While the number of breaths in a pose may differ by individual practice, the one thing that all disciplines have in common is that you’re generally stable in each asana. Infusing your yoga practice with Pilates may seem a bit counterintuitive, but the circular motions in Yogalates activate intrinsic muscles that will strengthen your body from the inside, says Kara Thomas, fitness and wellness director, as well as Vinyasa Reformer instructor at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Utilizing these accessory muscles—say moving your leg in concentric circles (eight times forward and eight times back)—doesn’t just perfect your alignment, it also activates your hips and obliques, both of which are essential for good balance.
Position yourself in a modified Half Moon on your right knee. Point the toes and move the entire leg, from the hip, in small circles. Eight circles forward and eight circles back. Create a side leg extension by lifting up, still standing on the knee. It should look like a modified Warrior II. Reach back with your right arm into modified Peaceful Warrior. Repeat on the other side.
From BandzYoga (aka Yoga + Resistance Training)
The physical emphasis in yoga is to push, rather than to pull. After all, you’re trying to ground and stabilize your asanas. Over time, however, you may notice that while your outer hip and triceps muscles are getting stronger, your secondary muscles like glutes, hamstrings, and biceps could use a little TLC. These imbalances can eventually lead to injury and undue stress on joints, says Nathania Stambouli, creator of BandzYoga and owner of Goda Yoga in Culver City, California. To improve your muscular balance so that opposing muscles mirror each other in strength and flexibility, add resistance training to your flow. Using resistance bands activates dormant muscle groups and offers extra luxurious stretches.
Tie a knot in a light or medium resistance band to make it about 1.5 feet wide, upstretched. Place the band around the soles of your feet and position yourself in Downward-Facing Dog. Keeping your arms straight, core engaged and feet flexed, lift your right leg straight back behind you, toes pointed slightly outward. Squeeze your glute at the top of the extension. Shift your shoulders over your wrists into Plank and bring your right knee toward your right tricep (try to touch knee to arm, if you can), contracting your right oblique muscles (side core). Extend the leg back up behind you, contracting the glute and hamstring. Release the right leg back into Downward-Facing Dog. Do 10–20 repetitions, then repeat on the left side.
Chair Pose + Tricep Kickbacks
Traditionally, triceps are engaged through Chaturanga Dandasana. However, the three muscles that make up the triceps are difficult to isolate. Adding triceps moves with weights to your practice will build strength and tone your arms, as well as help stabilize the shoulder and elbow joints, says Chelsea Jasin, Senior Instructor at CorePower Yoga who teaches YogaSculpt in Denver, Colorado. Not only will you have a safer, sturdier Chaturanga Dandasana, you will have more confidence going into (and holding) arm balancing poses.
Place a set of weights (3–5 lbs) at the top of your mat. Start in a forward fold, then grab your weights and inhale to Utkatasana, keeping weights at hip level. Extend arms and weights back, moving through your shoulders to protect elbow joints. Return to starting position, your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees and arms close to the body. Repeat 15 to 20 times.