A Yogi's Guide to Merging Calisthenics and Yoga

Ling Beisecker
A Yogi's Guide to Merging Calisthenics and Yoga

In all honesty, when I hear the word “calisthenics,” my brain jumps to the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” It doesn't really make sense, but it happens.

Sort of like how it might not seem like calisthenics and yoga could work together. The sound of it is something quite atrocious. However, if you do them together, you might find your practice a little more precocious.

What are Calisthenics?

Calisthenics are exercises using your own body weight and the laws of gravity and inertia to increase strength, fitness, and flexibility. It derives from the ancient Greek words kallos (beauty) and sthenos (strength). The exercises are generally performed without any equipment or apparatus making it cost-effective (aka FREE!).

There are a wide variety of exercise encompassed under the calisthenics umbrella including lunges, jumping jacks, squats, sit-ups, crunches, push-ups, pull-ups, leg raises, planks, and other exercises that might remind you of gym class in school.

Overall, the goal of calisthenics is to improve your muscular and aerobic condition, as well as your balance and coordination, which makes calisthenics a perfect complement to your yoga practice.

Here are some ways you can incorporate calisthenics into your yoga practice:

Lunges for Warrior Pose

Lunges are a great way to complement and strengthen the body for the infamous Warrior series, Virabhadrasana I-III.

A lunge consists of one leg forward with the toes in front of the heel, knee over the ankle, working the thigh parallel to the ground and the other leg extended back, back foot flexed, heel sending energy back, hips squaring, and thighs lifting toward the sky while the hips sink. To add intensity, squeeze the inner thighs towards each other.

Using the body to build strength, try slowly lowering the back knee toward the ground and then lifting the back leg to straighten while keeping the rest of the body stable and trying to minimize unnecessary movement. Repeat five times on each side.

To advance your practice, utilize the breath: exhale lower, inhale lift. If possible work on the front leg staying lower with each movement.

For my super bendy friends, keep your ligaments and connective tissue safe, and be mindful that your front hip is not lower than your front knee.

Sit-ups in Boat Pose

Sit-ups are a great way to fire up the core, and can be combined with Boat Pose, Navasana.

While sitting with the hips on the mat, feet resting on the ground, place the hands behind the thighs and send energy down through the feet to make them heavier. Lengthen the spine and both sides of the body, open the collar bones, lift the sternum forward and up, and allow the head to stay neutral with the spine (reminding ourselves that the spine lengthens into the head and ends in-between our ears).

From there, keep your back stable to avoid rounding the spine, which places pressure on the lower back and can lead to pain in Boat Pose. Keeping the feet heavy, knees and ankles staying super-glued together, slowly lift the legs, working the heels above the knees, and eventually, heels higher than the head.

In time, start to let the hands release from the thighs, palms facing towards each other and thumbs reaching up toward the ceiling.

Adding some calisthenics, work toward Canoe by slowly and simultaneously lowering the legs and the body. It is important to keep the heels higher than the hips to protect the lower back. Keep the upper back lengthening, collar bones opening, and sternum lifting to keep the core firing and protect the spine.

Repeat the transition from Boat to Canoe five times at first, and build up to ten times with a ten second hold each time in Canoe, working the biceps by the ears as you extend.

Planks to Vinyasa Flow

Planks are my all-time favorite calisthenics exercise for yoga!

For a Plank, shoulders are over the wrists, even weight throughout your hands to avoid applying all the pressure on the wrists (ouch!). The eyes of your elbows (that part that disappears or seems to wink at you when you bend your elbows) face toward each other to protect your rotator cuffs, as well as lengthen and open up your shoulders.

Knit the ribs together, imagining there are magnets on the front of your body pulling towards each other to lengthen the spine and back, head in line with the hips which are in line with the heels, and energy going forward through the crown of your head and back through your heels.

In time, work to Chaturanga. Press through your toes, shoulders over your middle fingers, lower shoulders in front of your elbows, elbows squeezing into the body, and using the core muscles to lower. Lift back to Plank using the back muscles, and press through the hands. Repeat five to ten times.

To increase the intensity, lower all the way to the ground, extend the biceps by the ears so you are lying flat on the floor with the arms extended, then place the hands back under the shoulders and keep the ribs knitted as the back and arm muscles lift you back into Plank. Then from Plank lift the hips for Down Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana.

From Down Dog, the options are endless. My favorite flow is lifting one leg and sending energy through the heel, then pressing forward to Plank with the knee toward the midline of the body, then lifting the leg and pressing forward to Plank with the knee toward one armpit, and finally lifting the leg and pressing forward to Plank with the knee toward the opposite elbow.

Repeat five to ten times then switch sides. Remember, that the slower the movement, imagining the air is heavy like moving through peanut butter, the more intense the movement.

Do you have any favorite calisthenics/yoga merges in your practice? We would love to hear more about your practice in the comments below!