The poses below help with hip strength and overall flexibility of leg muscles, and I’ve found them especially helpful for the kicks listed below. For some kicks, I’ve given alternate poses; I suggest you try not to think of these poses as more or less difficult than the original pose. I’ve found that some poses work better for individuals, regardless of ability or experience.
Start out in table pose: on hand and knees, with wrists directly under shoulders and knees directly under hips.
Before moving on to the other poses, we’ll begin with some cat-cow poses. While not working on the kicks per se, this will warm up and lubricate the spine: always beneficial before beginning practice.
Inhale to cow pose: arch the spine, drop the belly towards the floor and look up.
Exhale to cat pose: round the spine towards the ceiling, bring the belly button in and drop the chin towards the chest.
Continue at the pace of your own breathing for three to five of your breaths.
Front kicks: obviously, anything that opens the hamstrings will help with front kicks. I like these poses because they also open the front of the hip of the standing leg.
Monkey pose: Walk your hands one hand’s length forward; that is, place the heel of your palm where the tip of your middle finger just was. Bring your right foot in between your hands and walk the foot forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip. The left foot can be flat on the floor, or you can tuck those toes under.
NOTE: if this pose bothers your left knee, place a folded-up blanket under your shin so the knee floats off the floor. If it still hurts, you can tuck your toes and bring the knee off the floor for this pose and these motions.
From here, on your next exhale, send the hips back towards your left heel. Right toes can be on the floor or flexed towards the ceiling, whichever you prefer.
On your next inhale, come back forward into monkey pose. Continue this flow at your own pace for the next three to five breaths, then bring the right knee back beside the left and bring the left foot forward. Repeat on this side.
Standing alternative: Pyramid pose
Bring your left foot about three feet behind your right. Adjust as necessary so that you can have your left toes forward and your hips square to the front.
From here, with your hands on your hips to keep them squared forward, extend forward with a flat spine until you feel a stretch in the back of your right leg.
From here, round forward to release your spine and neck.
If your hands are close enough, you can place them on the floor or on your right leg.
You can also place a blanket or some blocks on the floor for your hands to lessen the intensity of this pose. Hold this pose for three to five breaths, then repeat on the other side.
From hands and knees, bring your left toes out a few inches, keeping your knee in place. With your left shin at a slight angle, extend the arch of your right foot on the floor behind you.
Begin to stack your right hip over your left and place your right hand on your hip. If this is enough, stay here. If you need more strengthening, begin to flex your right foot and bring it in line with your right hip. If you have enough balance, begin to lift your right arm to the ceiling and bring your gaze up.
Stay here for three to five breaths. Once you’re done, reverse the process to come back down on to hands and knees. Take a moment to work out any remaining muscle tension, then repeat on the other side.
Standing alternative: Half-moon pose
This pose can be done away from the wall, but placing your base foot about six inches away from the wall is recommended in order to train your muscles to hold the form.
Place your right foot parallel to the wall. Bring your left foot a few feet behind, toes perpendicular. Extend your arms parallel to the floor, then bring the left foot a few feet closer until you can push off and bring your right fingertips towards the floor.
Again, use a block or blanket if you can’t get your hand close enough to the floor. Left toes should be flexed and in line with the hip. From here, work towards letting your left hip and shoulder fall against the wall. If you’re working with a partner, they can give a gentle push on the top hip to help your muscles open.
Round kick/hook kick:
Similar to our first side kick pose, we’ll start on hands and knees. Again, bring the left toes out to the left a couple inches. Tuck your right knee into your chest and wrap your right fingertips around your right ankle or over the top of the foot.
Bring your knee back in line with your hip or a bit behind, pressing in with your right foot into your hand to open into a quadricep stretch and backbend. In addition to opening the quadriceps, this also opens the front of the top hip to help with hook kicks.
Stay here for three to five breaths, then reverse the process to come down. Repeat on the other side.
Standing alternative: Warrior 3
This is a pretty intense pose, but may be worth a try if you’d like more work after the first pose. Again, this can be done against a wall for balance. Come into a zenkutsudachi stance with your right foot forward. Bring your fingertips up overhead and bring your left foot in a bit, until you can push off with your left toes. Bring your arms forward and leg back until you’re parallel with the floor, flexing your back foot.
From here, bring your left fingertips to the floor and bend your left knee, reaching for your left foot behind your back with your right hand. Hold for three to five breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Chambering for kicks: balancing pose
Stand with your feet together. Bring weight into your left foot. Bring the right heel off the floor, bending the right knee. Bend forward and bring your right elbow to the inside of your knee. Place your hand over the top of the foot and bring your fingertips around the outside edge.
Focus your gaze on a point on the floor in front of you for your balance, then flex your right foot and begin to lift that foot off the floor. Come as high as you can; ideally, you’ll be standing on your left foot with your right knee pointed toward the ceiling, right heel pointed toward the floor.