Library of Yoga Poses for Intermediate Learners

Woman doing half moon pose
Ann Pizer
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Are you starting to feel a little too comfortable with the beginner yoga poses that you have learned so far? Then it's probably time to incorporate some intermediate postures into your repertoire.

You may find some of these poses quite easy and others nearly impossible. But keep in mind that "intermediate" is a category with very fluid borders, so don't get discouraged. Yoga is a process and there are no deadlines. You have a lifetime to improve your strength and flexibility.

Standing Poses

At the intermediate level, standing poses begin to incorporate a lot more balancing and twisting, as well as building on the quad strength and hamstring flexibility you've been working on in more beginner poses.

The key to standing postures is to start slow and concentrate on your breathing before progressing to more advanced intermediate stances like Revolved Triangle Pose or Warrior III.

Awkward Chair Pose (Utkatasana)

Chair Pose is essentially a standing squat that engages your buttocks, hips, and thighs. It also requires core engagement to hold you steady as you test your balance. This pose is considered to be a functional exercise that can help you perform everyday tasks, particularly sitting down and getting up from an actual chair. Good alignment is key to performing the pose correctly.

Eagle Pose (Garudasana)

Eagle Pose strengthens your calves, ankles, thighs, and hips. It requires core engagement and focus and is a great shoulder stretch. Many people find that this pose is beneficial for releasing shoulder strain from sitting at a computer or desk. Others find that it can be helpful for lower back pain and relief from sciatica.

Try these modifications if you're still working on your balance and flexibility:

  • Lean against a wall to help keep you stable.
  • As an alternative to hooking the foot around the calf, try resting the toes on the floor like a kickstand, which can also help you to stay upright.

Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana)

Extended Side Angle stretches the chest and shoulders and strengthens the legs, hips, and hamstrings. It also provides a side-body stretch.

You can use it to prepare for variations such as Bound Side Angle Pose (Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana) by bringing your lifted arm behind your back and reaching to the inside of your front thigh for a half bind. To enter a full bind, lift the other hand off the floor to clasp both hands beneath your front thigh.

Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)

Half Moon is a challenging balancing posture that strengthens the ankles and thighs and provides a stretch for the hamstrings. You will also build core strength as you work on your balance. To avoid rotating your chest toward the floor, placing a block beneath your hand will help you sustain the shape with good alignment.

King Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)

King Dancer is a back-bending posture that is typically practiced toward the end of a class after the spine has been warmed up. The pose builds strength in the legs and core while stretching the shoulders and hip flexors. As a balancing posture, it also requires concentration. To modify, use a strap around the lifted foot as an alternative to reaching for it with your hand.

Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana)

Lizard Pose is a deep hip-opening pose that provides a great stretch for the hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps. It is often held slightly longer than other yoga postures and can be practiced with props such as blocks beneath the hands and a blanket under the back knee. The pose can offer relief from lower back pain or sciatica and also improve your balance and flexibility.

Pyramid Pose (Parsvottonasana)

Pyramid Pose stretches and strengthens the hamstrings and also improves core strength. It stretches the spine and shoulders and builds balance and coordination. The forward bend places the head below the heart and sends blood to the brain, which may offer a boost in mental clarity.

Try these modifications as you gradually increase your flexibility over time:

  • Place your hands on the floor or blocks on either side of your front foot.
  • Widen your stance toward the edges of your mat.

Reverse Warrior Pose (Viparita Virabhadrasana)

Reverse Warrior is similar to a lunge with the addition of a side bend in the torso. It is also possible to go deeper in the pose and bring the body into more of a backbend.

The pose strengthens the legs, opens the side body to stretch the intercostal muscles in between the ribs, mobilizes the spine, and tests balance and core strength. The front and rear thigh muscles, hips, and groins will get a stretch as well. It is also a hip opener, which can help to counter the effects of too much sitting.

Revolved Side Angle Pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana)

Revolved Side Angle is similar to Extended Side Angle, but the opposite hand is placed to the floor to provide a deep twist. It can be modified by placing a block beneath the hand.

The pose strengthens and stretches the legs, groins, and hamstrings while opening the chest and shoulders. Many yoga practitioners believe that revolved poses help promote circulation and improve range of motion.

Revolved Triangle Pose (Parivrtta Trikonasana)

Revolved Triangle Pose combines hamstring stretching and chest opening with a deep twist while challenging your balance. It can increase flexibility and mobility, improve balance and core strength, and enhance focus and coordination.

