Yoga Transitions to Prepare for the Next Pose

Downward Dog Splits

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Yoga sequencing can seem like a bit of a mystery. Sure, there are some pretty common flows, such as the standard sun salutation. Still, no two classes are ever exactly alike. You may wonder how yoga teachers know how to string individual poses together to create seamless arrangements and how they know when, where, and how to transition between poses.

Believe it or not, yoga sequencing isn't a vast mystery (although it is a talent). Like yoga poses themselves, yoga transitions have a purpose, and each transition is specifically designed to prepare your body for the next pose. There is a method to the process.

Furthermore, just like poses, yoga transitions are essential to your overall yoga practice. It would be best if you didn't speed through these transitions or sloppily move from one pose to the next without employing mindfulness and intention. If you do, you could end up selling your whole practice short.

Rebecca Weible, a highly-recognized yoga instructor and founder of Yo Yoga!, breaks down the following benefits and reasons for common transitions.

Allow Awareness

Your yoga practice is supposed to promote mindfulness, but how often do you forget to breathe while holding a challenging pose? Breathe in yoga provides one of its most effective benefits for reducing stress and improving mood.

Weible points out that yoga transitions are an opportunity to promote awareness and stay in tune with the moment, "Transitions—poses or movements that help you move from one pose to the next—are a part of the practice as they help you stay present while maintaining structural integrity and smooth breathing as you come into each pose."

Think about it—you may struggle to breathe evenly while trying to hold warrior III, but during flowing transitions, it's easier to create a pattern of conscientious breathing.

For instance, you're supposed to exhale during a forward fold, inhale during an upward dog, and exhale again as you transition to a downward dog. The steady in-and-out of these transitions almost becomes like the heartbeat of your practice, helping you stay mindful as you move.

Promote Alignment

A significant benefit of yoga is its focus on identifying and correcting imbalances in the body, particularly those between the left and right sides. It's common for one side of the body to be stronger or more flexible than the other, leading to problems with proper alignment.

Weible defines alignment as "the correct positioning of each body part at any given time, in any position that helps to maintain safety and effectiveness of that position or movement." Even though muscular imbalances and misalignments are common, they're not ideal.

That's where transitions come in. Weible explains, "Transitions promote proper alignment by helping you prepare for and enter a pose, ultimately improving your body's positioning in the movement between poses and the pose itself."

Using transitions to promote proper alignment allows you to enjoy a safer, more effective practice.

Provide Preparation

One of the most obvious ways yoga transitions facilitate a high-quality yoga practice is how they physically prepare your body for the next pose. Given the sheer number of yoga poses, the possible transition sequences are practically endless, but Weible shares the following typical examples.

The Half Lift

There are several reasons the half-lift is a common transition after performing a forward fold. This lifting, straightening, and lengthening of the torso helps straighten the spine and open the chest, which prepares you to step back to plank or hop back to chaturanga, a pose that requires the engagement of your upper body.

The second reason for the half-lift is to prepare your body for a deeper forward fold. When you lift, the spine lengthens, and the core engages, providing more room to fold forward and find a deeper stretch through the lower back and hamstrings.

Upward Facing Dog Before Downward Facing Dog

Upward-facing dog brings your back into a deep bend while opening your chest and engaging your legs. This helps you maintain an open chest during downward-facing dog when it would be easy to hunch your shoulders and cave inward.

This transition also allows you to find more length through your spine. These two poses complement each other as a downward-facing dog acts as a counter-pose to an upward-facing dog.

Three-Legged Down Dog Before Stepping the Foot Through

Lifting your leg into a three-legged dog helps open the chest further and lengthen the spine, making it easier to maintain both elements while engaging your core to step your foot forward into a lunge. Lifting one leg sets up your alignment to use the control, rather than momentum, to step your foot forward.

This control builds core strength to use the same effort to hold arm balances and inversions when ready for these more advanced and challenging poses.

Hopping Forward

Instructors often give participants the option to hop forward from a downward-facing dog before moving on to mountain pose or tadasana. This option to hop forward prepares you for inversions or hopping into a handstand by asking you to place all of your weight on your arms and shoulders. It also brings both of your feet off the mat simultaneously, which requires core engagement and muscle control as your body floats forward.

Bridge Pose Before Shoulder Stand

Bridge pose opens and engages your chest and shoulders, areas of the body you need to be flexible but stable, for shoulder stand. Bridge pose also activates the quads and hamstrings, which develops muscle memory to mimic the same engagement when the lower half of the body is elevated in shoulder stand.

The reason bridge is often practiced before the shoulder stand is to warm up the critical areas of the body. It's also possible to support the lower back while in a bridge pose to transition straight into a shoulder stand without ever releasing from the bridge.

Yoga transitions and sequences are designed to help warm up the muscle groups you're about to target in the following pose while encouraging proper form by stimulating the extension and engagement of soon-to-be targeted muscles. There's always a logical explanation for why a transition movement is added to a sequence.

Build Strength

Yoga isn't typically considered an effective strength-building exercise, but it's an effective practice for identifying weaknesses and imbalances while correcting them. Weible notes that you can use transitions to encourage strength building.

"An example is the action of bringing your knee to your nose before stepping your foot between your hands. This engages your core and upper body, allowing for more room to bring the foot forward, and this engagement builds strength in the abdominals and shoulders." 

Increase Control

Just as you can improve alignment and build strength with a regular yoga practice, the natural outcome of using common transitions during your practice is greater coordination, mobility, and, ultimately, control. As Weible puts it, "Building strength gives you muscle memory and more control over how you're moving.

This control allows your practice to progress. The more comfortable you are with fundamental transitions, you can start to incorporate more advanced transitions, like moving from crow pose into tripod headstand before returning to crow. This type of transition takes a lot of control."

The thing is, you can't start with an advanced transition. You have to start with a more basic, straightforward option to develop proper alignment, strength, and control. Only then can you safely "level up" to more advanced moves.

A Word From Verywell

Transitions provide several benefits to your yoga practice, helping you bring awareness to your movements. You'll develop strength and control while you carefully move between poses, using your breath to increase mindfulness while you work. Take your time to transition appropriately while you practice, making the most of your yoga routine.

By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.