Yoga is well known for its many benefits—increased flexibility, lowered stress, and improved balance, to name only a few. “But you must practice every day to get the benefits yoga has to offer,” says Cincinnati yoga instructor Paula Bortolotto, the owner and director of Anahata Yoga Center. Whether or not you practice yoga every day, certain poses can be hard to master. Headstands and other arm inversions might be the first poses that come to mind. But it can be equally challenging “just to be still,” as Will Brashear, an instructor at Cincinnati Yoga School, points out. “It is not a challenge for the body, but for the mind,” he says. New students might also be surprised by which poses they find challenging, such as downward-facing dog, one of the postures in a traditional sun-salutation sequence. Read on as Paula and World Peace Yoga’s Anna Ferguson share their tips for perfecting two of yoga’s more difficult poses: crane pose and the headstand. Crane Pose (Bakasana) When Paula first started practicing yoga, this was the hardest pose for her to master. “It took about a month of practice at least four times a week,” she says. Here are her tips for holding the pose without nose-diving on your yoga mat:  Put a block under your head and rest your forehead on it. Work at lifting your feet.  Lie on your back and assume the position of bakasana. Lifting your head, reach your hands up high, and pull your knees into your armpits. Build abdominal strength to practice on your hands.  Practice downward dog in this manner: lift your right leg up high behind you, bend the knee and lift it up. Hold for a breath. Keeping the knee bent, swing it underneath you and touch your knee to your right elbow. Keep the foot high. Repeat three times on the right, and then try the left side. This builds arm, wrist, and abdominal strength, and also opens the hips for bakasana.  “Let go of the results,” Paula tells her students. “When your mind is ready, the body will follow. Know that you are perfect in every way. Enjoy the journey.” Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana) Anna finds inversions and arm balances the most challenging, particularly the headstand. Although she believes that further refinement of technique is possible with any pose, “I feel much more at ease in it now.” She didn’t put a time frame on feeling more comfortable holding a headstand, but instead continued to practice “without expectation or attachment to results.” These are her simple tips for doing a headstand or other inversion:   Breathe consciously.  Focus on an uplifting intention or purpose.  Don’t get caught up in the outer form. Be present within.  “There is no benefit in achieving an aesthetic quality of a pose when we’re holding our breath or forcing our way through it,” Anna says. These yoga poses may be difficult, but “our practice is to handle that stress in a healthy, calm, and peaceful way,” she says.
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