You don't have to twist your body into a pretzel to do 'advanced' asana. In fact yoga asana's ability to strengthen the body is just as important as it's ability to increase range of motion in the joints.
These three hip-focused poses build a strong base while also encouraging happy, healthy range!
When taking extended side angle pose our bodies will tend to take a few 'outs'. For the more flexibile crowd they will overcompensate with the openin in front hip and hang out on the joint to prevent having to stablize with the back leg and find engagement with the deep core. The crowd with less joint mobility but more strength will avoid a deep bend and overstress the spine, shoulders, and neck attempting to stay up.
The growing edge for this pose beings with a commitment to a firm foundation. Strengthen and tone the back leg, and stand firmly down on the front foot. This will help the top of each thigh bone make a better relationship with the hip socket enabling the pelvis to more freely tilt, which will in turn provide a more efficient anchor for the spine.
Some simple areas to check in when establishing this foundation are: the quads of the back leg (make 'em strong), the glutes (especially in the front hip), and support the entire circumference of your torso.
Oh tree pose. We see it everywhere from Claritin commercials to the cover to Yoga Jounral magazine. Don't yogis look so Zen in this posture? Perhaps. Or concentrating on something so hard their eyes glazed over and resting-yoga-face sets in!
Don't let this standing balance fool you! To stand on one foot, externally rotate the other hip, and do anything at all with the arms is no easy task. But it is a fantastic foundational posture that we all should return to again and again. IMHO modern flowing yoga has shied seems to have to blown past foundational single-leg balances in favor of speeding up to the more 'instagramable' arm balances. But when it comes to functional fitness, and harnessing the level of concentration necessary for the subsequent limbs of yoga, single leg balances are tremendous confidence builders!
Balancing postures are a total body experience, and are especially helpful in training the stabilizing muscles of the feet, legs, hips, and core. A growing edge for this posture is foot placement (sure, there are as many arm variations as their are joint combinations in the shoulders but those have little effect if the legs feel jello-y). The primary way to activate this posture begins in the legs. Believe it or not 'higher up' is not necessarily better. I often teach this pose with the foot on the lower leg - even in advanced classes - when I want to emphasize hip power. I teach this pose with the foot higher when I want to emphasize external rotation and mobility in the lifted hip. Try it both ways, paying attention to the even pressure both lift foot and standing leg into the midline, and discover the difference for yourself.
Squats. When it comes to building hip strength there is no avoiding them - even in yoga. Chair pose is a fierce strength builder and something that is great about this posture is that it can be altered body-to-body to optimize the benefits, and it also can be altered by sequence to create a different challenge in body.
But a basic chair should fell engaged in the inner thighs with a small hug of the sit bones together. This will feel like the tail can drop and the low belly will pull in. From there the spine lengthens long and the arms continue the line of energy up!
The growing edge in this posture has to do with coordinating a relatively even relationship between flexion at ankle, knee and hip. With as many styles of yoga and fitness out there, a student of yoga can easily and understandably get confused about how this posture should be done. Personally I don't believe that 'alignment' is a thing. Alignment is really just a static term for the dynamic nature of load optimization. So depending on how the body is 'aligned' the load will be held differently. Our job to to create balance so that the right muscles fire for jobs they were designed to do. That means gettings pretty smart about how we're holding a pose. Lots of stress in the knees? Check in with your lower legs and glutes. Tightness in the calves and limited range in the ankles often pitch the body forward. Stretching or rolling the calves prior to chair, taking a wider stance, or placing the heels on folded yoga mat may help. As for glute strength, bridges (yes use your glutes, and that's for another post) are a great way to train your derriere.
BONUS! Want to try on a bit of this strength for yourself?
Warm up with 3 - 5 Sun Salutations As
Hold each pose (and each side for asymmetrical poses) for 1 - 2 Minutes in this order.
Step open to right side Warrior 2
Step open to left side Warrior 2
Tree R followed by Tree L
Take one Salute to return to down dog, rest in child's pose
Close with legs up the wall, happy baby, and supine twist on each side.