Many yoga poses are named after animals and other things in the natural world that they…
The physicality of yoga as a practice allows us to move in a way that’s natural for the human body. Our modern lifestyles do however lead to a decrease in our range of motion, making it more challenging for us to practice the different animal yoga poses.
Many yoga asanas are named after animals because they either mimic an animal’s movements, resemble the shape of an animal’s body, or evoke an animal’s energy, which can be helpful to the practice.
Kids love practicing yoga with these poses because it makes the movements more fun and allows them to explore their creativity. Adults equally benefit from these poses, as they help us remember our childlike wonder regarding the different animals and ourselves.
Our favourite animal yoga poses will get your entire body moving and engaged as well as increase your flexibility and strength, and most importantly, they will bring your awareness and presence back into your body so that you may find a joyful and steady stillness in each of the asanas.
Downward Facing Dog (in short Down Dog)
Have you ever seen a dog stretch after a good sleep or nap? They bring their lower body down to the ground, stretch their front paws forward and lengthen their entire body with their tails pointing up.
Therefore, to get into Downward Facing Dog, place your palms on the mat, spread your fingers wide and push your hips back and up to stretch out your spine and point your tailbone up to the sky.
Push your hips towards your thighs, engage your arms and rotate your upper arms inwards.
If your hamstrings allow you to do so, straighten your legs and bring your heels down to your mat. However, if you feel like your body isn’t ready for this movement yet, make sure not to force it.
Upward Facing Dog (in short Up Dog)
After lengthening your spine with Downward Facing Dog, it’s now primed for a strengthening backbend in Upward Facing Dog – just like a real pup would do while stretching.
From Down Dog, shift into Chaturanga Dandasana. On your next inhale, stay on the tips of your toes or the backs of your feet, straighten your arms and look upwards without compressing your cervical spine.
Roll your shoulders back and draw your navel in towards your spine to activate your core. Engage your thighs so they remain a few inches above your mat. Keep a microbend in your elbows.
Deepen your backbend with Cobra Pose, which is less active than Up Dog but still strengthens and tones your arms. This pose creates a balance between strength and flexibility in your body. Imagine a cobra that’s hypnotized by a snake charmer.
Begin by lying on your belly with your palms placed flat on the ground and in line with your shoulders. Your elbows are bent on either side of your body and pointing towards the sky.
Inhale to push yourself up and off the mat. Keep a slight bend in your elbows while you press into the mat to lift up your entire upper body (head to waist). Alternatively, you may do the Baby Cobra variation with your belly and lower ribs still touching the mat.
King Pigeon Pose
Pigeon is a deep hip opener that also requires ankle mobility. Practice this pose mindfully and carefully but immediately release the asana if you feel any sharp pain in your knees.
From a Downward Facing Dog, bring your right leg forward and position your right knee behind your right wrist. There are two ways to position your right leg. Start out by placing it at a diagonal so that it runs from your right wrist to your left hip. Activate your right leg by pressing down through the top of your foot and click your toes into the mat. If your hips are very flexible, slide your right leg up to where it’s level with your knee, horizontal and parallel to the top of the mat. Flex your right foot and press down the outer edge of your foot. Slide your left leg straight behind you as far as possible and place your foot flat on the mat.
Keep your hips pointing forward and, if needed, use a block to prop up your right hip.
Lengthen your spine and either fold forward or hold yourself up with your arms straightened. If you remain upright, expand your chest and imagine that you’re a pigeon with a puffed chest.
For balance, repeat this asymmetrical pose with your other leg.
Upward Facing Swan and Sleeping Swan
Swan is a Yin Yoga pose that stretches your hamstrings and quads and opens up your hips. It’s actually a variation of King Pigeon Pose.
As you hold yourself upright in Upward Facing Swan, keep your shoulders rolled back and spine extended. Imagine that you’re a graceful swan that’s floating on the water and has a long neck.
Fold forward for Sleeping Swan. It’s exactly the same as King Pigeon Pose.
Cat-Cows are often practiced as a tandem Vinyasa because the two poses complement each other and the movement from one pose to the other is very natural and organic.
Start in a table top position with a neutral spine. Inhale, push your chest forward, draw your shoulder blades together, point your tailbone up to the sky, and allow your belly to relax towards the floor like the udders of a cow.
When you exhale, reverse the motion of your spine and imagine that a rope is pulling your heart up to the sky through your back. Point your tailbone downwards, draw your shoulder blades away from each other, and bring your navel in towards your spine. Imagine that your body is shaped like the arched back of a frightened cat, just like the ones you may find on Halloween cards.
