For many of us, yoga is this intimidating thing that seems like a foreign type of exercise that we’ve never done — and might never do. “People may think that yoga is turning into a pretzel, and so many assume they won’t be good at it because they don’t have the flexibility,” says Jessica Matthews, a yoga teacher and author of “Stretching to Stay Young.” “But not only are some of the poses things you might do in your workout, they’re things you do in everyday life.”
Check out these five yoga poses that are similar to movements and strength exercises you’re probably already doing. Once you see that yoga isn’t so alien, you may feel more confident walking into a class.
HIGH LUNGE = LUNGE
A high lunge looks similar to your everyday lunge, but the two are not exactly the same. In a lunge, both knees are bent 90 degrees and your weight is distributed evenly.
However, in high lunge pose, your back leg is mostly straight. “This gives you a stretch along your front hip flexor and quad,” says Julia Falamas, a strength and conditioning coach and yoga teacher in New York City. The extra stretch, coupled with strength work, makes this an effective move.
CHATURANGA = PUSHUP
Chaturanga dandasana, or four-limbed staff pose, works your chest, triceps, shoulders and core, just like a body-weight pushup, Matthews says. But chaturanga is even better for building strength, Falamas says.
Most people perform a pushup with their hands wide and elbows flaring out to the sides. This causes your shoulder blades to hit each other, and you can’t go that low. But in chaturanga, your hands are directly below your shoulders and your elbows glide almost straight back, against your ribs. In this way, your shoulder blades glide up past each other so you can drop lower. “This is how all pushups should be done to keep your shoulders healthy,” Falamas says.
Even though your body can lower farther in chaturanga than a pushup, you only go halfway down, which builds more muscle. As a cue, ideally your elbows and shoulders should be in line with one another, Matthews says. If you can’t drop that low yet, your shoulders can be slightly higher than your elbows.
STANDING HALF-FORWARD BEND = DEADLIFT
If your yoga class includes sun salutations, you’ll do standing half-forward bends. To do this, after forward bend (where you fold over like you’re reaching for your toes), you rise halfway up, pushing your hips back slightly, straightening your legs as much as your hamstrings allow, and lifting your torso until it’s close to parallel to the ground. It’s similar to the bottom half of a deadlift.
In a deadlift, however, you bend your knees softly as you hinge forward, keeping your weight in your heels and allowing your back to arch more as you contract your lats to manage the weight you’re lifting.
The difference in your knees is key with these two. “Your hamstrings aid in lifting the weight in a deadlift,” Falamas says. “If your legs are locked out, you can’t contract them and generate power.”
BRIDGE = GLUTE BRIDGE
Both of these movements enhance mobility in the hips, which is great for all of us who sit all day. But the glute bridge only focuses on the hips — your spine stays neutral as you lift and engage your glutes and hamstrings.
On the other hand, bridge pose is not only a hip opener but also a backbend. “Your hips lift and most of your shoulder blades are off the ground, with the weight resting in your shoulders and back of your head,” Matthews says. “This helps your hips and thoracic spine have good mobility and range of motion so they operate in the way they’re intended to.”
MALASANA = SQUAT
Many times yoga instructors compare chair pose to a body-weight squat. Falamas, however, prefers to compare malasana, or garland pose, to a squat. “In chair pose, you never get your thighs below parallel to the ground, but most people should be able to get lower in a squat,” she says.
In malasana, you’re going for depth and flexibility. “Sit as low as possible, keeping your heels flat on the floor,” Falamas says. “You’re going for hip flexibility, so it doesn’t matter if your back starts to round in order for you to get low.”
In a squat, though, it’s essential to maintain the integrity of your spine. If your lower back starts to round, stop and come back to where you can keep your back straight, Falamas says. This will help prevent injury, especially if you’re doing a weighted squat.
No matter what happens your first time in yoga class, explore and have fun. It’s not about getting into a pose super deeply or getting everything “perfect.” Focus on doing what’s right for your body, that day.