Cobra is a great substitution for upward facing dog in sun salutations! After your chaturanga, lower completely down to the mat keeping your hands near the rib cage. Make sure your shoulders stay rolled back and down, away from your ears. Lift your upper body off of the mat and project your chest forward. I like to think of keeping everything from my belly button down on the mat.
For side angle pose, begin from Reverse Warrior. Drop the front arm to rest the elbow on the thigh. Extend the back arm up overhead, next to your ear. You want to look like a diagonal line from your extended back leg all the way up through your fingertips. Feel a nice stretch through your side body of your extended arm. Remember, your bent knee should still be directly over your ankle or slightly behind!
For extended side angle, drop the front arm down to the ground in front of and in line with the bent front leg and place your fingers on the ground. Everything else from side angle applies here! Don’t let the upper shoulder drop forward towards the ground. Imagine you are stuck between two boards to keep everything aligned properly.
From Warrior II, as you inhale, slide your back arm down the back leg and bring the front arm up overhead. Turn your gaze up towards your fingertips and feel a nice stretch in your front side body. Stay here for 3 breaths. Your lower body should not have changed at all –i.e. – front knee bent directly over ankle, both legs active and engaged with weight distributed evenly between them.
Begin from a standing position. Step your foot back a full stride (approximately 3.5 to 4 feet, or however far is comfortable for you) and turn the foot out to about a 45 degree angle while really pressing the outer edge of your foot into your mat. One major point about Warrior I is keeping your hips square to the front. It’s easy to let your hips open towards the back leg, especially after angling the back foot, so really focus on keeping them square over the front leg. If keeping your hips square to the front is difficult with your foot at a 45 degree angle, adjust the angle of your foot forward until your hips can stay square comfortably. You should feel your weight distributed evenly between both of your feet, i.e. – one leg should not be bearing more weight than the other. As you inhale, bring your arms up overhead with palms facing each other and as you exhale, bend the front knee until it is directly over the ankle or slightly behind. An important checkpoint here is that you can see your toes below your knee. If you can’t see your toes, your knee is most likely bent over your ankle, which can add unwanted stress to the knee joint and possibly injury. Make sure to keep your shoulders down away from your ears and keep your gaze straight forward, or look up towards your hands for more of a challenge. Your upper body should be tall and straight with your shoulders over your hips (no leaning forwards or backwards!). Stay here for 3-5 breaths.
Begin standing. Shift your weight to one leg and lift the other off the ground as you raise your arms overhead. On your exhale, begin to tilt your upper body forward while extending your lifted leg straight back. Keep your hips square (don’t let the hip on the lifted leg open towards the ceiling!) and really reach through your arm and extended leg. Focusing on a single point is key for balance. Stay for a few breaths and repeat with the other leg.
Begin standing. Shift your weight to one foot as you bend the opposite leg at the knee and lift the foot off the ground. Reach back with the same arm as the lifted leg and grab the outside of the foot. Feel free to use a strap if that’s more accessible. Lift the opposite arm overhead as you inhale. As you exhale, tilt the body forward while keeping the chest lifted. Reach through the extended front arm and really think about kicking the lifted leg up and back. Return to standing and repeat with the other leg.
Begin standing. Transfer your weight to one foot and lift the other off the ground. Grab the big toe of the lifted foot and extend the leg straight in front of you. Keep your back straight and tall as you do this! Modify with a strap if extending the leg while holding the toe causes your back to round. Add a challenge to this pose by extending the leg to the side (great for hip mobility!) or adding a twist by grabbing the toe with the opposite hand. After several breaths, come back to standing and repeat on the other leg.
Begin standing. Shift your weight to one leg as you lift the other leg off the ground. Place the foot of the lifted leg at either the ankle, calf, or thigh, NEVER at the knee!!! Make sure to keep the hip of your standing leg lifted and strong, don’t let it pop out to the side! Keep your hands at heart center, or lift them up overhead. Look up towards your hands to really challenge your balance. It’s helpful to focus on a singular point, either in front of you or above you if you’re looking up. Stay here for 3-5 breaths and repeat on the other leg.
From a standing position, move your feet to the width of your mat, or slightly further than hip width distance apart. Move your body down into a wide-leg squat. Keep your back straight and bring your hands to heart center and feel a nice stretch in your hips and inner thighs. You can use your elbows to push your legs out slightly, but only as far as it is comfortable for you and as long as you can keep the back straight. For more of a challenge, move to a bound position by twisting from the waist and wrapping your arms around your leg behind you. Don’t forget to keep your back straight as you do this and repeat on both sides if you choose this option!
I like to move into this pose from three-legged dog, but you can also move into this from a tabletop position. From three-legged dog, bend the lifted leg at the knee and bring that ankle to the opposite wrist (i.e. – if the right leg is lifted, bend the right knee. Bring the right knee to the right hand and the right ankle to the left wrist so the leg is (as) perpendicular to the body as is comfortable for you. This front ankle should now be in line with the opposite hip. Keep this front foot flexed and begin to lower down to the mat, while sliding the back leg straight back and sinking the hips to the floor. Only lower down as long as you can keep the hips square. Keep the hands on your mat near your hips and sit up as straight as possible, keeping the spine long. You can also take a forward fold over your tucked front leg by sliding the arms forward and hinging at the hips. For more of a challenge in pigeon, you can take your arms off of the ground and add more of a backbend to the position, or even move into mermaid or one-legged king pigeon pose.
*See Reclined Hip Opener for another option that stretches the hips without placing pressure on the knee joint!