You have a mat-inspired superpower and you may not even realize it. A typical yoga practice is packed full of what Amy Cuddy defines as power poses. Cuddy is a social psychologist who gave a famous TED Talk on how body language impacts how we think and feel about ourselves. She conducted a research study on the concept of power posing at Harvard University and revealed that people who held high-power poses (standing with their hands on their hips) had lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and higher levels of testosterone (the power hormone) compared to their counterparts who adopted low-power poses (seated with arms and legs crossed). She observed a higher level of risk tolerance, enhanced performance in job interviews and more confidence, optimism and assertiveness in individuals who held high-power poses for only two minutes as compared to those who held low-power poses.
If you are gearing up for an important meeting, job interview, presentation or just need an extra dose of confidence for the day, you may want to take a few minutes to unroll your mat and activate your yoga superpower. It begins with setting an intention of expansiveness and creating a power pose-packed yoga flow. Take a look at this quick yoga practice to give yourself a boost of confidence and empowerment for your next big thing.
1. UPWARD SALUTE (URDHVA HASTASANA)
HOW TO: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and firmly grounded into your mat. Engage your legs and core and reach your arms up while you relax your shoulders and the muscles in your face. Feel the grounded power of this simple pose as you press down into your feet and engage even more through your legs and core. Consider your intention of expansiveness as you hold this pose to launch your practice. Notice your ribcage expand with each inhalation. Hold for two minutes as you focus on your breath. If you’re short on time, just doing this one simple pose is enough to give you a dose of empowerment. (If you’re out in public, try this pose in a bathroom stall or a quiet corner in a hallway).
2. WARRIOR II (VIRABHADRASANA II)
HOW TO: With feet nearly as wide as the longest edge of your mat, turn your front foot to the top edge of your mat and align your back foot so that your arch is in the same line as the heel on your front foot. Bend your front knee to stack above your ankle and reach your arms out towards the front and back edges of your mat. Hold as you take your gaze across your front fingertips and notice the strength in your body as you actively reach in opposite directions.
3. HORSE POSE (UTKATA KONASANA) TO FIVE-POINTED STAR (UTTHITA TADASANA)
HOW TO: Stand facing the side edge of your mat with feet wide and heels turned inward while you keep your toes pointing outward. Bend your knees to stack them over your ankles and squat down so that your hips are close to the same level as your knees. Begin with your hands at heart center and palms together. On your inhalation, move your arms up into a “V” shape and straighten your legs. Exhale to re-bend your knees and draw your hands back to heart center.
4. HALF MOON (ARDHA CHANDRASANA)
HOW TO: Place one foot near the top of your mat with toes pointing to the top edge. Bring your arms into a “T” shape. Root down through your foot and lean your torso towards the front edge of the mat, allowing your back foot to lift up. Reach your front fingertips to the ground as you reach your opposite hand upwards (consider using a yoga block for support). Aim to stack your hips and shoulders to keep your body facing the side of your mat. Send energy down into the standing leg and reach the back leg back as you flex your top foot. Expand open the arms, setting your gaze at one point on the ground.
5. SUPER COBRA (BHUJANGHASANA)
HOW TO: Begin on your belly with your feet hip-width apart and your hands off your mat in line with your shoulders. Tent your hands by pressing down into your fingertips and drawing up through the palms of your hands. Press your pubic bone down to activate through your low back, glutes and abdomen. As you inhale, lift your chest up and forward and hold for a full breath. Release down on your next exhalation.
6. BRIDGE (SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA)
HOW TO: Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms on your mat down by your sides with heels just out of reach of your fingertips. Keep your gaze straight up and ground your feet into the mat to lift your hips up. Tune into the openness in your chest and front of your hips and press your shoulders down into your mat.
7. WIDE ANGLE SEATED FORWARD BEND (UPAVISTHA KONASANA)
HOW TO: Begin in a seated position on your mat (consider sitting on a yoga blanket or towel to raise your hips slightly for better preparation for this pose). Widen your legs out into a “V” shape. Press your heels and the balls of your feet away from your torso, lengthen your spine by drawing the crown of your head high. Keep the length in your spine as you fold forward from your hips.
8. SUPPORTED FISH (MATSYASANA)
HOW TO: Place a yoga block on your mat a little more than halfway toward the top. Position yourself to lie on your mat with the yoga block meeting the bottom edge of your shoulder blades on its lowest height. Use as much space as you can comfortably take by widening your legs so that your feet meet the edges of your mat and allow your arms to extend away from your body. Invite your heart to expand on your inhalations and soften and relax the back of your body into the support of the block with each exhalation.
Photos by Kristina Wood Photography.
Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2021 issue.