These yoga poses are not for the faint of heart. They require extreme flexibility and balance and should be practiced with a qualified instructor or avoided altogether if you are a beginner.
Flying Pigeon, for instance, is one of the hardest arm balances to master. It is also an energizing inversion that builds shoulder, wrist, and core strength.
1. One-Handed Tree Pose
Although it may seem simple, this pose is challenging for beginners because it requires a strong core to balance the body’s weight on one leg. Practicing this posture against a wall will help develop more strength and steadiness in the core.
For additional challenge, try practicing this pose on an uneven surface such as a folded blanket or mat. This will make it even more difficult to maintain the pose.
2. Dancer Pose
This pose looks like something you’d see in a Cirque du Soleil show, but it requires a lot of hip flexibility and upper body strength. Beginners should save this advanced arm balance for after they’ve mastered Crow and are confident enough to support themselves with their arms in the air.
To get into Dancer, start in one-handed tree and spread your legs as you slowly lift your hands off the mat. This pose also encourages a deep backbend, so be careful if you have a back injury.
3. Chin Stand
Chin Stand (Uttana Salabhasana) is a difficult pose that strengthens the back, shoulders, arms and core. It opens the chest, throat and third eye chakras.
It also improves balance and concentration, which is why it’s a good pose to practice with an instructor or a friend. Place a yoga block under your shoulders for support. Start in crow pose and gradually shift your weight until the shoulder blades hover over the hands. Do this several times a day. It will take weeks to build strength for this pose.
4. Eight-Angle Pose
Astavakrasana or Eight-Angle Pose is a challenging arm balance yoga pose for beginners that requires core strength, balance and flexibility. Beginners should focus on mastering Four-Limbed Staff Pose and standing poses before moving onto this posture.
Anyone with injuries around the shoulders, wrists, hips, lower back or ankles should avoid this posture. Any yoga posture that involves putting weight on the arms should also be avoided by people with carpal tunnel syndrome. This posture will also strain the neck. It is important to warm up with 3-5 rounds of Classical Sun Salutations before trying this posture.
5. Flying Pigeon
Working toward a challenging peak pose can be humbling and empowering. But it’s important to remember that yoga is about self-awareness and moving beyond your own limitations—not competing with the person next to you in class.
Flying Pigeon, also known as one-legged king pigeon or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, is an extreme arm balance that requires strength, stability, flexibility and more. Practicing hip opening and balance work in poses like pigeon and Crow can help you prepare for this gravity-defying posture. Start small and progress gradually to avoid injury.
6. Tripod Headstand
Tripod headstand (Sirsasana 2) is difficult for beginners because it requires a lot of strength and stability. It can also be dangerous when practiced incorrectly and can lead to neck injuries. However, like any pose, it can be mastered with training and the guidance of a good teacher.
Start by laying your forearms on the mat and interlacing the fingers to make a triangle shape with them. Move the legs up slowly so they are stacked over the shoulders. Rest in this position for a few breaths.
7. Downward Facing Dog
Even if you’ve never stepped onto a yoga mat, chances are that you’re familiar with Downward Facing Dog. It is often used in Vinyasa-style classes as a transition pose and it builds strength in the legs, arms and back muscles.
However, Downward Facing Dog can be difficult for beginners to perform correctly. For example, beginners may be tempted to push their heels toward the floor which can cause stress on the wrists. A simple solution is to place blocks underneath the hands to reduce pressure on the wrists.
8. Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose (Tadasana) is the foundation for all other standing poses. It improves posture, enhances balance, and strengthens core muscles. However, it’s not ideal for beginners with low blood pressure or heart conditions.
This pose requires a lot of attention to detail. You should move slowly from one foot to the other, ensuring that each part of your body is correctly aligned. This balancing pose also helps you to become more aware of your body and how it works. This can carry over to seated and inverted poses.
9. Tripod Headstand
The tripod headstand (Mukta Hasta Sirsasana A) is an advanced inversion that requires strength, balance and proper alignment. Beginners should begin by practicing with a wall for support, focusing on creating a solid foundation and building the strength to move into the full pose without putting too much pressure on the head.
Once you are comfortable with the shape, slowly start to hover your legs up towards the ceiling, keeping ribs sucked in and feet super firm. It’s important to practice safely and under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor to avoid injury.
10. Warrior II
Warrior II, or Virabhadrasana 2, strengthens the leg and ankle muscles and increases strength and stamina. It also opens the hips and strengthens the shoulders, neck and arms. This pose can be difficult for beginners, especially if they have shoulder or back injuries.
Many instructors teach students to bring their front knee close to a 90-degree angle and parallel with the mat. This is not essential, as every body is different and each student will have their own expression of the pose. It is more important to focus on rooting down with the feet and lengthening up with the spine.