If a vigorous aerobic workout combined with stretching sounds appealing, then Ashtanga yoga may be your practice of choice. Like other types of yoga, Ashtanga can lead to increased flexibility and mental calmness, and this “power yoga” style can help you build muscle and tone trouble spots. Talk about a win-win!
Best Warm-Up Poses
Always warm up before beginning your practice; many practitioners turn to the Sun Salutation sequence for this. Focus on key poses such as Downward- and Upward-Facing Dog. One of the most widely recognized postures, “Down Dog” stretches your shoulders, hamstrings and calves. “Up Dog,” its counter posture, opens your chest and improves your posture -- and simply sitting up straighter elongates your body and makes you appear slimmer. If you’re coveting Michelle Obama’s toned arms -- and who isn’t? -- then a lowered pushup -- Four-Limbed Staff pose -- should be your go-to pose. While engaging your arms and wrists, this signature pose also engages your triceps and can lead to sleek shoulders.
Best Beginner Poses
The Ashtanaga Yoga practice boasts six beginner-friendly asanas, and instructors are quick to tout the benefits of these stretching poses. "Big Toe pose (Padangushthasana) builds stability in the standing leg from the foot up through the hip while also stretching the hamstring of the extended leg,” explains Jen DeCurtins, an NASM-certified personal trainer, certified group fitness instructor and 200-hour registered yoga instructor. Another favorite is Wide-Stance Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana), which helps to strengthen and stretch those hard-to-reach inner and back-leg areas. Plus, DeCurtins adds, “It’s one of the most restorative yoga poses that you can do.”
Best Intermediate Poses
Ready to take your practice to the next level? Try postures such as Noose (Pashasana), Bow (Dhanurasana) and Bridge (Setu Bahanda Sarvangasana). A full-body twist, Noose works to alleviate mild back, shoulder and neck tension. Bow pose engages the entire front section of your body, and it also tones back muscles, so you can rock that hot dress with confidence. Finally, DeCurtins recommends Bridge. “It’s both a backbend and inversion, and its benefits include spinal strengthening and chest and upper thoracic opening.”
Best Advanced Poses
Advanced yogis, say hello to three favorite poses that will fire up your practice -- and your muscles: Side Plank (Vasishthasana), Two-Legged Inverted Stick (Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana) and Intense Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana). Also known as the One-Arm Balance, Side Plank promises to engage your arms, core and legs while it improves your sense of balance. Two-Legged Inverted Stick stretches your entire front and opens your chest; and Intense Forward Fold calms your brain and stretches your spine, shoulders and hamstrings. “Forward folding is the counter pose to backbending and one of the most restorative yoga poses that you can do,” explains DeCurtins. “It is deeply calming for the body and mind. The posture stretches not only the hamstrings, but also the entire spine and relieves tension and tightness in the low back.”
Carrie Stevens holds a Bachelor of Arts in writing and rhetoric. She served as editor-in-chief of her college newspaper and has worked with ESPN and Rodale, Inc. Stevens writes for "Pilates Style" magazine and various online publications.