Tiger Pose is a natural progression after you’ve taken a few breaths in Cat-Cow Vinyasa and end up in a neutral table top position. It’s named after the Tiger because it mimics the movements that this big cat makes after it wakes up from a deep slumber.
In addition to deepening your backbend, it will tone your back muscles, expand your chest, stretch your legs, and challenge your balance.
Keep your gaze forward while you lift up your right leg. With your left hand, reach back and grasp your right ankle from the outside.
You may hold the pose here or extend your leg even more so that your leg pulls on your arm to deepen the pose.
For balance on both sides of your body, repeat this pose with your left leg and arm.
Camel is a deep back bending asana that makes your body look like the big hump on a camel’s back.
Start from a kneeling position with your knees hip width distance apart. Adjust as needed. Keep the tops of your feet on the ground and place your palms on the top part of your buttocks. Draw your elbows in towards each other.
Inhale to lengthen your spine. Exhale and push your hips forward. Relax your neck back unless it leads to discomfort, pain, or issues with breathing. Roll your shoulders back and push your chest forward and up to deepen the backbend.
If you can reach your heels from behind without applying too much force, grip the backs of your heels. If not, leave your hands on your back for support or place them onto blocks next to your feet.
Butterfly Pose is one of the seated animal yoga poses that help increase hip mobility. While practicing this pose, you may choose to gently pulse your knees up and down like the fluttering of butterfly wings. Although the jury is still out as to whether this will help increase your hip flexibility faster, you may feel that it’s beneficial to you.
As you sit on your mat or on a block, bring the soles of your feet together. They may be close to your groin if your flexibility allows it, or you may want to place them further away from you to adjust to your own body.
Allow your knees to fall open to the sides. If needed, prop them up with blocks, blankets or pillows.
Either stay upright with your spine elongated and crown reaching up to the sky, or fold forward from your hips and towards your feet. While in this pose, you may also use blocks or pillows to lay your chest and head on.
Fish Pose is a backbend that also applies gentle pressure to the top of your head, which is said to activate the Crown Chakra.
Lie on your back and place your hands underneath your buttocks with your palms facing the ground. Roll your shoulders back and bring your elbows underneath you as far as you can.
Inhale to push your elbows into the ground and lift up your upper body. Keep your neck relaxed so that the top of your head touches the mat.
To avoid putting too much strain on your neck, most of your weight should be on your arms and not on your head.
In addition to improving blood circulation to your limbs, this pose also strengthens your legs and core, and increases your focus and attention, just like that of an eagle that’s perched on a post and scanning the area around him from up above.
Begin in a standing position and slightly bend your knees. Bring your right leg up and wrap your right knee around your left leg. If you can, wrap your ankle around your left calf as well.
At the same time, cross your right arm under your left arm and then wrap your right arm around your left arm. Wrap your wrists around each other as well so that your palms end up facing each other. Raise your elbows to the same height as your shoulders and hold your gaze out in front of you and beyond your hands.
After a few breaths on this side, repeat the pose with your left arm and leg wrapped around the right.
Crow and Crane Pose
Crow Pose can seem like an impressive arm balance but it’s one of the first balancing asanas that a novice yoga practitioner may attain.
Come into a full squat on your mat and place your palms on the floor and in between your feet. Bend your elbows to create a shelf and place your knees on your upper arms, just above your elbows.
Focus on a point a few feet in front of your mat as you shift your weight forward into your hands.
Either bring one foot after the other off the ground or, if you can maintain stability, lift both feet up at the same time.
You may begin by placing your feet on a block until you get used to the angle of your body in Crow Pose.
As you gain strength in your arms and core, you may progress by placing your knees closer to your armpits and straightening your arms. This variation is called Crane Pose because your arms resemble the long legs of this bird.
Elephant Trunk Pose
Elephant Trunk Pose is a fun arm balance to play with. In this pose, your extended leg resembles the long trunk of an elephant. Aside from strengthening your arms, core, and legs, it also stabilizes your pelvic girdle and helps improve your concentration and determination.
Start in Dandasana, or Staff Pose, by sitting on your mat with your legs stretched out in front of you and your hands by your sides. Bend your right leg and bring your right foot on your tiptoes to make room for your right arm, which you then can thread underneath your bent leg.
Position your right leg in such a way that the crease of your knee rests on your triceps. Hug your leg and arm into each other.
Place both hands on your mat, spread your fingers wide, and press firmly into the ground to lift up your entire body. Keep your left leg extended in front of you. Point the toes on both of your feet.
