Yoga’s Top 10 Total Body Toning Postures

The following 10 postures can be practiced in this order or incorporated into what you already love practicing on the mat. For any unilateral exercises, such as any Warrior pose and Side Plank, always be sure to practice on both sides for the same amount of time. Unilateral exercises improve core strength and correct muscular imbalances in the body, preventing injury and pain down the line. All asanas should be held for around thirty seconds and up to what you feel comfortable with. If you feel your form slipping or your breathing becomes uneven, it's time to transition. These 10 poses can be practiced by any level of practitioner and will tone multiple muscle groups at once, including many that often receive little to no focus. 

1. the Plank (Kumbhakasana). The Plank is every bit as effective as its reputation precedes. Begin by aiming for holding the posture for ten breath counts. The modification for this posture is dropping the knees until you can straighten the legs, and with practice over time, you will be able to. This arm-balancing asana will tone your core and back, but also works your arms and legs. Plank is also a mind-challenging position, where you can use your breath to hold the asana longer than you think you're capable of, serving as a reminder to yourself of your own strength.

2. High Crescent Lunge (Ashta Chandrasana). The High Crescent Lunge is another mentally empowering posture, opening your chest, allowing for deeper breathing and an opportunity to stabilize your core, improving your overall balance. This lunge is similar to Warrior I with the difference being that your back foot isn't dropped. The simple pivot of your back foot completely transforms this posture to one of active stability, meaning that your core, both front and back legs, and even your arms must be engaged to hold this asana.

3. Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana). You must transition into this posture from Warrior II, by dropping the back arm and lifting up the front. This exercise is most effective once you've held your Warrior II for a moment, because your front leg will already be taxed. Plus, when you reach your front arm up and back, your front leg will inevitably deepen into the lunge, and in order to remain stable and elongate your midsection, different parts of the core and back will engage. Really try pushing up through that front arm before resting back into your Warrior II. 

If you are familiar with or practice any form of martial arts, the Reverse Warrior is essentially a high block (or age-uke) in a fighting stance, so you can allow your arms to fall into that position, with your back arm prepared for a reverse punch

4. Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana). Once you transition back into your Warrior II (from your Reverse Warrior), you may transition into a Side Angle. The version shown here is the most relaxed, but if you feel comfortable doing so, you may bring your front hand all the way down to the mat and reach your back arm all the way over to rest on your ear, so that you create a straight line from your back foot all the way up to your hand: a beautiful triangle. Notice, though, how in this version, the body is still shaped into a beautiful triangle. Switching back and forth from your Reverse Warrior and this Side Angle variation will tone your obliques and push you to hold that front lunge longer: the leg burn here is a guarantee. 

5. Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). You can transition into this posture from Warrior II, with your front leg finally getting some release from holding that lunge. Don't think for one moment though that your legs are getting a break here, because the muscles you're working in the legs just change. 

Chances are that if you've done any form of strength-training, you've done some deadlifts or single-leg deadlifts, and you may notice that the Warrior III is simply a single-leg deadlift hold. 

If you struggle with balance here, that's okay; just let that back foot drop and kick back up into it. The Warrior III is no small physical feat and is just as impressive as it looks. It's one of those "if you know, then you know" postures. 

6. Goddess pose (Utkata Konasana). This posture feels especially good after doing some deep lunges, because it opens the hips, and uses some different muscles in your legs. The balance required to hold the Goddess pose will engage your core, and if you challenge yourself to hold your arms up strong, you will open up your chest and tone the shoulders. 

If you practice ballet, the Goddess Pose is similar to the Plie in Second Position, so if you're a dancer, this posture is going to be easier for you to hold longer. 

7. Chair pose (Utkatasana). On the surface, Chair Pose strengthens the legs, but because you need to engage the core in order to protect your lower back here, this posture is a full body toner. Just holding your arms up and really pushing through the fingertips is going to tone the back and shoulders. Utkatasana is another mental asana, where you can really dig deep into yourself and use your breathing to stay in this posture, so that you feel stronger and more grounded afterward.

8. Side plank (Vasisthasana). If you have any issues with your wrist, you can still practice Side Plank by coming down to your forearm instead of relying on your hand. That being said, Side Plank will strengthen your wrists, something you may not be entirely focused on training. The body holds tremendous amounts of tension in the joints, including the wrists and ankles, and yoga will help you protect your body from arthritis-related pain. (Just to name a few, any Plank, any Warrior, and Chair Pose will strengthen the ankles.) Side Plank will tone the sides of your core and open up your chest, allowing for deeper breathing over time. Push up strong through your arms, because they are working hard for you during Side Planks. 

9. Boat pose (Navasana). Boat Pose will build up your core strength, but this challenging posture will also strengthen the lower back muscles, as well as the legs and arms. There are variations to this posture, such as above, where the legs are not straightened. You could also leave your feet planted and simply lean back with your arms reached out until you're ready to lift the legs. Navasana is known for testing your mental fortitude, because this posture is challenging and can be uncomfortable. It requires mental focus to engage so much of the body at once and remain balanced on the sitting bones (the bottom part of the pelvis).

10. Bridge (Sarvangasana). Bridge Pose is a chest opener, and the variation shown above, with the hands clasped together will pull the shoulder blades closer, allowing the chest to open even more. 

Deep breathing here will allow you to exercise the diaphragm, an often overlooked muscle that needs strengthening. To test this, you may watch your stomach rise and fall with your breath. 

Many glute-focused workouts (or booty days) include Bridge Pulses, because this pose will build the muscles of your upper legs. When practicing yoga though, holding this posture can become more difficult (and more rewarding) than pulsing through this motion. 

This sequence is a good prep for meditation on days when you feel anxious and can't relax right away. If you like meditating as you flow through asanas, then these postures that require strength and mental focus are perfect for staying in the moment. It can be difficult to dwell on worries and concerns when you have to concentrate on being strong. At the end of a strengthening practice, it's easy to remember just how strong you are. 

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