These graceful GIFs demonstrate how to make smooth flows between yoga poses so you can go from up to downward facing dog without missing a beat

By Sara Angle
June 09, 2015
Corbis Images

Watch any experienced yogi move through a sequence of poses and there's one thing you'll notice: the almost hypnotizing grace and strength with which they glide from chaturanga to downward dog, or malasana to crow. Then you give it a try, and instead of feeling balletic, you just feel clumsy. It's not your grace that needs polishing, though; it's your control and focus during transitions that makes yoga appear graceful. "Paying special attention to transitions works to strengthen the body and turns the yoga practice into a better total-body workout," says Kiley Holliday, yoga instructor at Pure Yoga in NYC.

One common mistake people make is using momentum when they try to transition from pose to pose. This often ends with you falling over, because it's difficult to remain balanced and tighten your core when propelling yourself with speed. "It's far better to use muscular strength to transition from one pose to the next and to do so slowly," recommends Holliday. This also helps to prevent injuries, she notes, which often happen while entering or exiting poses.

Watch Holliday demo common transitions below, the read her tips for incorporating that smooth flow into your own practice. And keep in mind that "grace is never aggressive or hard, so make sure that your attitude toward the practice is focused yet relaxed." (Loosen up with one of these Funny Yoga Tank Tops to Inspire Your Flow.)

Upward Dog to Downward Dog

A Pull the low belly in and use your core muscles to pike hips upwards so that the weight is no longer heavy in the feet.

B Roll over toes from the tops of the feet to the balls, coming into downward facing dog.

Triangle to Half Moon

A With a gentle bend in the right knee and fingertips placed lightly on the floor, stretch from the front hip all the way through the underarm, engaging the side body and core to stay light on fingertips.

B Look down at a focal point before moving to keep your balance. Then use the power of your front leg to help drag the back leg off the ground, rotating to stack the whole left side of the body on top of the right while both arms reach in opposite directions.

Warrior I to Warrior III

A From Warrior I, spin the left heel off the ground, maintaining a slight bend in the back knee.

B Come through a high lunge, drawing the left hip forward so that both hips are square.

C Reach torso forward, bringing it to a 45-degree angle in relation to the front thigh, keeping arms in line with ears. Keeps abs engaged and make sure the front knee is directly in line over the ankle. Push into the front foot, using the strength of the right leg to lift the back foot off the ground.

Side Angle to Warrior II

A From side angle, press into the front thigh to keep the front hip from sinking below the knee. With as little weight in the front arm as possible, tighten your core and begin moving the tailbone towards the back heel.

B Exhale as you push into the front foot and come into Warrior II.

Downward Dog to Forward Lunge

A From downward dog, lift the right leg up towards the ceilign to come into a down dog split.

B Bring the right knee to the forehead as you hollow out your belly, rounding the spine. Keep the shoulders in line over the wrists.

C Focus on the point in between the hands and step the foot to that focal point. (You can "cheat" a little by lifting the heels of the hands of the floor as you step forward.)

Tree Pose to Warrior III

A Start in tree pose, standing on the right leg with hands in prayer.

B Draw the left knee in, keeping it at hip height and squaring off both hips. Spread the toes of the left foot so that it stays active and press into the palms while drawing the navel in and up.

C Hinge at the hips, keeping the torso and the left leg in the same plane, while slowly straightening the left leg. Stretch the arms forward for more of a challenge.

Shoulder Stand to Plow

A Lay on your back, arms at your sides, and, one at a time, reach your feet toward the ceiling, lengthening legs when you feel comfortable. Make sure that the shoulders, not the back of the neck, are supporting the weight of the body. (Using blankets under your shoulders can help prevent injury.) Press down through the back of the head to preserve the gap in between the neck and the floor.

B Supporting the lower back with the hands, create a pike position by slowly lowering straight legs toward the head while shifting the hips slightly in the opposite direction to counterbalance the weight of the legs.

C Reach the toes to the ground behind the head and shift the hips back in line over the shoulders.

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