Hold this pose for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side of your body.
To get more details, read my article about the elefant trunk pose
Balancing Bear Pose
Balancing Bear Pose is another one of the seated animal yoga poses that challenges your balance, stretches your hamstrings and adductors, opens up your hips, and strengthens your core, all at the same time. While you’re sitting there, balancing on your buttocks with your feet up in the air, this pose makes you feel like you’re a playful, young bear.
Begin in a seated position with your legs extended in front of you. Then bend your knees, reach forward and wrap your index and middle fingers around the big toe of both of your feet. Inhale as you bring your feet off the mat, and then lift and extend your legs out in front of you. Separate your feet so that your legs form a V-shape.
Find a comfortable position for your buttocks without putting too much pressure on your tail bone or bending your spine.
If needed, you may keep your knees bent, use a yoga strap to extend your reach, sit on a folded towel or blanket, or practice Half Balancing Bear by only lifting and extending one leg at a time.
To get more details, read my article about the balancing bear pose
Locust Pose is another backbend that engages the entire body, particularly the buttocks, legs, hips, core and shoulders.
Start by lying on your belly and bring your legs together, big toes touching. Lift your legs up behind you and raise your lower limbs and body as high up as possible.
Simultaneously lift your upper body off the ground and reach your chest forward. Interlace your fingers behind your back und pull them towards your feet.
Rabbit Pose is a deep forward fold.
Start in a kneeling position and sit your buttocks down on your heels. Grab your heels in such a way that your thumbs are on the outside and your fingers on the inside of your heels. Tuck your chin in towards your chest, push your hips up to the ceiling and press your arms against your legs. If you’re able to, place your forehead on your knees and the top of your head on your mat.
To prevent injuries and make sure that your neck is unharmed during this pose, don’t turn your neck to the left or right or try to peek at the other students in the class. You shouldn’t feel any strain on your neck as most of the effort exerted in this pose should come from your hands pulling on your heels to create more length.
Tortoise Pose is another deep forward fold. This pose takes you to the extreme in terms of increasing hip mobility and hamstring flexibility.
The pose resembles a Seated Wide Legged Forward Fold, but instead of your hands reaching forward, they go back underneath your knees. Your feet point forward and your hands are palms down towards the back. To do this, your chest must be able to touch the ground completely. Like this you look like a tortoise under your turtle shell.
Caterpillar Pose is another Yin Yoga Pose that stretches your spine and hamstrings. It also stimulates your kidneys and bladder as well as your adrenal glands.
Sit on your mat with your legs stretched out in front of you. Fold forward from your hips, letting your spine round off. You can either reach for your toes or lay your hands beside your hips.
Frog Pose is a powerful animal yoga pose that stretches your body no matter how long you’ve been practicing yoga. Although you already need a certain amount of flexibility to get into the pose, the pose itself will help you to open up your body even more and increase your level of mobility.
Frog Pose helps develop flexibility in your quads, hips, and chest, as well as your shoulders and wrists. It also increases the strength of your back muscles and arms, which you need for holding the pose.
For starters, lie down on your stomach. Place your forearms on the mat, push yourself up into Sphynx Pose, and spread your legs so that your knees are further apart than hip width distance.
Bend your knees and move your feet towards your buttocks. Moving one arm at a time, reach back to hold the backs of your toes and push them down towards your buttocks.
Push your chest forward to help you hold your body up like a frog that’s ready for its next jump.
Work your way up to this pose by opening up your hips with Reclining Hero Pose.
Scorpion Pose is a challenging and energizing backbend that you may build on if you already have a regular practice that includes other inversions like Handstands and Forearm Stands. It stretches your hip flexors and chest muscles and strengthens your arms, back, core, and shoulders.
Begin with a solid foundation in Forearm Stand. Push your elbows into the ground and spread your fingers wide.
Look forward as you bend your knees. Carefully move your pelvis and hips forward and towards the area above your head to create a C-shape with your body that resembles a scorpion’s tail that’s ready to sting.
Point your toes and bring your feet together but keep your knees opened wide and hip width distance apart. With practice, your toes may eventually touch the top of your head but make sure to always focus on your strength and stability rather than your flexibility.
Other Animal Yoga Poses
In traditional and modern yoga styles there are many more yoga poses named after animals.
While they’re a great way to bring an element of fun and creativity into your yoga practice, they are just as often the key to getting kids started on their own yoga adventure as well.
>>Recommended Yoga Mat for Animal Yoga Poses: Liforme Original Yoga Mat