Intermediate poses deepen your basic practice by demanding more of you: more strength, better balance, heightened attention, greater risk. Mastering intermediate poses is empowering. When you are balanced completely on your arms, twisted like a banyan tree in a towering vertical line, sitting solidly on just your sits bones relying solely on your core for stability, you can take pride in the work you've done and look forward to even greater attainment as your practice progresses.
Half moon is you, standing tip-tilted, on one leg and one hand, one arm reaching for the heavens and one leg fully extended, half of you supporting the other half of you in space. The pose strengthens your thighs, ankles, glutes, spine, and abs while it stretches your chest, back, shoulders, calves, hamstrings and groins. Your balance gets a boost, and your stress level decreases. If you have trouble reaching the floor with your arm at first, use a yoga block to modify the pose.
Eagle is an asana of real focus. Like the eagle, you take the long view while homing in on the details that feed your power. Standing strong on one leg, the other leg wrapped around your calf, both arms entwined in front of your chest with hands pointing up, you are stable, breathing calmly, and balanced. With unwavering attention, you could hold eagle all day. The work you did to improve flexibility in basic poses pays off now in stronger ankles and calves, better concentration and balance, and good stretches for the upper back, shoulders, hips, and thighs.
Crow is too cool. It looks impressive because it is impressive. As you assume an extreme tuck, facing your mat and supporting yourself on the palms of your hands, knees stabilized against the backs of your arms, you're doing a lot more than working your arms and wrists. Crow pose strengthens your abs and tones your abdominal organs, opens your groins, and stretches your upper back. Did you notice it looks awesome? Yeah, that, too.
Shoulder stand, like all the inversions, is a holiday for your brain. When you're balanced on your shoulder blades, back supported by your arms and hands, legs extended straight up, you're defying gravity just that little bit, and it's so restful. Not to mention the fresh infusion of blood and oxygen to your hardworking hippocampus. Shoulder stand is an intermediate pose because you can injure your delicate neck if you're not strong or careful enough to pull it off safely. Always work with the support of a towel or blanket folded under the upper back and shoulders so your neck doesn't get crunched. Then you'll get a great neck and shoulder stretch, in addition to the love you're giving your brain.
Plow pose is another upside down (sort of) feel-good. Once again, you need that blanket or towel to protect your neck as you stretch both arms along the floor at your sides; you can clasp hands or place your palms flat on the floor or mat. Your extended legs go up and over your head to rest on the floor behind your head, toes on the floor, knees relaxed but unbent. Breathe evenly in plow, not shallow, and feel your fevered brain slow down as you stretch shoulders and spine, stimulate your thyroid and abdominal organs, lower stress, re-energize, relieve sinus pressure, and lose a few aches and pains in your back and neck. This pose is intermediate because you need strength and flexibility to reach the floor overhead with your feet without endangering or compressing your neck.
Boat pose is so simple but so challenging. You are balanced on your tailbone and sitting bones, torso and head aligned in one half of a "V" and extended legs forming the other half. Your arms may be extended straight along your sides with palms facing your body, or fully extended, palms down, parallel to your legs. Of course you are breathing evenly and slowly, not stressing your neck and upper back at all, because your core is holding the beautiful boat shape in place. Right? Practice makes perfect.
Upward Facing Dog
Upward-facing dog does for your spine what down dog does for your hamstrings. You're facing the mat with your legs extended, feet unflexed. Your arms are in pushup position, and then you do push up, reaching your head high, lifting and opening your chest, extending your arms fully, and pushing your palms strongly into the floor. Keep those shoulders away from your ears as you engage your core and really feel the stretch in the backbend. Up dog improves your posture as it opens your lungs, chest, and shoulders, strengthens your spine, arms, and wrists, tightens your flabby glutes, and stretches your tummy. This is an energizing, anti-depressant pose that makes your tense back happy.
Camel is a fun pose but, if you aren't a very bendy beginner, it can be difficult to reach your hands all the way to your ankles. You could use a block or a chair as a prop. Or you could work those beginner sequences to reach intermediate status and just rock the pose. More flexibility in the ankles prevents pain there, too, as your shins and the tops of your feet rest on the floor, you reach back to rest your hands lightly on your heels or ankles and give yourself over to a long deep backbend. Camel pose stretches your entire front, from chin to ankles. It opens and loosens your chest, belly, throat, and hip flexors. At the same time, you're working your back muscles and improving your posture. Hang out in camel for a while, as long as you can breathe deeply and evenly and experience no muscle fatigue, or just drop it into a sequence for a de-stressing pick-me-up.
Pose By Pose
Yoga is an incremental endeavor, and you should take charge of your own practice by slipping in a few challenges to take advantage of your progress. As tight muscles relax and you get stronger, you'll surprise yourself with the poses you never thought you'd be able to do. It's not a competition, and you should aim first for deeper focus and good form. However, varying asanas and tackling new ones when you're ready can be as satisfying as that initial smooth, flowing surya namaskar, no longer bumpy or stop and start as you move from rank beginner to the next stage in your yoga adventure.