Regardless of your strength or flexibility level, transitions between poses in your yoga practice can challenge you in all kinds of ways. Because transitions between poses require dynamic movement instead of static maintenance, they ask more of your ligaments, tendons, and all your connective tissues.
This builds your range of motion, your functional movement capabilities, and makes your body (and especially your joints) more resistant to injury. Transitions can seriously challenge your core and force you to be present in your body so you can make sure you’re moving safely and effectively between poses.
Check out these 5 yoga pose transitions for intermediate level practice below and see if you can challenge yourself to perform these movements smoothly, with control, and in tandem with your breath.
1. Chair to High Lunge
Begin this transition in Chair pose. Your weight is in your heels and feet are firmly engaged, with all ten toes gripping the mat for stability and balance. Your pelvis is tilted to tuck your tailbone under—this gives you a nice flat lower back and engages your core.
To keep your lower back safe, draw your belly button back toward your spine. With your arms overhead and palms facing each other, pull your shoulders back and down your spine so that there's plenty of space between them and your ears. From here, take one foot off the mat and hover about two inches off the ground. Keeping your hips level, step back with that foot into high lunge.
Key Points: In your final High Lunge pose, your front knee is in a 90-degree angle over your front ankle. With your hips level and tailbone still tucked under for a flat lower back, try to straighten that back leg—this should challenge the hip flexor flexibility of your back leg.
Level Up: If you'd like to try a variation, do the same steps but try it from Twisted Chair into a Twisted High Lunge. Keep all of the same points in mind, but in twisted chair, make sure to keep your knees in the same plane—one should not come in front of the other. If you are twisting with your elbow on your left knee, the right foot is the one that lifts up and steps back (and vice versa).
2. High Lunge to Warrior Three
Starting in High Lunge, tuck your pelvis under for a flat back, keep your core engaged, and lift arms overhead with relaxed shoulders that are down, back, and away from the ears. Keeping a nice strong, straight line with the spine (no curving!), slowly begin to place your weight onto your front foot.
Using your core and front toes for balance and stability, slowly lift the back foot off the mat. Work your way forward, with the goal of having your torso and your back leg in a parallel line to the ground. Slowly straighten your standing leg, keeping a micro-bend in the knee to keep the whole leg engaged.
Key Points: Try and keep your hips level. This is a real challenge to your core and leg strength, but try not to let your floating leg hip come above your standing leg hip. Keep your arms with your biceps by your ears, and don't let those shoulders creep up. Keep your floating leg engaged by flexing the foot, and imagine your fingertips and heel are being pulled in opposite directions to create one long line with your body.
Level Down: If this feels a bit too challenging at the beginning, start by practicing the transition with your arms straight by your sides and then with your arms out in a T.
3. Triangle to Half Moon
In Triangle pose, your front foot is at a perpendicular angle to your back foot. There’s a micro-bend in your front knee to keep it from locking out, your shoulders on top of the other with your chest open to the side, and your top hand in direct line with your top shoulder.
To transition into Half Moon, bend your front knee as much as you need to so you can put your bottom hand in front of your front foot. With your fingertips lightly gripping the floor, slowly transition your weight into your front foot and lift your back foot up off the floor.
Keep your hips stacked on top of the other, and your shoulders and bottom hand stacked in a straight line. Slowly straighten the standing leg and work your torso and leg into a strong line parallel to the floor.
Key Points: Flex the back heel to engage all of the top leg, and keep a micro bend in the standing leg with all ten toes engaged and gripping the floor. To challenge your balance, take your gaze up to the top hand. Otherwise, gaze to the side or down to the floor, whichever is most comfortable for your neck. Pull the belly button back toward the spine to keep the core engaged for improved balance!
Level Up: Lift your bottom hand up off the floor so that you’re balancing on nothing but your standing leg. This is called floating half moon!
4. Plank to Side Plank
For a strong starting Plank pose, begin in tabletop position with your wrists directly below your shoulders. Pull the shoulders down and back from the ears to create a long line with the neck, and keep your gaze down to the floor to avoid stressing the cervical vertebrae in your neck.
With an engaged core, lift your knees up off the mat to create a strong, straight line from crown of head to toes. With feet hip-width apart, transition into your Side Plank by transferring your weight into one hand and slowly rotate open through the chest, taking the top hand up and over the top shoulder. Your feet can be stacked on top of the other for more of a challenge, or stagger the top foot behind the bottom foot for more stability and support.
To minimize stress on your wrists, make sure the whole hand, all the way out to the fingertips, is gripping the mat.
Key Points: Keep the shoulders from creeping up toward the ears. Don't let your hips sag in Side Plank—keep lifting them up. Your wrist should stay directly under your shoulders. Try to keep the head, shoulders, hips, and feet in the same line—if you were against a wall, all of these body parts would be touching the wall in this pose.
Level Up: Keeping your alignment, lift your top leg up in the air as high as it will go. To take it even further, wrap your two peace-sign fingers around your big toe and extend the top foot out and up, away from your body. Try not to fall out of your tall, lifted alignment while trying this option, keeping your shoulders and hips from collapsing.
5. Extra Challenge: Dolphin to Headstand
For an extra challenge, try this transitional balance pose! If you’re not quite at the point where you feel confident trying unassisted headstand, begin with your hands at the base of a wall and use the wall for support.
Before beginning, measure the distance between your elbows with your forearms, and lace your hands together to form a cage in which both pinky fingers lie flat on your mat. In Dolphin pose, pull your hips up to the ceiling and press your ears between your biceps, but keep your ears from collapsing into your shoulders.
Keeping your legs at straight as possible, engage all your core strength and slowly walk your feet towards your face—keep your gaze looking back through the gap between your feet to avoid stressing your neck. When you’ve walked them as close as you can get them, place the crown of your head against the cage made by your interlaced fingers. Slowly lift one foot and then the other gently up off the floor, tucking your knees into your chest. When you’re ready, extend one leg at a time (or both at once) up into the air.
Key Points: Keep your core engaged to keep your spine from curving in your final headstand pose—stay long and lifted through the spine and neck. All the support for your inverted body should be coming from the platform made by your forearms and shoulders, with little to no weight in your head.
Level Up: Play with your legs! Try different leg variations—spread them out into a v-stretch, use the gravity to practice your splits—and try to keep your form while moving your legs around above you.
See if you can work these pairings into your next yoga practice, and build a flow around them! Remember: go slow, move mindfully, and breathe with each movement.