Although the primary mission of yoga is balance (in both body and mind), it seriously challenges your strength and flexibility. “All the poses are easy if you simply pay attention and breathe,” says Tara Stiles, yoga instructor and founder of Strala Yoga Studio. But that doesn't mean there aren't a fair share of poses that put people—particularly men—to the test. Stiles identifies five advanced yoga positions that every guy should strive to achieve. “These five will probably present a challenge for most guys because of tight hamstrings, shoulders and backs,” she says. “These poses require and promote even balance in the body so it's especially great for guys to open and strengthen evenly." If you're a new entrant into the world of yoga, we advise you pick up a few classes before you try diving headfirst (literally) into these moves.
What it does: According to Stiles, the wheel pose will open up the spine, shoulders and quad muscles resulting in improved flexibility and safeguard you from injury. How to do it: To achieve the pose, sometimes called a "Bridge," Stiles explains, "Lie down on your back and press your feet into the ground next to your hips. Press your palms on the ground beside your ears, elbows up. Press down with your hands and feet and lift up in your chest and abdomen. Only raise yourself to where you can breathe easily. Stay for 10 long deep breaths and lower slowly." How to get better: She recommends practicing three sets in a row with rest in between for three days every week.
What it does: Although very challenging for males with tight hamstrings, Stiles claims the headstand as a staple for increasing focus, calming the mind, increasing circulation and rejuvenating the nervous system. For the physical, athletic component, the pose trains you for better balance. How to do it: "Come on to all fours, interlace your hands behind your head, place the top of you head on the ground, tuck your toes and lift your hips up. Walk your feet in getting your hips over your shoulders. Hug one knee in and then the other. Lift legs up. Stay for three minutes and slowly lower yourself back down." How to get better: "Getting up is the tricky part. Stay with your feet on the ground walking them in to allow the backs of the legs to open over time."
What it does: Stiles recommends taking on the challenge of the handstand for strengthening the back, shoulders and core. Similarly to the headstand, this pose also improves athletic balance and focus. How to do it: Stiles advises starting in the "Warrior 3" position (with one foot placed in front of the other, lift your back leg up and raise your arms straight out in front of you so your body forms a "T"). "Press palms on the ground with arms straight. Gently rock forward and back (inhale forward, exhale back) until you feel steady enough to lift both legs off the ground. Hang with the legs in an 'L' shape. If you are steady there bring the second leg up." How to get better: Trying the handstand up against the wall will help improve your knowledge and feel of the pose with less fear of falling.
What it does: When it comes to building strength, increasing body mechanics and coordination, this is Stiles' pick. A strong core is pivotal in fitness, and it will take most of the brunt along with the shoulders, biceps, triceps and forearms. How to do it: "Come into a squat. Press your hands on the ground and place your arms inside your knees with your knee propped onto the back of your upper arms or triceps. When stabilized, lift up in your hips and belly until your feet come off the ground and your hands are the only things touching the ground." How to get better: To master this pose, Stiles recommends practicing slowly lifting yourself rather than "jumping" into the pose. She says, "It's harder to lift up, but you'll stay focused and be able to stay in the pose longer than if you launch yourself."
What it does: Meditation—the ability to quiet your mind—is probably the biggest challenge for both men and women. Stiles recommends it for a clear mind and focus. The ability to obtain focus and clarity is a tremendous advantage for everyone, especially athletes. How to do it: "Sit comfortably and quiet the mind." How to get better: Stiles explains, "Meditation has vast benefits from improving your mental focus, clarity, lowering stress levels, to kick starting your immune system. Practice every day to settle the mind."