How to Warm Up For A Challenging Yoga Pose

Whether in an alignment-based yoga environment or a flow-based one, there is often a single posture that is the most challenging of the class. In the jargon of yoga teachers this is called a “pinnacle pose.” As we guide you through your practice, we keep this pose in mind and prepare you for it so you have the best chance of success when we get there.

Knowing how to warm up and sequence towards a pinnacle pose makes it easier on your body and more likely that you’ll succeed in reaching it. Even if you aren’t a teacher, knowing the best way to access challenging yoga postures will aid you in deepening your home practice.

Ardha Chandra Chapasana :: Bishop, CA

Sugar Cane pose :: Bishop, CA

Select Your Pose

To begin, you want to select a pinnacle pose to work towards. I suggest something near the edge of your limit, maybe that you can already do, but is tough for you, or something that’s just barely out of your reach. For this example, we’ll use Half Moon Bow, or Sugar Cane pose.

Understand The Components

Next, you need to look at the separate components of the pinnacle pose. For Sugar Cane, there are several key factors at play. Understand, prep and warm those up, and you’ll have a better chance at the final posture. Here are three:

  1. Flexibility in the standing leg.
  2. Balance on one foot.
  3. Openness in the top thigh and shoulder.

Break Down Each Component

Now you need to go in-depth with each of those aspects to get the full understanding and warm-up. Let’s break them down.

Flexibility in the Standing Leg

Consider the specifics of the alignment here; the bottom leg is turned out, with the top hip rolled open. This means the inner thigh, specifically, needs to be stretched. Moreover, it’s a straight leg inner thigh stretch. Compile a list of a handful of straight-legged poses that stretch the inner thigh. Here’s mine:

Triangle, top arm wrapped : Lone Pine, CA

Triangle, top arm wrapped : Lone Pine, CA

  • Trikonasana : Triangle
  • Supda Padangusthasana 2 : Reclining Hand to Big Toe, Leg to the Side
  • Parsva Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana : Standing Hand to Big Toe, Leg to the Side
  • Parighasana : Gate Latch


Balance on One Foot

You have to pass through Half Moon itself in order to get to this version of the posture, so you’ll want to make sure you can do it first, and it makes a logical choice for a warm-up.

What other poses require balance on one leg? Maybe these…

Warrior 3 : Rock Creek, CA

Warrior 3 : Rock Creek, CA

  • Ardha Chandrasana : Half Moon
  • Virabhadrasana 3 : Warrior 3
  • Baby Natarajasana : Baby Dancer


Openness in the Top Thigh & Shoulder

In our pinnacle pose, Sugar Cane, you need the flexibility to grab your foot behind you. This includes both opening the front of your thigh and hip, as well as the front of your shoulder. Additionally, it’s a backbend. Here are some poses to consider warming up those areas of your body:

  • Dhanurasana : Bow Pose
  • Anjaneasana : Kneeling Lunge with Thigh Stretch
  • Shalabasana : Locust
  • Eka Pada Supda Virasana : One-legged Reclining Hero
Eka Pada Supda Virasana

Eka Pada Supda Virasana

Putting It All Together

Now you have a short list of postures that will give you better access to your pinnacle pose. As you build your class template or home yoga practice, slot some of these postures into the mix. Generally the more heating poses, like the standing ones, should come nearer the beginning of your practice. When you need a rest but still want to head in the direction of your peak pose, throw in some of the more restful postures, like those reclining or on your belly.

After you’ve built to your most challenging pose it’s time to unwind. Do some sort of neutralizing posture —something with a straight spine, like Staff pose, Reclining Mountain pose, Down Dog, etc. Then begin to move in the opposite direction of your pinnacle posture. For Sugar Cane, the best counter poses would be not standing, rounded in the spine, and with bent legs. A good counter pose that meets all those requirements is Reclining Twist, both knees stacked and rolled to the side.

Always end with something symmetrical, such as Happy Baby, then stretch out into your Corpse pose. Have fun and let me know how it goes!