Some people think of yoga as “glorified stretching”—a wimpy workout compared to more intense activities like CrossFit or spin class. But as anyone who has taken a vinyasa flow or power yoga class can attest, yoga is no joke. It’s good for increasing flexibility, yes, but yoga also builds killer strength and sculpts a toned, lean physique. Below, just in time for the holidays, we demonstrate six intermediate yoga postures that tone and tighten from head to toe. All you need is a mat and a few feet of space, so these poses can be done anywhere—in the living room in front of the fire, in the guest bedroom at your parent’s house, wherever!
Hold each pose for about five breaths, then switch to the other side.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Tones shoulders, core, inner thighs. Stretches the hips and opens the chest.
This foundational yoga posture is great for stretching the hips and groin while building leg and arm strength. Step back three to four feet. Turn your back foot out 90 degrees, keeping your left heel aligned with the right heel. Bend deeply into your front leg so that your shin is perpendicular to the floor and knee directly above your ankle. Extend your arms out parallel to either side, and gaze out beyond your middle finger.
Warrior Twist (Virabhadrasana I)
Tones legs and core; opens chest and shoulder
Not only does this pose challenge your balance and leg strength, the deep twisting motion activates your core and engages those hard-to-reach obliques. From a basic Warrior 1 high-lunge pose, bring your hands into prayer and carefully twist your torso over your front leg, sucking your abdominals. Gaze over your top shoulder, and keep your back quad lifted. If this is too much, you can always lower your back leg onto the floor.
Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana)
Strengthens core, obliques, quads, hamstrings, buttocks, spine; opens up the hips and shoulders.
This balance pose builds serious leg strength—your legs might be shaking and quivering at first—and the act of raising your back leg activates your butt muscles. Holding half moon also challenges your core muscles to keep you stabilized. To do it, start to bend your right knee, gradually shifting your weight into your right leg while lifting your left foot off the floor. Bring your right hand to the floor, keeping it stacked under your shoulder, and float your left arm straight up to the sky, gazing upwards beyond your top hand. Flex your left foot and keep it pointed towards the wall.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Tones core, obliques, shoulders; strengthens the wrists.
A great waistline-whittling move, side plank challenges your arm strength while blasting away abdominal fat. Make sure your wrists are directly beneath your shoulders; raise up onto the side of your feet, keeping your hips lifted, and gaze towards the sky. If this pose is too intense, you can stack one foot in front of the other, forming one line with your feet at the back of your mat.
Side Plank with Lifted Leg (Vasisthasana)
Tones core, obliques, shoulders.
If side plank is a breeze, kick things up a notch by either lifting your top leg or grabbing your toe with your first two fingers. This advanced posture strengthens pretty much every muscle in your body—core, obliques, shoulders, and hamstrings—while challenging your sense of balance.
Crow Pose (Bakasana)
Strengthens core, triceps, wrists.
This advanced arm balance is great for strengthening the core, as well as the triceps and wrists. To get into crow pose, crouch down with your knees bent and place your palms flat on your mat in front of you, about shoulder distance apart. Then, place the knees on the back of the triceps and start to tip forward, gently lifting your feet off the floor until you come to balance with both feet up in the air. It takes some practice, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time!