This challenging pose can be modified by placing a block beneath the hand next to your front foot. You could also place your lifted hand on your hip instead of reaching it upward.

Sugarcane Pose (Ardha Chandra Chapasana)

Sugarcane Pose is a variation of Half Moon Pose that stretches the quadriceps of the lifted leg and incorporates a backbend. It cultivates strength in the standing leg and requires balance and concentration to avoid falling over.

Try these tips to modify the posture:

  • Place a block under your right hand to help keep your chest open and assist you with balance.
  • Add a small bend to your standing leg as you reach for your lifted foot.
  • Keep your gaze to the floor to hold yourself steady.
  • Practice the pose next to a wall for additional support.

Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)

Warrior III is a balancing posture that involves standing on one leg with the torso lifted and arms reaching overhead as the back leg remains lifted and held parallel to the ground. It builds strength in the lower body and core and enhances mental focus as you test your balance.

To sustain the lift and maintain good alignment, lower your fingertips to the floor or place your hands on blocks.

Seated Poses

Hip opening is the focus of most of these seated poses. If any of these poses are uncomfortable for you, don't be hesitant to use props like a rolled mat or blanket placed under your seat.

Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)

Cow Face Pose is a deceptive hip-opening posture that increases flexibility in the hips, groins, knees, and ankles by wrapping the legs in a seated position. It also stretches the shoulders, arms, and chest in the upper body as you reach for your hands behind your back.

To modify the pose, try these variations:

  • Place a blanket, block, or bolster under your seat for additional support.
  • Hold a strap behind your back instead of forcing your hands to meet, especially if you are much more flexible on one side compared to the other.

Boat Pose (Navasana)

Boat Pose focuses on abdominal strength, which helps you perform many other yoga poses, especially advanced poses like arm balances and inversions. It also strengthens the hip flexors, which become weak from too much sitting. By developing core strength, you'll also improve your balance. You can modify the pose by holding the backs of your thighs to avoid rounding your spine.

Hero Pose (Virasana)

Hero Pose is a seated posture that provides a deep stretch for the knees and quadriceps. It also helps to align your spine so that your back doesn't ache while you are sitting.

Many people find that it is easier than sitting cross-legged, especially when you place a block beneath your seat for support. It's recommended to use a block if you intend to stay in the posture for several minutes or more for meditation.

Knee to Ankle Pose (Agnistambhasana)

Knee to Ankle Pose, also called Fire Log Pose, is a seated stretch that opens the hips by stacking the shins like logs on a fire with each knee directly over or under the opposite ankle. It increases flexibility and range of motion in the hips and stretches the groin muscles. The pose can also provide relief for tight hip flexors, which can help to alleviate and prevent back pain and sciatica.

Try these modifications to make Knee to Ankle Pose more accessible:

  • Sit cross-legged on top of a folded blanket so that your knees are above your hips.
  • Place a block or blanket between your top knee and your bottom ankle to fill the gap if need be, which can be a good option if there is still space between your bottom knee and the floor.

Lotus Pose (Padmasana)

Lotus Pose is a deep hip-opening posture that stretches the knees and ankles. While it is more of an advanced pose, it does become easier to do with practice over time.

Practice Half Lotus first to gradually build flexibility in your knees. You can also try practicing other hip-opening postures like Cobbler's PoseHero Pose, and Head-to-Knee Pose as modifications.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Pigeon Pose helps to open the hips after long bouts of sitting. As a hip-opening forward fold, it prepares you for more advanced hip-openers like Mermaid Pose and One-Legged King Pigeon. It stretches the thighs, outer hips, groins, piriformis and psoas, and back muscles. The extended rear leg also receives a psoas and hip flexor stretch.

But Pigeon Pose may not be for everyone. Here are some tips to modify the pose to suit your body:

  • If your front hip does not touch the floor, add a folded-up blanket or yoga block under your butt on that side.
  • Make sure that you are evenly distributing your weight between both hips, keeping them square (or neutral) toward the floor. This will help to avoid stress in the knee joint or twisting in your lower back.
  • As an alternative to folding forward to the floor, place a block underneath your forearms and/or under your forehead. Props can offer adequate support to allow you to relax in the forward fold.

Backbends

This is the point where more intense back-bending comes into the picture for intermediate students. Many of these backbends are done in a prone position, i.e., lying on your belly. When you feel ready, you can start to incorporate Upward-Facing Dog and Chaturanga (see below) into your vinyasas.

Be sure to warm up with more basic poses first and use props like yoga blocks or small pillows if need be.

Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

Camel Pose stretches the abdomen, chest, and quadriceps while facilitating deep spinal extension. Many people find that it can be more accessible than a full Wheel Pose since you can use props like blocks and a yoga blanket for additional support. Instead of reaching the hands to the ankles, you can place them on your sacrum to stabilize your lower back.

Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

Fish Pose provides a stretch for the front of the body, including the abs, chest, hip flexors, and neck. Modify the pose by placing a blanket or block underneath the back of your head and a rolled-up yoga blanket beneath your spine for support.

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Upward Facing Dog stretches the chest and abdominal muscles and strengthens the shoulders, triceps, forearms, and lower back. It is usually performed within a sun salutation sequence in a vinyasa flow. To modify, keep your thighs on the floor and perform Cobra Pose as an alternative.

Keep your shoulders away from your ears by bending your elbows slightly and rolling your shoulders back to open your chest. Then press your palms into the floor to straighten your elbows and draw your shoulder blades down your back.

Arm Balances

Any pose where the arms support the majority of the body's weight can be classified as an arm balance. Arm balances teach you to become aware of your center of gravity and how to distribute your weight so that you can balance. Try these intermediate arm balances to build the arm and core strength that you'll need for more difficult arm balances later on.

Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

Chaturanga is a deceptively difficult posture that is part of a vinyasa flow sequence. It requires a strong upper body and includes the wrists, arms, abs, and lower back. As a low plank, it also targets the core muscles. Many people benefit from lowering to their knees as they build up strength to perform this pose with good form.

Crow Pose (Bakasana)

This arm balance requires strength in the wrists, forearms, and abdominals while testing your balance and building your confidence. You can learn this pose by placing a block under your feet and lifting one foot at a time to build strength as you familiarize yourself with the technique. 

Scale Pose (Tolasana)

Scale Pose requires serious core strength as well as the ability to sit in a full Lotus Pose, which makes the legs easier to lift off the floor. You can modify the pose by placing blocks under your hands to help you lift off. You could also sit on your heels with your knees together and press your hands into blocks as you build your upper body and core strength.

Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)

This variation of a classic plank targets the oblique abdominal muscles, which work to stabilize the entire trunk. When learning side plank, it can be helpful to lower the forearm to the floor or step the top foot to the middle of the mat with the toes facing away from you as you bend the knee.

Sleeping Vishnu Pose (Anantasana)

Balancing on your side in Sleeping Vishnu Pose is trickier than it looks. It requires core strength and engagement to keep you from toppling over. Your hamstrings, inner thighs, and calves will also receive a stretch in this posture.

If you're having trouble staying balanced, lay your arm down on the mat with your cheek resting on it. If you're still working on flexibility, keep the lifted leg bent slightly or use a yoga strap. You can also use bolsters to support your back or place the lifted foot against a wall to help you balance.

Inversions

Your first inversions are introduced at the intermediate level. Though they are sometimes taught in basic classes, they are amongst the most dangerous poses for beginners, so it makes sense to wait until you have more strength and body awareness before attempting them.

Headstand Pose (Salamba Sirsasana)

Headstand is a difficult pose that can cause injury if not done correctly. It requires significant upper body strength and flexibility in the hamstrings, shoulders, and spine. Concentration and proper conditioning are essential to performing this pose on your own. Here are some tips to modify Headstand Pose as you're learning.

  • Ask for assistance: Ask your instructor or an experienced yoga practitioner to spot you while you're learning. They can offer encouragement and give you pointers about form and technique.
  • Practice at a wall: As you're learning to lift and lower your legs without toppling over, practicing at a wall provides adequate support.
  • Use equipment: You can use yoga blocks or inversion tools such as a feet-up trainer to help you build up strength as you're learning.

Plow Pose (Halasana)

This relaxing and calming pose stretches the shoulders, back, neck, hamstrings, and calves. It may also help to relieve pain and discomfort in the back. If you're unable to fully extend your legs overhead and/or feel pressure on your cervical spine, try Bridge Pose or Legs Up the Wall as an alternative.

Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)

Shoulderstand provides a deep stretch for the neck and shoulders. Since it is an inversion, it promotes circulation by sending blood flow to the brain, which can provide a boost of energy while also promoting relaxation.

It is far more stable than a Headstand or Handstand, which can make it more suitable for yogis of all levels. However, it's important to perform the pose correctly to avoid injury to the neck.

Use folded blankets to support the neck and maintain neutral alignment in the spine. Overly flexing the neck (cervical spine) can result in muscle strain or the growth of bone spurs.

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