In yoga, transitions are just as important as the poses, if not more important. The movement from one pose to the next provides a different kind of physical and mental challenge than holding poses. Because yoga pose transitions are dynamic (versus static), you’re stretching and strengthening the muscles and joints while moving, which results in a wider, more stable range of motion.
And you can actually tell a lot about a yogi by the way they transition—is it rushed, slow, choppy, smooth, controlled? (Pro tip: you want to aim for smooth and controlled).
Below, we’ve broken down a few beginner poses with typical transitions. You’re likely to practice these in a class (if you haven’t already). And if you have, we’ve included a few tips to hone your transition ability. The list is also arranged in a way that presents a comprehensive yoga sequence.
1. Cow Pose to Cat Pose
Begin in a Table Top position on all fours. Shoulders should be aligned above the wrists and hips aligned above the knees. Inhale and sink the belly towards the ground gazing forward. The shoulders should draw up and back (shoulder blades reach towards each other) and the tailbone reaches high towards the ceiling.
Transition into Cat: From Cow Pose, start to exhale and tilt the pelvis inward, arching the back. The gaze moves with the body, now looking towards the belly.
Cat Pose Tip: Engage the core and try to push the the floor away (but keep grounded). It should almost feel like you’re sucking the belly in as the middle of the spine reaches towards the ceiling.
2. Low Lunge to Half Split
To start in a Low Lunge, bring the sole of the right foot to the ground in front of you stepping the left leg back and lowering the left knee to the ground. The front knee and ankle should be in line with each other and the back toes should be untucked. Inhale and lengthen through the spine reaching upwards.
Low Lunge Tip: To get the proper hip stretch and to avoid stretching the hip capsule, tilt the pelvis backward (posterior tilt).
Transition into Half Split: On the exhale, straighten through the front leg shifting the hips back. This may be enough of a hamstring stretch and if it is stay here. For more of a challenge, release the fingertips to the ground on either side of the front knee (or to blocks).
Half Split Tips: To prevent the chest from collapsing into the pose, remember to keep a flat back and avoid curling over the front leg.
3. Downward Dog to Plank Pose
Coming into Downward Dog, plant the hands and feet about 3-5 feet away from each other (depending on your height). Creating an inverted ‘V’ shape, exhale while reaching the chest towards the thighs and the tailbone towards the ceiling. Push the floor away from you as you reach the heels closer to the ground.
Downward Dog Tip: Rather than focusing on straight legs with heels on the ground, try to elongate through the spine and arms. It can helpful in the beginning stages to slightly bend the knees in Downward Dog to get the real feel of the pose.
Transition into Plank: On your inhale, use the core muscles to shift the body forward aligning shoulders above wrists. The legs should be be straight and engaged. With the core still engaged, the hips should find a happy medium (not too high or too low). Reach the heels back as the neck neutralizes with a central gaze a few inches beyond the fingertips.
4. Chair Pose to Forward Fold
Squatting into Chair Pose, bring the feet about fist-distance apart, bend the knees, and sink the hips. Inhale and elongate through the spine by reaching the arms up and forward alongside the ears. Gaze forward and engage the core to prevent the chest from dropping forward over the legs.
Chair Tip: Sometimes referred to as “Awkward Chair”, the pose should actually feel awkward. You should be squatting in that in-between spot— not quite comfortable, not quite uncomfortable. The knees should bend until the the tips of the toes are just barely within sight over your knees.
Transition into Forward Fold: Exhaling, you’ll straighten through the knees lifting the hips. In the same continuous motion, start to fold the torso forward and down by bending at the hips and keeping a flat back. Relax the neck in Forward Fold Pose.
Forward Fold Tip: Allow the knees to slightly bend to prevent strain on the back.
5. Warrior II to Triangle Pose
Stepping into Warrior II, take the legs a few feet apart and swivel the back heel down to a 45-degree angle with the toes facing out. Aim for front and back heel alignment. The front foot faces forward and the front knee bends to a 90-degree angle (with knee aligned above the ankle).
Inhale. Reach the arms out to a ‘T’ with the front arm reaching forward over the front leg and the back arm reaching back. Gaze over the front fingertips and relax the shoulders down and away from the ears.
Warrior II Tip: The hips should be actively trying to open and the core should be engaged (which will naturally tuck the ribs in and the tailbone down).
Transition into Triangle: To come into Triangle Pose, straighten the front knee and turn the back foot out to a 90-degree angle (perpendicular to the front foot).
With arms still in a ‘T’, exhale shifting the hips back and reach the front arm forward as far as possible. Keep the hips neutral and begin to tilt the torso over the front leg, reaching the front arm down, and back arm up. Start working the gaze upwards past the extended fingertips to the ceiling.
Triangle Pose Tip: Feel free to lightly rest the front hand on the shin. OR press the back of the hand into the inner shin to provide leverage to open more through the pose.
6. Boat to Savasana
From a seated position, extend through the spine to set up for Boat Pose. From there, inhale and raise the legs off of the ground bringing the knees to bend. Naturally, the torso should have shifted back, so the thighs and torso are now in a ‘V’ shape. Gaze forward and reach the arms out towards the knees. Keep the back flat and draw the shoulder blades back and down.
Boat Tip: For more of a challenge, straighten the knees extending the legs out long and upwards.
Transition into Savasana: With the core engaged in Boat Pose, exhale and start to extend the legs straight. Slowly lower the rest of the body simultaneously to the ground. Savasana is the final resting pose in yoga, so settle into the posture by releasing the body, mind, thoughts, and any tension.
Transitions can be tough and feel wonky at first, but always start by finding a solid foundation and stability before leaping to the next pose. Remember to tap into the core, letting those muscles lead the transitory shift into another pose.
Transitions can teach us off the mat how to flow gracefully, thoughtfully, and easily from one situation to the next. And most importantly, have fun with it! Find expression in your movements and make it mean something rather than just going through the motions.
Image credit: Alissa Kepas