Yoga is widely known for being a relaxing way to improve flexibility and strength. It is also known for some rather incredible looking postures! These pretzel-like contortions and arm balances reminiscent of something from Cirque du Soleil leave many in awe, some mystified and most saying 'No Way!' But all wonder... 'maybe... maybe... what if I could?'
What if YOU could? Why not try?
A challenge pose doesn't have to be Scorpion or Crane to be a challenge pose. All it has to be is something you haven't tried yet! "I love a good challenge," said our featured Namaste Yogini Abbey Reeves. "I love pushing myself to see what I can do next!" Should you consider adding challenge poses to your practice? Here are a few reasons why you should consider it.
Refresh Your Yoga Practice Perhaps you've been practicing for a while and the routines you know and love are beginning to feel a bit stale. A challenge pose can liven things up!
Increase Strength and Flexibility By working the body in a new way, you may improve strength and flexibility while endeavoring to attain this new posture. In doing so, you may be able to target muscle groups you haven't with your regular routine. This not only helps you with your new challenge – you may find your approach to your usual sequences has improved too.
Enhance Mental Focus Learning a new yoga pose takes study and concentration. Remember the focus it took when you first started practicing? If you've gotten a little too comfortable, you don't have to concentrate as intently on what you are doing to execute your routine. A challenge pose can shake things up just enough to bring your attention back to center.
Satisfaction You know the feeling when you accomplish something you didn't know you could. As Abbey shared "I look at a picture and say to myself 'I can do that' or 'I want to do that!' Then I do it and the feeling is unbelievable!" Who couldn't use a little unbelievable?
Now that you're thinking about adding a challenge pose to your practice, how do you decide which pose is right for you? There are an infinite number of poses to choose from! Perhaps the best way to start is to decide on an area of personal improvement you would like to pursue with this new venture. Here are a few types of challenges to help guide you.
Strength Challenge Do a quick assessment of your physical strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your arms are the weakest part of your body; so working on arm balances may be the perfect way to challenge yourself! Weak core? Plank poses, headstands and/or side arm balances might be the way to go.
Confidence Challenge If you're having trouble seeing your own personal strengths, a confidence challenge may be just what you need! Choose a pose that will accentuate a current strength to enhance your self-esteem and remind you of all the great things you can do. Are you very flexible? Try the King Pigeon poses. Great balance? Go for an advanced Warrior position! "It goes back to finding both emotional and physical strength you never knew you had," Abbey said, "which in turn gives you confidence."
Radiance Challenge Yoga is bliss! This challenge is just for fun. Choose a pose that makes you happy! Choose one that you think looks beautiful like Dancer's Pose or the Wild Thing, or jubilant like a Head Stand. Once you learn it, you will feel that beautiful and joyous! Woo Hoo! You will be radiant beyond measure.
Retro Challenge When you were younger, could you do a Backbend? How about a Split? Then you got older and busy with other things and stopped practicing those postures and the old saying proved true: Use It or Lose It. Is it time to get it back? You're never too old. Reclaim your youth!
You're convinced, right? Now, how to begin to add a new pose to your practice? Using same mindset you approach the rest of your practice: with thought, care and caution.
Research the Pose There are many great resources to draw from. Check out our Namaste Yoga episode guides, resources like Yoga Journal's Poses section, or consider picking up a book like Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff to get detailed information about your new posture and some precautionary advice as well.
Work Up To It Practice any poses that allow you to work up to your challenge pose. Get comfortable with them first, then attempt your goal. For example, if your goal pose is our Riding the Wind pose, you might focus first on Tree pose with the foot placed against the opposite calf, working up to placing the foot against the opposite thigh. To get the flexibility, use Swan and Head to Knee postures.
Talk to Another Yogi Find someone who has attained the posture you are working towards and see what advice they have for you. You might also find someone who is working on the same posture and see what they've learned in their practice that might help you. Our Facebook Wall is a great place to meet yogis of all different levels of experience!
Our last tip comes from Abbey: "Understand that they are all so much easier than they actually look! Don't be afraid of them, love them and practice! Nothing is impossible, just be careful and don't hurt yourself!"
Are you ready to begin working on your own yoga challenge? What yoga pose is your biggest challenge right now?