Ten Essential Yoga Poses for Beginners

August 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Yoga Articles

So you’ve gone to your first few yoga classes. Or you’re about to. Or you really, really want to. Well, we want to help. Study these ten foundation postures, which will be among the very first things you learn as a new beginner, and get a leg up (har) on this yoga thing.

1. Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukah Svanasana

Downward Facing Dog© Barry Stone
The name downward facing dog is almost synonymous with yoga, but just because you’ve heard of this pose doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. Beginners are often shift themselves too far forward in this posture, making it more like a plank, so try to remember to keep your weight mostly in your legs, your butt high, and your heels reaching toward the floor. Bending your knees a little or a lot is an accepted modification for people with tight hamstrings. Eventually, this pose becomes a resting posture. Believe it!

2. Mountain Pose – Tadasana

Mountain Pose - Tadasana© Barry Stone
Mountain pose may not be as famous as downward facing dog, but it is every bit as important. This is a good time to talk about alignment, which is the way that your body parts are ideally arranged in each pose. The alignment in mountain pose draws a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels, with the shoulders and pelvis stacked along the line on the way down. A good yoga teacher will talk you through this in class.

3. Warrior I – Virbhadrasana I

Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I© Barry Stone
The important thing to remember in warrior I is that the hips face forward. Think of your hip points as headlights. They should be roughly parallel with the front of your mat. Sometimes this requires that you move your legs into a wider stance (towards each side of the mat), which is ok in my book.

4. Warrior II – Virabhadrasana II

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II© Barry Stone
Unlike warrior I, above, in warrior II, the hips face the side of the mat. When moving from warrior I to warrior II, the hips and shoulders both open to the side. This is a movement that is done a lot, and not just in classes for beginners. In both warrior poses, aim to get the front thigh parallel to the floor. You’ve heard of feeling the burn, right?

5. Extended Side Angle – Utthita Parvakonasana

Extended Side Angle Pose© Barry Stone
The accepted modification of extended side angle pose is the bring your forearm to your thigh instead of your hand to the floor. This allows you to stay open across the shoulders. If students reach for the floor too soon, it often compromises the position of the torso, making you turn more toward the floor instead of toward the ceiling.

6. Triangle Pose – Utthita Trikonasana

Triangle Pose - Trikonasana© Barry Stone
Triangle can cause the same issues as extended side angle, so have a yoga block handy for your bottom hand. You can also rest your hand higher up on your leg, but avoid putting it directly on your knee. Familiarize yourself with the microbend and apply it here.

7. Cat-Cow Stretch – Chakravakasana

© Barry Stone
Cat-Cow may be the most important pose you learn when starting yoga, especially if you have back pain. Even if you never make it to more than a few yoga classes (no! come back!), continue doing this stretch on your own for your spinal health. You can read more about the importance of cat-cow on About.com’s back pain site.

8. Staff Pose – Dandasana

Staff Pose - Dandasana© Barry Stone
Staff pose is the seated equivalent of mountain pose (above), in that it offers alignment guidelines for a host of other seated poses. You can (and should) sit on a folded blanket or two if you have trouble sitting up straight with your butt flat on the floor. Oftentimes this pose leads into a forward bend.

9. Cobbler’s Pose – Baddha Konasana

© Barry Stone
It can also be a good idea to sit up on something like a blanket in cobbler’s pose, especially if your knees are way above your hips in this position. Since we rarely sit this way in our everyday lives, this pose stretches some neglected areas of the body.

10. Child’s Pose – Balasana

© Barry Stone
I know I said all the other poses were important, but child’s pose is really important. It’s the position you can assume any time you need a break during a yoga class. If you feel ever feel light-headed or overly fatigued, you don’t have to wait for the teacher to call for a break. Just move into child’s pose on your own and rejoin the class when you are ready. It is really up to your discretion, which happens to introduce one of yoga’s best lessons: being attuned to the signals your body is giving you and respecting them above any external directions you may be getting. It’s all you, baby.

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