What qualities come to mind when you think of a tiger? You might describe them as striking, graceful, confident, and even majestic.
These are also the qualities embodied by the yoga posture Tiger Pose. It offers a gentle backbend and enhances flexibility, mobility, balance, and strength.
Tiger Pose happens to be one of my personal favorites in my own personal practice, not just for its usefulness as a warm-up but because it checks so many boxes: this pose combines strength building, spinal mobility, balancing, a great psoas (hip) stretch, and a heart opener.
If you wake up stiff in the mornings or come home from your workday feeling stooped over and tense, this pose is one of my top recommendations!
Here, we’ve put together a complete guide breaking down the essential elements of Vyaghrasana, including tips for including it as part of a complete yoga sequence.
So, are you ready to embrace your inner tiger? Roll out your mat, and let’s pounce into the wild world of Vyaghrasana!
- 1 Origins of Vyaghrasana
- 2 Warm-Up Flow for Vyaghrasana
- 3 Steps to Perfecting Tiger Pose
- 4 Modifications for Vyaghrasana
- 5 Advanced Variations
- 6 Benefits of Tiger Pose
- 7 Impact of Mastering Tiger Pose
Origins of Vyaghrasana
Understanding the origins and significance of various yoga poses can enrich your yoga experience and provide new insights into your practice. Let’s take a closer look at the inspiration behind this asana.
The Sanskrit name Vyaghrasana is a direct translation of its English counterpart. Vyaghra means “tiger,” while asana is “pose,” combined to form Tiger Pose. This aptly-name posture resembles a tiger stretching its body upon waking.
Vyaghrasana is a traditional pose within the Hatha yoga library, with roots dating back to medieval times. It first appeared in a collection of 84 postures in the 17th-century text, the Haṭha Ratnāvalī.
Evolution of the Pose
Along with the development of Hatha and Vinyasa yoga practices, Vyaghrasana also evolved. Originally a static pose practiced independently, modern yoga teachers commonly cue this asana dynamically, combined with yogic breathing and connecting it with other related postures.
Today, this asana is an essential part of various yoga sequences for any level of practice. Yoga teachers commonly include Vyaghrasana as a warm-up exercise for challenging yoga poses like Bow Pose and Dancer Pose. For novice students, Tiger Pose is a great way to build the flexibility and confidence required for more intense backbends.
Tiger Symbolism and Inspiration
Tigers hold deep symbolic meanings in various cultures, which we can use as inspiration for our yoga practice.
- Hindu culture views tigers as divine creatures, symbolizing power, fearlessness, and protection. Tigers are strongly associated with the Goddess Durga, who rides atop this regal feline.
- In Buddhism, tigers represent confidence and discipline. In some aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, the image of a tiger is sometimes used to represent the mind, which can be a powerful force if left untamed.
- Tigers also represent the strength and courage needed to confront one’s inner fears and overcome obstacles on the path to spiritual enlightenment.
Many cultures worldwide also relate tigers with strength, courage, and valor. Use these insights to inspire your Vyaghrasana as you call on your physical strength to cultivate stability while courageously opening your heart in this back bend.
Warm-Up Flow for Vyaghrasana
Starting with Table Top Pose
Within a yoga practice, Table Top Pose is akin to your home base. This stable pose brings your spine into a neutral position and provides a solid foundation when transitioning between poses during a sequence.
Here’s how to set up your Table Top Pose with optimum alignment:
- Begin in a kneeling position on your yoga mat.
- Walk your hands forward and plant your palms directly underneath your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide.
- Align your knees directly under your hips.
- Feel your tailbone and the crown of your head reaching in opposite directions, creating length in your back.
- Bring your pelvis into a neutral position to maintain the natural curves of your spine.
- Lift up and out of the shoulder joints to keep your chest from sinking between your shoulders.
Now that you’ve built your solid foundation, you’re ready to flow!
Warming Up the Body
As a back bend, Vyaghrasana requires the back and spine to be adequately warmed up. What is the best way to do that? A classic Cat-Cow flow!
From your Table Top Pose:
- Inhale into Cow Pose: Drop your belly down and tilt your tailbone up toward the sky. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and widen your collarbones. Lift your chin slightly as you take your gaze up.
- Exhale to Cat Pose: press your navel towards your spine as you round your back. Spread your shoulder blades across your upper back and drop your chin towards your chest.
Continue flowing between these positions several times, keeping your movement connected to your breath.
Cat and Cow are simple postures that stretch your back muscles gently, making this dynamic duo the perfect addition to many yoga sequences!
Table Top Pose Knee To Nose Flow
Now, let’s kick things up a notch! The final step in preparation for Vyaghrasana is to add a leg extension into the mix.
