8 Standing Yoga Poses to Build Balance and Strength

You’ll want to add them to your next flow.

By Tiffany Ayuda, C.P.T.

If you want to build better balance, yoga is one exercise modality that can help big time. Standing yoga poses in particular are a great way to help improve that skill—while bringing a whole host of other benefits as well.

“Standing yoga poses are great for building strength and stability, especially the balancing poses,” Nancy Chen, a trainer at Rumble Boxing and registered yoga teacher at Heatwise Yoga in Brooklyn, tells SELF. Plus she says they also tend to be more accessible since you technically don’t need a yoga mat for them, so you can do them pretty much anywhere.

Standing yoga poses—such as mountain, chair, and tree—all involve anchoring one or both feet into the ground. Because yoga is an ancient practice rooted in syncing your breath with your body and mind, standing yoga poses are seen as a way to align all three through your connection to the ground.

“There is a grounding and centered feeling that is able to occur when the breath, body, and mind are all aligned in these standing positions,” Eric Mosley, a registered yoga teacher based in New York City, founder of Black Mat Yoga, and Lululemon ambassador, tells SELF.

Whether you’re new to tree pose or have been taking power yoga classes for years, standing poses are an essential part of the entire practice. Yoga flow sequences​​ are structured to have a variety of yoga asanas or poses that take you from standing to sitting and lying down on the floor, or the other way around. For example, standing poses make up the majority of sun salutations in Vinyasa yoga, Chen says. You begin a sun salutation in mountain pose and then move into a forward fold to a half standing forward fold with a flat back before stepping back into a high plank.

In fact, Chen says, she slots these standing yoga poses—especially foundational ones, like the ones we discuss below—into both her personal yoga flows and those she creates for her class. As someone who struggles with weak ankles, Chen relies on standing yoga postures to help build ankle strength and stability and decrease injury risk, especially when she runs.

Wondering how to incorporate standing yoga poses into your own yoga practice? Here’s everything you need to know about these balance poses, including their benefits and how they help you work toward specific goals—plus eight standing yoga poses for beginners to try.

What are the benefits of standing poses in yoga?

Standing poses are great for strengthening your lower body, particularly your ankles, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. They also improve your core stability and balance, as well as your mobility and flexibility, Mosley says. Some, like mountain pose, are also good for improving posture.

Chen breaks down standing poses into three categories: strengthening, balancing, and lengthening (improving flexibility). “Standing poses incorporate elements of all three, but some poses focus more on one element than the other,” she explains.

For example, poses like chair, warrior pose, and crescent lunge are ideal for building strength in your lower-body muscles, Chen says. Chair pose really hits your glutes and quads, while the crescent lunge targets your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. “The crescent lunge incorporates a bit of balance because you need to use your inner thighs to help you stabilize,” she says. “By squaring your hips toward the front of the room, you’re opening up through your hip flexors.” Your core also fires to help your torso stay upright and keeps your body stable. And building core strength is important because it can help prevent and even relieve low back pain.

The warrior poses are also excellent for building lower-body strength. In warrior I, you’ll engage your quads and hamstrings, while warrior II activates your glutes and thighs, Mosley says.

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Then there are the standing yoga poses that, along with building strength, also really hone your balance, such as airplane, warrior III, eagle, tree and dancer’s pose. Standing balance poses are often done with one foot on the ground, so all of your weight is on one leg. This forces you to recruit your core and the muscles in your ankles so you don’t fall.

“These help you build ankle strength since you’re on one foot, which is great for runners,” Chen says. “They require core and lower body strength as well, and they open up your hips, hamstrings, and shoulders, depending on what pose you’re working.”

In terms of flexibility, standing poses like the forward fold focus on lengthening and stretching tight hamstrings, so they may help with post-workout recovery and easing tightness.

What is the difference between standing poses and seated poses?

