20 Yoga Poses to Channel Your Inner Animal

Woman performing a yoga pose outdoors
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In the wide array of intriguing body contortions, many yoga poses — in Sanskrit, "asanas" — are named after animals. Some postures aptly mimic the shape of a specific animal while others are not quite so obvious. From the common Eagle Pose (pictured) to the complex Firefly Pose, here are 20 animal asanas.

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Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

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Cobra Pose is a common beginner's pose, and it's clear why this pose is named after a snake. "Bhujanga" means "serpent" in Sanskrit, as the pose mimicks a serpent rising to strike. This pose benefits the chest, shoulders, spine and buttocks.

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Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)

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Kapotasana (kapota meaning "pigeon" in Sanskrit) has many variations. The advanced pose Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose, shown here) opens up the chest and benefits the back, groin, thighs and hips as well. A simpler version of Kapotasana, with the back leg extended fully to the floor, is an excellent pose to open up the hips.

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Eagle Pose (Garudasana)

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Garuda, the king of birds in Hindu mythology, translates roughly to "eagle" in English. This pose can be hard to wrap your mind around, but that's part of what makes it such a great pose for concentration. It benefits the shoulders, hips, thighs, calves and ankles.

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Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

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One of the most recognizable yoga poses, Downward-Facing Dog (also known as Down Dog and Downward Dog) uses all parts of the body and especially benefits the shoulders, arms, legs and feet. This rejuvenating pose, along with its counterpart Upward-Facing Dog, is an integral part of the Sun Salutation sequence.

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Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

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A favorite of our feline friends, this easy pose benefits the neck, spine and torso. It is usually performed in a flowing vinyasa with the Cow pose (see the next slide).

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Cow Pose (Bitilasana)

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The gentle flow of cat and cow starts with a flat back, kneeling with all joints in line; the arching Cow Pose coincides with the inhale, while the rounded Cat Pose follows with a deep exhale.

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Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)

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Considering the traditional Hindu reverence for cows, it’s not surprising that two asanas are named after this gentle creature. This pose benefits the shoulders, chest, arms, hips and thighs.

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Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

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This backbend pose benefits the neck, abdominal region, upper back and hips. There are a few variations of this posture. The traditional pose requires your legs to be crossed, while you can also raise your legs off of the ground for 15-30 seconds, or even lay them flat and focus on the upper back.

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Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

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Often considered one of the more difficult backbends, the Camel Pose is a great stretch for the whole body, with particular focus on the throat, chest, abdomen, hips and thighs. It can lead to lightheadedness, so beginners should be careful not to bend their necks too far backward.

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Tortoise Pose (Kurmasana)

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Tortoise Pose, or Turtle Pose, is named for these shelled critters for more than one reason. Not only does the pose look like a tortoise, but it is also intended to draw your attention to your inner thoughts. It can be difficult to achieve, and there are many variations.

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Crow Pose (Kakasana)

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This arm-strengthening pose also benefits the wrists, upper back, abdominal region and groin. A very similar pose is Bakasana, or Crane Pose. The only distinction is whether the arms are bent, and often the terms are used interchangeably.

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Peacock Pose (Mayurasana)

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This pose requires attention to the whole body in order to hold alignment. Peacocks symbolize immortality and love in Hindu culture, and the revered bird is the national bird of India. This pose has many variations, including the challenging Feathered Peacock Pose (Pincha Mayurasana), in which the legs are lifted back and up against a wall — and, for advanced students, eventually lifted away from the wall.

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Scorpion Pose (Vrschikasana)

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In case you couldn't tell from the photo, this pose is not for beginners! One form of this pose requires you to keep the toes together, which resembles a scorpion more than the advanced pose, which requires you to lower your feet all the way to your head.

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Frog Pose (Bhekasana)

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Frog Pose is considered a difficult pose, so the Half Frog Pose variation is more common. This pose fittingly benefits the throat, chest, hips, ankles and feet.

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Lion Pose (Simhasana)

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A favorite among the youngest of yogis, Lion Pose assumes the sitting position and facial expression of a lion.

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Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana)

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Named after the Hindu deity Hanuman, who resembled a monkey, the pose comes from a famous tale in which Hanuman makes an epic leap from India to Sri Lanka. Monkey Pose is an advanced thigh, hamstring and groin stretch.

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Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

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It may look simple, but maintaining the right balance in this general shape of a locust can be very challenging. This pose benefits the back, buttocks and hamstrings.

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Horse Pose (Vatayanasana)

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Very similar to Cow Face Pose and Eagle Pose, Horse Pose requires intense focus. It requires strong ankles, and benefits the neck, back, abdomen, knees and calves.

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Rabbit Pose (Sasangasana)

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The inverse of camel pose, this is among the poses that really does resemble its namesake. One variation of Rabbit Pose is to press your palms firmly beside your knees, letting forearms line up against the front your thighs and widening the shoulder blades.

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Firefly Pose (Tittibhasana)

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Firefly Pose is an advanced arm balance that benefits inner thighs, arms and wrists. It mimics the way a firefly looks when it's in flight.