Simple Yoga Poses to Promote Strength

By Juliet Kaska


Last month I shared with you 5 simple yoga poses to promote flexibility. I hope you are enjoying those, and you have some newfound flexibility in your body. This month I wanted to give you the other half of the well-balanced Yoga practice: yoga for strength. 


Whether it is in yoga or another physical practice it is important to achieve the balance of both the strength and the flexibility of our muscles. When an individual has both their body functions more effectively, safely, and efficiently. Each of the joints in our body need the strength of the muscles around them in order to be supported properly and they need the flexibility of the muscles so they can achieve full range of motion. 


The Benefits of Yoga


In Yoga all poses are simultaneously strengthening and stretching the body. The belief that Yoga is solely about becoming a bendy pretzel is not the case. Last month I pointed out the areas that were being stretched. This month I focus on those that are being strengthened. Yet each pose also serves the opposite objective. For example, below I take you through the steps to do the pose Locust and list the areas that are being strengthened; back extensors, hamstrings, glutes and posterior shoulder. While you are strengthening these muscles you are simultaneously stretching the abdominal muscles, hip flexors, chest and anterior shoulder muscles. The Locust Pose is easily demonstrating my point but not all poses are so “front & back” or equal in flexibility and strength as Locust. Yet each pose will have benefits of flexibility and strengthening. The important thing is to do your yoga practice, (remember last month I mentioned it is a practice) regularly to find and keep the balance in your body. 


Each of the 5 poses outlined below has options with props to help you get into the pose or support you once you are in it. For many of the poses there are variations and modifications. If it is your first time doing any of these exercises, I recommend doing “version A” first whenever variations are offered. 


Roll out your mat and let’s get started with Garland Pose…


Garland Pose or Seated Squat



Original Sanskrit Name: Malasana

Strengthens: Legs, groin and back extensors.

Optional Support Props: 1-2 yoga blocks or low stool, and/or a wall and a rolled-up towel/blanket.

Set Up and Description: 

  • Squat down with your feet turned out and flat on the floor (place a block(s) or low stool under your buttocks if needed). If your heels don’t stay on the floor, place a rolled towel under your heels.
  • Bring your palms together and place your elbows on the inside of your inner knees. Press your legs apart further with your arms. 
  • Broaden your chest and keep your spine elongated.
  • Hold the pose for 10-60 seconds. Gently breath through the nose during the hold. Option to close the eyes.
  • To come out of the pose, either stand up or transition to all fours.
  • Repeat 3x’s


Downward-Facing Dog or Down Dog



Original Sanskrit Name: Ado Mukha Svanasana

Strengthens: Arms, shoulders, abdominals, back extensors and legs.

Optional Support Props: Yoga blocks and/ or a chair

Set Up and Description:

  • Come into an all-fours position on your mat with your hands about 6-10 inches in front of your shoulders. Spread all 10 fingers wide. Making a large hand “print” on your mat. Tuck your toes under.
  • On an exhale draw your abs in as you lift your knees off the floor and your hips up toward the ceiling. 
  • Once up into the pose draw your shoulders away from your head so there is an expansive feeling around your neck and shoulders. At the same time lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling. If this is not yet possible in your body, bend your knees slightly. All while also pressing down evenly through your heels. This action will create a deep stretch in your calf muscles.
  • Hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat 3x’s

Modification for tight hamstrings (back of the leg): Place 2 yoga blocks shoulder width apart on your mat. Make sure they won’t slip or slide before attempting this. Place your hands on blocks and lift up into your Down Dog. 

Modification for weakness in upper body: Place a sturdy chair on top of your mat and preferably (for safety purposes) against a wall to prevent it from sliding. Place your hands on the chair shoulder width apart just as you would do on the floor for this pose. Walk your feet back as you lift your hips into the air assuming the Down Dog position only with your hands up on the chair.


Plank Pose



Original Sanskrit Name: Kumbhakasana

Strengthens: Everything! And, especially the core, arms and shoulders.