Well, besides the obvious, of course, that standing poses take place on your feet while seated occur sitting or lying on a mat, the main differences between standing and seated yoga poses are that standing ones work more of your lower-body muscles and recruit your core for support. That’s because your core helps keep your torso upright and prevents you from completely folding over and falling.

The time you can hold each kind of pose differs too, and that affects the rewards you’ll reap from each.

“Seated postures, since you can hold them for longer than standing postures, allow for deeper twists and more lengthening and flexibility,” Chen says. “Think about the time you can hold a [standing] prayer twist versus a seated twist.”

Because you’re able to hold seated poses for a longer period of time, they also tend to provide more relaxation and allow you to reconnect with your breath. “Oftentimes, classes may begin or end with seated yoga poses to find connection and grounding and to create space in the body through stretching each side,” Mosley says. “Standing poses like those in the warrior series often feel more active—both harnessing and building strength.”

What should beginners know about standing yoga?

Standing poses are foundational in yoga and are one of the best ways to get started with a regular practice. Beginners should focus on poses that have a grounding element—meaning ones where you’re connecting both feet into the ground and your breath to your body, Chen says. Mountain pose, in particular, is a foundational pose for many of the other standing poses, and can help you become more comfortable with the stability and grounding necessary in it.

As you progress and get stronger, Chen also recommends tree pose for a beginner balancing yoga pose. Depending where you are in your practice, your free foot can be placed on your ankle, calf, or inner thigh—just avoid your knee—and even on the ground, she says.

Don’t be afraid to modify the poses for your fitness level, Chen says. Progress at the rate that feels right for you and choose variations or modifications that make you feel the most supported and challenged. This helps take the pressure off of trying to do a pose that just doesn’t work for you at the moment. Once you feel comfortable, you can gradually add on more elements to the poses.

Mosley also recommends using props, like yoga blocks, which provide support and assistance for getting into standing poses, especially balancing ones. “These can enhance your practice and provide support in accessing poses, allowing you to isolate your focus for specific areas,” he says.

8 Standing Yoga Poses to Try

Now that you’re more familiar with some of the benefits of incorporating standing yoga poses into your practice, here are some of the foundational postures or yoga beginner stretches you may want to try.

Katie Thompson

1. Mountain Pose

This grounding pose helps strengthen your entire body and brings awareness to it, Chen says.

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“It’s not just standing; it’s actually quite engaging on your body,” she says. “It can help improve posture, as well as strengthen your core, glutes, knees, and ankles.”

  • Stand with your toes together and heels slightly apart.
  • Spread your toes and place your weight evenly through both feet. Engage your core and tuck your hips under a bit so your tailbone is pointing down toward the floor. Relax your shoulders and roll them back and down.
  • Inhale and reach your arms overhead, while pressing down into your feet. You may also put your hands in prayer position in front of your chest, or rest them by your sides—all are commonly used variations, and your instructor may cue one specifically or give you the choice.
  • Take long, slow, deep breaths in and out of your nose.
  • Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
Katie Thompson

2. Crescent Lunge

Great for opening tight hips, this strengthening standing yoga pose targets your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core, Chen says.

  • Take a big step forward with your left foot to start in a staggered stance, with your feet almost mat-length apart.
  • Bend your front knee and keep your back leg straight and heel lifted off the floor. Try to bend your front leg so that your thigh is parallel to the floor. Square your hips toward the front.
  • Extend your arms toward the ceiling on either side of your head and stretch up as you also press into the mat and feel the stretch in your hips.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths and repeat on the other side.

3. Lunge With Spinal Twist

Adding a twist to your lunge is beneficial for your spine because it helps shift the pressure in your discs, which is important for a healthy spine, Chen says. Twists can also aid with digestion and movement in your G.I. tract.