Once again, set yourself up in a solid Table Top Pose. From there:
- Inhale and extend your right leg straight back. Keep your leg internally rotated so your kneecap faces the ground.
- As you exhale, bend your right leg and draw your knee toward your nose, rounding your spine.
- With your next inhale, extend your leg behind you and straighten your spine.
- Keep flowing between these positions for a few breaths, then return to Table Top.
- Repeat this mini-flow using your left leg.
During your Table Top Knee to Nose Flow, remember to ground down through each hand equally, keeping your weight evenly distributed.
Steps to Perfecting Tiger Pose
Now that we’re warmed up, we’ve finally arrived at the main event — making a smooth transition from Table Top to Tiger Pose.
Step-by-Step Guide to Vyaghrasana
The set-up: As before, begin in Table Top Pose. Your palms should be flat on the mat, shoulder-width apart, with your weight evenly distributed. Align your knees under your hips and press the tops of your feet into the mat.
- Inhale and lift your right knee, keeping your right leg bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep your leg internally rotated, with the top of the thigh facing the ground.
- Flex your right foot, with the sole of the foot facing the ceiling.
- Now, begin to arch your back, lengthening your abdomen and opening your chest.
- Take your gaze up toward the sky as if you are trying to touch your right heel to the back of your head.
- Hold this position for 3 to 5 deep breaths, then exhale to lower your right knee, returning your spine to a neutral position in Table Top Pose.
- Repeat this process on your second side, lifting your left leg, knee bent, and the sole of the foot facing the ceiling.
- Once you have completed the stretch on both sides, press your hips backward onto your heels and bring your forehead down to take a few restful breaths in Child’s Pose (Balasana).
Optional: Tiger Pose – Knee to Nose Flow
Rather than hold Vyaghrasana as a static stretch, you can also turn it into a flow. Follow the same instructions as if doing the Table Top – Knee to Nose Flow, with these key differences:
- Rather than extending your leg with your inhale, bend your knee and press the sole of your foot towards the sky.
- Emphasize the back bend element of the flow as you inhale, lifting your forehead toward the ceiling.
- Movement on the exhale remains the same: round your spine and drop your chin towards your chest as your knee comes forward towards your nose.
- Repeat a few rounds of this Tiger Pose – Knee to Nose Flow on each side, then rest briefly.
Common Mistakes in Tiger Pose
To nail your Vyaghrasana and refine your alignment, students should be especially mindful of these common mistakes:
- Letting your shoulders creep up to your ears or letting the chest sink between the shoulders. Press the floor away with your palms to keep lifting up and out of your shoulders.
- Letting the head drop back too far, compressing the neck. Lift your chin and forehead just slightly.
- Opening your hip to the side. The top of your knee should point to the ground when you lift your leg behind you.
- Leaning to one side. Try to keep your weight evenly distributed between your hands.
These alignment tips will ensure you’re executing Tiger Pose safely and help you feel more stable in this beginner backbend pose.
Modifications for Vyaghrasana
For yoga newbies, Tiger Pose can be a bit tricky. But don’t worry! Start with the basics and work up to your appropriate level, gradually advancing.
- Begin in Table Top Pose. Lift your right knee behind you and focus on engaging your core muscles to build strength and stability.
- Aim to hold this position for 3 to 5 breaths, then release your right leg down and repeat with the left leg lifted.
- Over time, try to lift your leg an inch higher each time you practice.
- Lastly, add in the backbend element with your leg lifted. It can be as small as lifting your chin an inch!
Watch Out for Contraindications
Although Tiger Pose is a beginner-friendly yoga pose, there are certain cases where it might be better to leave it out of your sequence.
Backbends, however subtle, can be delicate situations. If you’ve got back problems like sciatica or herniated discs, take a pass on Tiger Pose.
The same goes for wrist and shoulder injuries, as you support your weight on stacked joints in this tabletop position.
Some common complaints I’ve heard from students practicing Vyaghrasana involve mild joint pain. To make Tiger Pose a bit more comfortable, these are my recommendations:
- Sore knees: add some extra cushion with a folded blanket under your knees.
- Discomfort in wrists: Move your hands a bit forward rather than stacking them directly under your shoulders. This will decrease the angle of flexion in your wrists. Alternatively, make fists with your hands and place your knuckles on the ground so your wrists stay straight.
Important note: these suggestions are appropriate for general discomfort only. If you’ve experienced a recent injury, please consult with a medical professional before attempting any weight-bearing yoga pose!
Lastly, it should go without saying, but a comfortable yoga practice always begins with a high-quality yoga mat! Thicker yoga mats (like the one below from Lululemon) provide more cushion for poses that might otherwise be tough on your knees.
The Workout Mat 6mm
Traditional vs One-Handed Variation
In the traditional version of Tiger Pose, both hands remain on the floor for support. The one-handed or “toe grab” variation, however, challenges your balance.
