When I train in Ashtanga primary series I find myself constantly studying the balance between routine and variety. To advance you need to do the same sequences day after day until the teacher feels you are ready for a new pose or a new variation. The routine builds structure, strength and flexibility but it also can feel rigid and uninspiring. If I'm free-flowing and building my own practice at home and want some variety I'll take some of my routine poses and add some subtle challenges safely. Safety is the key word here. Know your body, know your limits. From my personal experience, injury can happen over time, not necessarily a quick moment of pain but rather a build up of pushing too far.
Here a few ways I slowly begin to challenge myself and test my limits of strength, flexibility and foundation. *And I'd just like to add that I am not a flexible person by nature. Daily practice and study will lead to progress!
Lotus is a tricky yoga goal to master. It takes a lot of training and flexibility to get the rotation safely so know your limits. It's becoming a bit easier for me so I love to play with half lotus to challenge my balance. This is how I take my tree pose up a notch if I'm feeling extra strong and warmed up.
Everyone seems to love forearm stands. I love them when my core feels really strong and I feel stable in my shoulders. When this all comes together I have moments where I can start playing with scorpion. A flexible spine leads to a happy body, and some say, a longer life. At my strongest about a year ago I was able to take this scorpion and fling it back into chaturanga. If you feel good about your dolphin and forearm stand with straight legs it becomes fun to add these elements in.
I absolutely love the way this feels and I know this isn't the idea but I also think it's just a beautiful pose. If you're looking for a way to challenge your typical headstand this is a great one. Inversions have so many benefits and when I twist while inverted it brings awareness back to my breath and to the micro subtle movements of my body.
There is just nothing better than firing up the legs with a crescent lunge. If I'm feeling extra excited I'll add a subtle backbend in to open my chest and challenge my foundation.
Fish In Lotus
By far one of my most favorite poses. This is a fantastic way to counter the effects of technology (ie: Looking down at our phones/computers all day). That release of tension in the neck is incredible. In Ashtanga Primary series the full expression is to grab the toes in full lotus which takes fish pose up a notch. So if you feel like you've mastered fish pose with legs straight on the floor this might be a good next step, but only if you feel ultra comfortable in lotus.