Beginning a Yoga Practice (Part 2): Beginner Yoga Poses

In my first post in this series, we talked a bit about the vocabulary of yoga and some of the most common Sanskrit words you will come across when beginning a yoga practice. I also included a few poses that corresponded to those Sanskrit words. In this post, I’d like to talk more about some beginner yoga poses you can start with to build your own practice.

Beginner Yoga Poses

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Beginner Yoga Poses: Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose

Benefits:

This fantastic beginner yoga pose is often referred to as the foundation for all other asanas. It improves posture and can help you to ground and focus.

How to:

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Spread your toes and root your feet firmly into the mat. Take your arms out to the sides, palms facing forward, spread your fingers, and reach out through the fingertips. Straighten your spine and reach the crown of your head up towards the sky.

Watch out for:

Try to keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Also try to stay active in the pose, reaching through the fingers and the crown of the head. This isn’t just standing around!

Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Beginner Yoga Poses: Child's Pose
Child’s Pose

Benefits:

This pose can be a nice rest or transition pose between other more challenging asanas. It’s a great beginner yoga pose that can help to stretch the low back and hips, relieving tension and pain in those areas. It’s also helpful for being mindful of the breath.

How to:

Fold your knees underneath you, with the tops of your feet flat on the mat. You can either keep your knees together or spread them out towards the edges of the mat. Do whichever is most comfortable for you. Once you are settled, start to lean your upper body forward, starting from the waist. Reach your arms straight out in front of you on the mat. If you can, rest your head directly on the mat. You may also use a pillow, block, or folded blanket to rest your forehead if you cannot reach the mat.

Watch out for:

Pay attention to your breathing in this post. Try to breathe deeply from the diaphragm.

Tabletop Pose (Bharmasana)

Beginner Yoga Poses: Tabletop Pose
Tabletop Pose

Benefits:

This is a great pose for concentrating on your spinal alignment. It can help bring awareness to the core, as well as gently stretch and strengthen the shoulders, wrists, ankles and hamstrings.

How to:

Come onto your hands and knees, taking care to make sure your joints are stacked. Your hips should be over your knees and your shoulders should be over your wrists. Keep the tops of your feet flat on the mat. Spread the fingers wide to form a stable base and press the palms into the mat.

Watch out for:

Keep your back flat and your head and neck aligned with the spine. Look straight down at the mat to avoid crunching up your neck and shoulders. Avoid sinking down into the shoulders. Keep the shoulders activated by pushing the palms into the mat, as if you were pushing the floor away from you.

Downward-Facing Dog

Beginner Yoga Poses: Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog

Benefits:

Another resting pose, although it might not feel that way at first! This is a great beginner yoga pose to begin lengthening the hamstrings and opening up the shoulders. It can help strengthen the core, shoulders and wrists.

How to:

Starting from tabletop, curl your toes underneath you and lift your hips up and back while straightening out your arms. Keep your hips lifted while also pushing downward through the heels. It’s okay if your heels don’t reach the mat just yet; just keep pushing. It may help in the beginning to put a slight bend in your knees.

Watch out for:

Try to keep your shoulder blades pulled down next to your spine, and a nice, flat back. Take care not to arch the spine. Also try to keep a relaxed neck. I actually need to relax mine a bit more in this photo!

Cobra

Beginner Yoga Poses: Cobra Pose
Cobra Pose

Benefits:

This is a great pose to open up the chest and stretch the core muscles. The pose can also help relieve tension and stress in the lower back and increase your flexibility. It also helps strengthen the wrists, arms, and shoulders. It can be as gentle or as intense as you’d like simply by changing how much you lift up off the mat.

How to:

Lay face-down on the mat, palms on the mat on either side of the chest. Breath in and lift the chest up off of the mat, using the hands for balance. You can keep your gaze straight ahead, or you can lift your gaze to the ceiling.

Watch out for:

Try to eep your shoulders down and away from your ears here. Keep a slight bend in the elbows to avoid discomfort or injury to the low back.