If you’re up for the challenge, try this:
- Come into Tiger Pose with your right leg lifted behind you.
- Shift your weight slightly into your right hand, then reach your left arm behind you.
- Point your right toes and grasp the inner edge of your foot with your left hand.
- Kick your right foot into your hand as you straighten your left arm, creating more lift.
- Feel your chest and the front of your left shoulder open and lengthen.
- Aim to stay balanced in this position for 3 to 5 breaths, then gently release your foot and bring your arm and leg down.
- Repeat on your second side, lifting your left leg and catching your left foot in your right hand.
Overhead Toe Grab
Feeling like a pro? The next progression of Tiger Pose is the overhead toe grab variation. It’s an intense stretch and deeper backbend, requiring you to “flip your grip” to hold your foot.
- Once in regular Vyaghrasana, reach your arm behind you with your palm facing up.
- Catch the outer edge of your foot or hold on to your toes.
- Then, rotate your arm so your elbow moves out to the side and then up.
- Keep lifting through your chest, and keep your elbow pointing up toward the sky.
- Look up and draw your foot towards the back of your head.
- Hold for a few controlled breaths, then gently release the foot and return to Table Top.
- Try your Overhead Toe Grab with your other leg.
Use a Strap
Is flipping a grip a goal you’ve set in your yoga practice? Grab a yoga strap to help!
Loop the strap around your foot and grasp it firmly. Then, follow the same movement as listed above, taking your elbow out to the side and then up. Hold the stretch for several deep breaths, gently pulling on the strap to draw your foot a tiny bit closer to your head.
Remember to listen to your body and don’t overdo it — progress will come with dedicated practice and patience!
Benefits of Tiger Pose
Tiger Pose is a full-body workout from tip to tail! When you add this posture to your yoga sequences, you’ll notice its many positive effects — physically, mentally, and internally. If I haven’t already convinced you to love this pose, just check out all these amazing perks!d
- Improved Balance and Proprioception: The pose helps develop a better understanding of the body’s position and movement in space, enhancing balance and coordination.
- Increases Flexibility, Improves Mobility: Regular practice of Vyaghrasana can increase flexibility, particularly in the hips (the psoas muscle), quads, and back.
- Strengthens the Spine: This pose lengthens, strengthens, and mobilizes the spine, potentially alleviating back pain and improving posture.
- Enhanced Concentration: The balancing aspect of this yoga pose (especially when you try the one-handed variation) requires a high level of focus and concentration, contributing to better mental clarity and present-moment awareness.
- Stress management: Practicing Tiger Pose can deepen the connection with the breath, improving focus and stress management.
Holistic Health Perks
- Better Digestive Health: By stimulating the abdominal organs, Tiger Pose can aid in better digestion.
- Energy Boost: Vyaghrasana can stimulate the nervous system, providing a natural energy boost and promoting overall well-being.
If you haven’t tried Tiger Pose before, you have many reasons to add it to your next yoga flow! This exercise brings many benefits that extend far beyond your yoga practice.
Impact of Mastering Tiger Pose
The journey to mastering the Tiger Pose is a transformative one, offering not only physical advantages but also mental and emotional benefits. The steps might be intricate, but they provide many options and variations for students at any level.
However, there is much value in Vyaghrasana as a peak pose as well! If you feel called to open your heart or tap into your inner courage, practicing Tiger Pose can leave you feeling powerful and confident.
For me, Vyaghrasana is one of the most effective yoga poses for creating a shift in energy — it opens the whole front side of your body, allows you to focus on your breath, and counteracts the wilting sensation we experience after sitting for long periods of time.
Embrace your inner tiger and see how it transforms you, not only in your yoga practice but in your daily groove, too!
FAQ 1: How often should I practice the Tiger Pose?
You can practice Vyaghrasana as part of your yoga routine — daily, weekly, or anywhere in between. However, listen to your body and take rest days when needed.
FAQ 2: Can beginners do the Tiger Pose?
Yes! This yoga pose has several modifications that make it accessible for beginners.
FAQ 3: What are some common mistakes when doing the Tiger Pose?
Common mistakes include arching the back without engaging core muscles, letting the chest drop, or opening the hip sideways. A certified instructor can provide personalized feedback to correct these errors.
FAQ 4: Can I do the Tiger Pose if I have back pain?
If you have chronic back pain or an injury such as sciatica or a slipped disc, it is safer to skip any back-bending yoga poses. Consult with a healthcare professional before attempting any new exercise regimen.
FAQ 5: Why is it called “Tiger” pose?
The name comes from Sanskrit — vyaghrasana, where vyaghra means “tiger” and asana means “pose.” When performed correctly, it imitates a tiger stretching its body.