Optional Support Props: Yoga Block

Set Up and Description: 

  • Come into an all-fours position on your mat with your hands directly under your shoulders and all 10 fingers spread wide. Making a large hand “print” on your mat.
  • Draw your navel to your spine and your abdominal wall in. Make your arms strong by pushing the ground away, but don’t round your back as you do. Keep your shoulder blades firm on your back.
  • (Variation A). Move your knees back and lower your hips till you are in a kneeling plank. Hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat 3x’s.
  • (Variation B). Same as Variation A but on your forearms. Keep hands, forearms, and upper arms shoulder width apart and knees down. Hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat 3x’s. Modification: Place a yoga block in the widest position between your elbows and squeeze in throughout. This will help to support your plank while strengthening the arms and shoulders. Hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat 3x’s.
  • (Variation C). Same as Variation B but with legs extended. Keep hands, forearms, and upper arms shoulder width apart. Hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat 3x’s. Same modification as Variation B. Hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat 3x’s.
  • (Variation D). To do a full plank set up like Variation A. Once you feel strong and supported in the upper body and core extend one leg at a time back with the toes tucked under. Hold for 20-60 seconds. Repeat 3x’s.
  • For all variations when lifted keep spine including neck elongated and in line with either the knees (when on the ground) or with the heels when the legs are extended.


Locust Pose



Original Sanskrit Name: Salambhasna

Strengthens: Back extensors, hamstrings, glutes and posterior shoulder

Optional Support Props: Towel or blanket

Set Up and Description: 

  • Lie flat and face down on your mat with your arms by your side and palms facing up.
  • Pull your navel in towards your spine and tuck your tailbone under as you press your pubic bone into the mat. This will extend and support your lower back when you lift. Modification: If your pubic bone hurts in this pose place a towel or blanket under the pelvis.
  • (Version A). On an inhale lift your head, chest, off the floor while pressing into the tops of the feet and energizing the legs. Hold, but continue breathing for 5-20 seconds. Repeat 3 x’s.
  • (Version B). On an inhale lift your head, chest and arms off the floor while pressing into the tops of the feet and energizing the legs. Hold, but continue breathing for 5-20 seconds. Repeat 3 x’s.
  • (Version C). On an inhale lift your head, chest, arms and legs off the floor. Hold, but continue breathing for 5-20 seconds. Repeat 3 x’s.
  • In all variations keep your neck long with chin slightly tucked in, your chest open and think of your entire body from head to toes being long and extended. 
  • In all variations legs can be together or as wide as hip width, keeping energy between the thighs. 
  • After your last one press back into a Child’s Pose or roll onto your back and draw your knees into your chest.


Boat Pose



Original Sanskrit Name: Navasana

Strengthens: Core, Abdominals, Hip flexors, Thighs, Spine extensors

Optional Support Props: Towel or blanket

Set Up and Description: 

  • Sit on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat.
  • Place your hands on the floor directly behind you.
  • Keep an extended back as you lean back onto your sit bones. Modification: If your tailbone or buttocks hurts in pose, place a towel or blanket under your bum.
  • Draw your abdominals in and leave 1 leg at a time so that your shins parallel to the floor. 
  • (Version A). Balance yourself. Try and shift the weight more into your buttocks and less on your hands. Balance and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat 3 x’s.
  • (Version B). If you feel ready remove your hands from the floor and reach them out in line with your shins, palms facing up. Balance and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat 3 x’s.
  • Version C). Straighten both legs up. From head to toes your body looks like the shape of a V. Balance and hold for 10-30 seconds.  Modification: try 1 leg and hold. Switch legs and hold. Repeat 3 x’s.
  • Through each variation keep your spine elongated, your shoulders relaxed and smile ☺


About the Author:

Juliet Kaska is one of the country’s leading celebrity trainers and health + wellness experts. In 2005, she opened Emerson Hall Fitness (EHF) in West Hollywood, CA, which quickly became the most sought-after boutique gym in the Los Angeles area. She then launched her brand JK Zen Fitness, with partnership locations throughout LA, and in 2010 opened the JK Fitness Pilates Studio. Juliet recently partnered with Vionic to create the Move for You program, a three-part series of 7 minute videos that get you moving with power and comfort. In addition to her celebrity clientele, Juliet is known for creating Hollywood’s favorite workout programs: The Bombshell Bride, Picture Perfect, The Red Carpet Workout, The Executive’s Workout and her most popular, Pilates Burn, a high-intensity workout combining Pilates reformer equipment, traditional strength training techniques and the flow of yoga. Juliet has consulted for and appeared on numerous programs such as Good Morning America, Dr. Phil and Entertainment Tonight. Numerous publications including Vogue, Shape, Los Angeles Magazine, People, Oxygen, Fitness Magazine, Glamour and Health Magazine have also featured her as a fitness expert. Juliet is trained and certified in multiple disciplines, making her workout programs both diverse and innovative. She is certified as a Second Generation Master Pilates Teacher and has received dual certification as a personal trainer from the American Council on Exercise and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. In addition, yoga guru Dharma Mittra trained her as a yoga teacher. Juliet brings a vibrant voice and unique perspective to the Vionic Innovation Lab.


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