While yoga is renowned for its transformative and therapeutic benefits, it is also a great way to test the limits of even the most dedicated yogis. No matter what level you practice at, there will always be a pose that presents a challenge!
While reaching for your toes might have been a huge achievement at the start of your yoga journey, now you may be looking for something that will put your strength, flexibility, or balance to the test.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that yoga teachers struggle with many of these poses too (yes, I’m talking about myself). It’s an incredibly humbling experience, but a rewarding one too.
If you’ve reached a point in your practice where you’re ready to tackle some of the most difficult yoga poses in the world, you’re in the right place!
In this article, we will cover:
- How to Perform Advanced Asanas Safely
- How to Know When You’re Ready
- 7 Most Difficult Yoga Poses in the World
Without further ado, let’s dive into the fascinating world of complex asanas that defy gravity and require incredible skill.
How to Perform Advanced Asanas Safely
As any yoga teacher worth their salt will tell you, safety always comes first. While we should always strive to make progress and challenge ourselves, it is also important to do it in a safe and sustainable way.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you stay safe as you attempt the most advanced yoga poses in the world:
- Assess your capability. Not to be harsh, but there is no point in trying to perform Hanumanasana if your hamstrings can barely handle a forward bend.
- Warm up. Treat these asanas as “peak poses”. Structure your session in a way that thoroughly prepares your body for your chosen yoga pose.
- Slow and steady. Don’t try to add too many poses to your repertoire at once. It’s best to tackle one pose at a time.
- Know your limits. It may take a while to master an advanced pose. Don’t sacrifice your alignment or your well-being to get there faster.
- Wind down. After performing a strenuous yoga pose, the body needs time to cool down and recover. The specifics will depend on the asana itself.
Difficult Yoga poses: How to Know When You’re Ready
From the list above, assessing your own capability may just be the toughest task of them all.
Of course, if you’re only starting out, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that you should stay away from the most difficult yoga poses for the time being. However, the more you practice, the more blurred that line becomes.
My best advice for you is to take a very close look at the pose you have set your sights on and compare it to your current practice.To use the earlier example, if your goal is to be able to achieve full Hanumanasana, you have to break it down. Since this pose requires major flexibility in hips and hamstrings, you can gauge your ability by performing other asanas that utilize those areas.
Most of the advanced yoga poses have variations that specifically target the muscle groups or skills (such as balance) required for the complete expression of the posture.
7 Most Difficult Poses
Now that we’ve set the stage and you’ve got your yoga mat ready, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
Before attempting any of these challenging yoga poses, please prioritize your safety and well-being. If you have any injuries, acute or chronic health conditions, or anything else that may put your practice at risk, be sure to consult a medical professional.
1. Lotus Pose (Padmasana)
- Warm-up: Easy Pose (Sukhasana), Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana)
- Prep poses: Head-to-Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana), Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana)
- Cool down and recovery: Hero Pose (Virasana), Corpse Pose (Savasana)
A block or cushion under the seat will help you free the hips for extra mobility.
Alternatively, you may remain on the ground and place blocks or rolled-up towels under your knees to support their weight.
2. Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana)
Hanumanasana is a grounded yoga pose that essentially looks like you’re doing the splits while your arms are stretched toward the sky.
Naturally, this stretch is very intense on the hips and hamstrings. Additionally, it requires some backhanding ability, balance, and upper body strength.
- Warm-up: Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana), Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
- Prep poses: Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana), Half Hanuman (Ardha Hanumanasana)
- Cool down and recovery: Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Truth be told, there is a big difference between Ardha Hanumanasana and the full pose. To start with, try placing a block (or blocks) under your hips to bridge the gap between the body and the floor.
3. Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
This pose is a balancing asana where the body is fully inverted, and the weight is supported solely by the hands. Regular handstand strengthens the shoulders, arms, and core, as well as improving focus and coordination.
- Warm-up: Hand and wrist activation, Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)
- Prep poses: Half Boat (Ardha Navasana), Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
- Cool down and recovery: Child’s Pose (Balasana), Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Before you can master the free-standing handstand, you should practice against the wall. It will provide you with the opportunity to build strength and confidence while maintaining safe practice.
Another great variation of handstands for beginners is a pike handstand. Starting in Down Dog with your heels against the wall, walk your feet up until your hips are over the shoulders and your legs are parallel to the ground.
4. Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)
Although it is often used as a shorthand for One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) and its variations, the full Pigeon Pose is a whole degree more difficult.
In essence, you perform a backbend so intense, your body forms a full circle. This requires extreme flexibility of the spine and shoulders, as well as stretching hip flexors and quadriceps.
- Warm-up: Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
- Prep poses: One-Legged Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana), Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
- Cool down and recovery: Plow Pose (Halasana), Knees-to-Chest (Apanasana)
A yoga wheel can provide the spine with support while also serving as an object you can reach for instead of your feet.
To try this variation, place the yoga wheel slightly behind you as you kneel, then lay back into the pose. Draping your body over it, reach your arms up and over to grip the edges of the yoga wheel.
5. Peacock Pose (Mayuranasa)
Not to be confused with the inversion of Flying Peacock, this pose really puts your balance and strength to the test. With the arms positioned under the center of the body, the goal is to float parallel to the ground in a stiff formation.
Even the hand and arm placement is tricky! Not to mention the process of engaging every muscle in your body and finding your balance in Peacock Pose.
- Warm-up: Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar), Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
- Prep poses: Crow Pose (Bakasana), Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
- Cool down and recovery: Child’s Pose (Balasana), hand and wrist stretches
Lifting the legs in this position is incredibly challenging. You may start by assisting yourself with a block placed under your pelvis or hips.
Alternatively, you can “shorten the lever” and bind your legs in Lotus before entering the arm balance. This variation can help you perfect the upper body technique required for this pose.
6. Scale Pose (Tolasana)
Firmly featured in Ashtanga Primary Series, this asana requires upper body and core strength, as well as hip flexibility. The practitioner must first enter Lotus Pose, then firm their hands on the ground and elevate their seat.
Even seasoned yogis find this pose challenging due to its multi-faceted nature. To top it off, in Ashtanga this pose is performed at the very end of the practice when the body is already quite fatigued.
- Warm-up: Core activation, hand and wrist activation
- Prep poses: Lotus Pose (Padmasana), Boat Pose (Navasana)
- Cool down and recovery: Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), hand and wrist stretches, Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Although being able to perform Padmasana is technically a prerequisite, you can start practicing other aspects of this pose without it. Try working on Scale Pose with your legs in Half Lotus or simply cross-legged.
The other challenge is lifting your seat off the ground. To help you build arm and core strength, try pressing your hands into a pair of blocks or gripping small parallettes.
7. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Hear me out. Yes, the rest of the asanas on this list have requires feats of strength, flexibility, and balance.
Isn’t Savasana the most universally accessible yoga pose out there?
Well, yes and no. Physically, almost anyone can perform a stellar Savasana or a variation thereof. However, yoga goes far beyond the physical.
When you tackle Savasana, you don’t simply lie back and relax. You teach your body the value of stillness, and you use this stillness to hone awareness of your body and mind.
To spend quality time in Savasana, you must be as comfortable as possible. You may choose to keep your knees bent or drape your legs over a bolster. You may choose to rest your arms on your belly.
You may also use a number of props, such as a blanket or an eye pillow. This will help you stay focused without the superficial distractions of your physical body.
Let’s Get Started!
Ready to tackle the first pose on our list? Check out this anatomical breakdown of Lotus Pose that will help you avoid common mistakes: