rise back up.
• Return to your neutral plank and switch sides.
This variation of lizard pose challenges your balance and forces you to activate your core and legs strongly to create some strength within your hip-opening range of motion.
• Start on all fours with your shoulders aligned roughly over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
• Step your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand. You may wish to elevate your hands on blocks.
• Tuck your left toes under and reach back through your left heel to lift your left knee off the floor. Magnetize your legs toward each other—both front to back and side to side. Lift your left thigh bone as far away from the floor as possible to maintain the strong activation in your back leg.
• Lengthen your spine by reaching your tailbone toward the back of your mat and the crown of your head forward.
• Activate your core by cinching in your waistline and drawing your low belly in and up.
• Squeeze your right thigh against your right arm while at the same time pressing your right arm equally against your right thigh.
• Use this energetic counterbalance to stabilize you and float your left arm off the floor, reaching it straight out to the side of your mat in line with your shoulder.
• Either stay as you are or ever so slightly lower your torso toward the floor in order to slip your right shoulder under your right knee and extend your right arm out to the right.
• Take a few breaths here, and then return to all fours before switching sides.
While this variation of crow pose requires less weight-bearing in the arms, that doesn’t make it much easier. Still utilizing muscular strength against the pull of gravity, supine crow is both challenging and accessible and adds some fun diversity to your arm-balancing repertoire.
• Begin by lying on your back in savasana.
• Bend your knees and hug them in toward your chest.
• Stretch your arms up to the ceiling in line with your shoulders. Bend your wrists so that your palms face the ceiling, and spread your fingers wide.
• Reach your palms upward until your upper back rounds and your shoulder blades wrap toward your armpits.
• Keep your toes touching and spread your knees apart slightly wider than your arms. Draw your knees down the outsides of your arms as close to your armpits as you can. Hug your heels toward your seat.
• Squeeze your inner thighs against your upper arms while at the same time pressing your upper arms equally against your thighs.
• Cinch your waistline in and draw your low belly in and up.
• Keep all of these actions as you lift your head and chest off the floor and round your back more deeply.
• Lengthen the back of your neck so that you can gaze toward your hands or in front of your fingers.
• Hold for a few breaths and then release back down to the floor.
This variation of pigeon pose makes this typically passive posture a little more active.
• Start on all fours.
• Slide your left knee to the outside of your left wrist and shimmy your ankle as close to your right wrist as is comfortable for your body.
• Tuck your right toes under and sneak your right knee back until you can release your hips to a prop or to the floor.
• Release your fingertips to props or your mat, framing your hips.
• Energetically "scissor" your knees toward each other in order to help square your hips forward toward the top of your mat.
• As you inhale, lift and lengthen your spine. Imagine drawing your rib cage up and away from your pelvis.
• As you exhale, spiral your torso toward the right.
• Either stay as you are or draw your palms to meet in front of your heart. Maintain your twist and fold your torso toward the floor. If it’s available, you can hook your left elbow into the arch of your left foot and either keep your elbow floating or release it to the floor. Actively press your palms into each other to deepen your spiral toward the right. Lengthen your spine with every inhale to allow for a little more space in which to rotate with each exhale.
• Hold for a few breaths and then come back to all fours before switching sides.
Get Creative in Your Practice
Do you ever stray from traditional poses? How do you add variety to your practice? What unique movements does your body crave?
Both diversity of movement and creativity are healthy for our bodies and our minds. Stimulate new movement patterns with challenging and unique shapes that your body isn’t necessarily accustomed to holding. Spark creativity in your mind through physical exploration in movement.
If changing up your practice is new to you, don’t be afraid to have fun and be playful. In the process, don’t be surprised to find that both your body and your mind are reaping wonderful benefits.