  • Start standing with your feet together.
  • Take a big step forward with your left foot so that you are in a staggered stance.
  • Bend your left knee and drop into a lunge, keeping your right leg straight behind you with your toes on the ground so that you feel a stretch at the front of your right thigh.
  • Place your right hand on the floor and twist your upper body to the left as you extend your left arm toward the ceiling.
  • Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
  • Repeat on the other side.
Katie Thompson

4. Warrior II

This beginner yoga pose strengthens your lower body and opens and lengthens through your hips, Chen says. “I like to think of the energy flowing from fingertip to fingertip.”

  • Take a big step forward with your left foot to start in a staggered stance, with your feet almost mat-length apart.
  • Extend your arms so that they are parallel to the floor.
  • Bend your left knee so that it’s at or near a 90-degree angle, your thigh parallel to the floor, while keeping the right leg straight.
  • Point your left toes forward and turn your right foot out to the right so that it’s perpendicular to your left foot. Your left heel should be in line with the arch of your right foot.
  • At the same time, twist your torso to the right so that your left hip is facing toward the front of the room and your right hip is facing toward the back. Your left arm and your head should both be pointing forward and your right arm should be pointing back.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then switch sides.
Katie Thompson

5. Triangle Pose

This standing yoga pose focuses on lengthening your spine and opens up your shoulders and chest, Chen says. It also works your core—if you keep your arms outstretched and parallel to the ground—and strengthens your quads.

  • Start in warrior II.
  • Straighten your front leg. Then, reach forward with your left hand toward the ground. Tilt your torso forward and rotate it open to the right side.
  • Rotate your arms to 6 and 12 o’clock. Rest your left hand on your shin, or the floor if you can, and extend your top arm fingers toward the ceiling.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then switch sides.
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Katie Thompson

6. Tree Pose

This balancing yoga pose strengthens your ankles, opens up your hips, and helps you tune into your own body awareness, Chen says.

  • Start in mountain pose with your toes together and heels slightly apart.
  • Bring your right foot to the inner thigh of your left leg. Squeeze your foot and inner thigh together. The knee of your right leg should be turned out and your right thigh facing down toward the ground at a 45-degree angle.
  • Once you’ve found your balance, lift your hands to prayer position in front of your chest (as shown), or up overhead if that feels better for you.
  • Keep your gaze focused on a fixed point in front of you to help stay balanced.
  • Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then switch sides.
Katie Thompson

7. Dancer’s Pose

This standing pose is a combination of a backbend (which increases spinal flexibility) and a heart opener (which stretches tight chest muscles and improves posture), in addition it works ankle stability and balance, Chen says.

  • Stand tall with your feet together.
  • Bend your left knee and bring your left foot toward your glutes. Grab onto the inner arch of your left foot with your left hand and slowly lift your foot toward the ceiling. At the same time, reach your right arm forward and up toward the ceiling.
  • Actively press down into the floor with your entire right foot as you start to open your chest and pull your lifted leg up. Keep your chest lifted.
  • Hold on one side for 5 to 10 breaths and then switch sides.
Katie Thompson

8. Warrior III Balance

As one of the best balancing yoga poses, warrior III activates your core, opens your hamstring, and improves ankle stability.

  • Stand with your right foot on the ground and lift your left knee toward your chest, shifting your weight to your right leg.
  • Keeping your left knee bent, hinge forward from your hips as you slowly lift your left leg behind you.
  • Straighten your left leg, flexing your foot, and continue to hinge forward until your torso is parallel to the ground. Keep your gaze down on the ground and lift your arms by your sides at ear height. Reverse the move, as pictured here, and continue.
  • To make the pose more static and less dynamic, pause for 5 to 10 breaths when your torso is parallel to ground and leg raised.

Demoing the moves below are Devon Stewart (photos 1, 2 and 4 to 7), a yoga instructor and sexual and reproductive health doula based in Harlem; Charlee Atkins (photo 3), CSCS, creator of Le Stretch class; and Gail Barranda Rivas (photo 9), a certified group fitness instructor, functional strength coach, Pilates and yoga instructor, and domestic and international fitness presenter.

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