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5 Best Yoga Poses for Beginners

Updated on November 26, 2013

Yoga is more than just a trend. It's a thousands-year-old practice that has been evolving all the way. In fact, the form of yoga most frequently practiced today (with stretchy pants, cushy mats, and lots of movement) is practically brand-spanking-new! This isn't to devalue the focus on asanas (physical poses). Proper practice of asanas will, at the very least give you a strong and flexible body to carry you through old age. Of course, the best result of a yoga practice is more than physical: a calm and open mind and even spiritual enlightenment can result out of an intentional practice.

Any reason for starting a yoga practice, however, is a good one, and you want to make sure you understand the basics. Here are 5 basic poses to get you started.

Full expression of the wide-leg forward fold.
Full expression of the wide-leg forward fold. | Source

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Leg Forward Fold)

This is one of my favourite poses for beginners, because everyone can do some version of this pose. Beware, if you have tight hamstrings you might feel a bit frustrated at first, but don't expect yourself to be able to get your hands (or head!) on the floor right away. Remember - the point of yoga isn't getting to a certain place, but experiencing what happens to your body as you journey towards that destination.

Getting into the pose:

  • Stand with your feet wide on your mat and your hands on your hips, shoulder blades together and down on your back and your neck long.
  • Make sure your feet are parallel, then close your eyes and imagine your feet are a tripod with one point at the heel, one on the pad under the big toe, and one under the little toe. Root all three points down into the ground.
  • Inhale and imagine you are pulling from the roots of your feet up into your hips - this activates the muscles in your legs and helps you have good alignment.
  • Exhale and fold your body forward at the hips, keeping your back straight.
  • If you are able to, bring your hands all the way to the ground, keeping your spine long
  • If you can't reach the ground, bend your knees and place your hands on your thighs

While in the pose, you have a few goals:

  • Keep your spine long - this will strengthen your back, promote better alignment, and prevent lower back injury
  • Keep the tripods of your feet planted on the ground, drawing strength up from the three points of your feet - this will also promote good alignment in your legs, preventing knee injury, strengthen your feet, and keep you active in the pose
  • Breathe!

Downward Dog

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Downward Dog - the Beatles of yoga poses. It's a little more challenging than you might expect, and is another hamstring stretcher (and calf and spine stretcher… and arm strengthener. Kind of a whole-body deal.)

Get into it:

  • Stand at the top of your mat with your feet parallel and hip distance apart. Find that tripod once again, and plant it.
  • Inhale, raise your arms to the sky.
  • Exhale, fold forward at the hips, bending your knees if necessary, until you can plant your hands on the ground.
  • Step your legs back so that your body is in an upside-down V shape.

That's the basic pose! Some things to keep in mind:

  • It is far more important that you have a long, straight spine than your knees straight. So first things first, bend your need and lengthen your spine. Then, keeping that shape in your spine, stretch your legs as much as you can.
  • Release your heels towards the ground as much as they'll go, don't push them. They'll get there.
  • Keep your fingertips and the pads at the base of your fingers firmly planted into the ground. This takes pressure off your wrists and protects them.
  • Make sure everything is aligned! Feet and lets parallel, hands in line with your shoulders.
  • Breathe breathe breathe!

Crescent Pose

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Crescent pose is a starting point in a lot of classes, either for flows or to get you into other, more complex, poses. The basic form is a forward standing lunge with your arms extended over head.

Getting into it:

  • From your forward fold, step your right leg back, bending into your left leg for a long lunge.
  • Take a moment to stabilize your lunge, making sure both feet are planted, your legs are strong, and your back is long. If you like, release your back knee to the ground.
  • Inhale, place your hands on your front knee and lift your body up.
  • If it feels good, on your next inhale raise your arms overhead, straight up from the shoulders, palms facing in.
  • Lift your heart up towards the ceiling and draw your shoulder blades down your back to add a back bend.

If the standing lunge is too much for you to start, lower your back knee to the ground when you first step your leg back for the lunge.

Warrior II

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The Warrior poses are a staple in yoga, and Warrior II is probably one of the most popular variations. (There are three "official" standing warrior poses, plus lots of variations of those and a set of seated poses.)

Getting Into It:

  • From your forward bend, step your right leg back into a long lunge.
  • Turn your back foot so it is parallel with the back of your mat and flat on the floor, turning your lunge sideways.
  • Make sure both feet (especially the outside of the back foot) are connected firmly to the ground, inhale and draw strength up your legs for a firm foundation.
  • Lift your upper body upright and extend your arms out to the sides so they are parallel with the ground.
  • Look over the middle finger of your front hand and breathe.

Things to keep in mind:

  • A strong foundation is key to a strong warrior, keep those feet rooted into the ground and pull the strength up into your hip. This will help your pose's alignment and give you stability in the pose.
  • Keep your back shoulder pulled down and back - there is a tendency to let it roll forward.
  • Extend your arms all the way through your fingertips. Warriors don't have floppy arms.
  • The focused gaze is a part of the pose - it's a challenge to keep our eyes in one place and not wander around and get distracted. Focus like a warrior that is aiming at its prey and breathe into that spot.

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Child's Pose (Balasana)

Child's pose is another key pose. This is your resting place. Throughout a class you are not only welcome, but encouraged, to take this pose if you ever need a break (one of the most important things that sets yoga apart is listening to and honouring what your body tells you it needs). It will also be worked into class as a break pose now and again.

Getting into it:

  • From a kneeling position, bend forward and reach your arms out in front of you until your forehead is on the ground.
  • If kneeling is hard on you, place a block or rolled up blanket on top of your calves (or wherever is comfortable), or a blanket under your knees.
  • If putting your forehead on the mat is a challenge, use a block, or your hands, as support.
  • Let your entire body relax and focus on your breath.

Child's pose is a resting pose, not a working pose, so if you feel you need to strain, adjust the pose.

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    • andreajoy profile image
      Author

      Andrea 3 years ago from Canada

      Can you clarify what you mean by that? These are commonly practiced poses in modern hatha yoga. As I mention in my introduction, yoga began as a meditative practice that had no asanas, but it since has evolved many times over to include these, and many other poses. What are you referring to?

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 3 years ago

      I know all of these poses and they are great, just read your other article on Best Yoga Poses when you are Sick. Useful and interesting, both these articles I will be referring to in the future. Thank you. Up, interesting, useful and shared.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Well, I think I can do the last one, lol. I have long wanted to get into yoga, but when I took a "beginners" class, people were doing handstands and it was intimidating. I have back, neck and hip problems as well and it was uncomfortable so I never went back. I still hope some day I can learn.

    • andreajoy profile image
      Author

      Andrea 3 years ago from Canada

      Thank you CyberShelley! Your post on sugar is great, I am doing a No Sugar November right now and was shocked at how many places it hides!

      Crystal - I know, classes can be really intimidating. I started off learning at home before I did any classes and it helped a lot. Try a few of these out and let me know how you do!

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