Warrior I

Beginner Yoga Poses: Warrior I
Warrior I

Benefits:

This is a great pose to boost feelings of strength and confidence. This beginner yoga pose helps build up the strength in the legs, and improves flexibility in the hip joints.

How to:

From mountain pose, step one foot back and point the toes of that foot towards the front corner of the mat. You can either line your heels up, or align the heel of the front foot with the arch of the back foot. Keep your hips and chest pointed towards the front of the mat, bend the front leg, inhale, and lift the arms overhead.

Watch out for:

Make sure those hips stay pointed to the front. One good way to check in with your alignment is to put the hand on the same side of the front foot on your hip and reach the other arm straight out in front. As you reach that arm out, you may feel your hips come into alignment and a bigger stretch through the quadricep of the back leg.

Also be careful not to take the knee of the front leg out over the ankle. That position will place too much stress on the joints of the front leg. Slightly behind is better than out over the ankle.

Warrior II

Beginner Yoga Poses: Warrior II
Warrior II

Benefits:

Another great pose to help give you a boost when you need to feel strong, grounded, and confident. Warrior II is another leg strengthener that can also help gently stretch the hips, chest, and shoulders.

How to:

From mountain pose, step one foot back and point the toes of the back foot towards the side of the mat. Bend the front leg and open your hips and chest to the side of the mat. Take the arms straight out from the shoulders and then slowly take the gaze out over the fingertips of the front hand.

Watch out for:

Again, be careful of your alignment. You can either line the heels up or line up the heel of the front foot with the arch of the back foot. Keep the hips and chest open to the side of the mat.

Be careful here again to make sure to keep the knee slightly behind or directly over the ankle so as not to risk injury. There is also a tendency for the front knee to collapse inward on this pose Take a look down and make sure you can see the big toe of that front foot. If you can’t, push the thigh outward a bit until you can.

Tree Pose

Beginner Yoga Poses: Tree Pose
Tree Pose

Benefits:

This beginner balance pose can help you work on your focus as well as strengthen your legs and improve balance and posture. It’s also useful to stretch out the hip joints.

How to:

From mountain pose, slowly shift your weight into one foot and bend the other leg. Turn the bent knee outward until it points out towards the side of the mat. You can keep your toes on the ground and rest the bottom of the foot on the ankle, as pictured. If you want more, you can rest the bottom of the foot on the calf, or move it up to rest on the inner thigh. You can inhale and bring the arms overhead, or rest your hands at heart center.

Watch out for:

Whichever variation you choose, be careful not to place the foot at the knee joint. Resting the foot there places too much stress on the standing knee joint and could result in injury.

Side-Angle

Beginner Yoga Poses: Side Angle
Side Angle

Benefits:

This is an active, full-body beginner yoga pose that particularly helps build strength in the legs and core. It’s a good way to gently open the hips, and give a great stretch through the sides of the body.

How to:

From warrior II, bring the front forearm down to rest lightly on the top of the thigh of the front leg. Inhale and raise your back arm up and over the head for a side stretch. If you want more, you can place a block by the front foot and reach down to rest the hand of the front arm on the block, or even all the way down to the mat.

Watch out for:

Keep the hips and chest open to the side of the mat. Again, be mindful of keeping the knee of the front leg slightly behind or directly over the ankle joint.

Putting it Into Practice

Take the time to really get familiar with each of these poses. It might be useful to have a mirror or have someone help you to check your alignment. Check your local yoga studio to see if they do a special workshop for beginning yogis like a Yoga 101, where the instructor can break down the poses and help offer adjustments.

I’ve tried to list the poses in an order where they build from one another, but don’t be afraid to mix them up and form your own little sequence. As you continue to practice,  you’ll find more ease in each pose and transition. You can start to build out and try new variations, combinations, and transitions, as well as binds and twists. The beauty of yoga is that there is always somewhere else to go and something new to learn!

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning some basic poses. Let me know your favorite poses in the comments, and be sure to check back next week when we talk about what you might expect when you attend your first yoga class.