During the first probably four or five yoga classes I ever took, I spent the majority of the time frantically looking around at everyone else. I wasn't trying to compare myself to them—I was just trying to understand what the heck was going on. I wasn't familiar with either the English or Sanskrit names for the poses, and to be quite honest, even when I did know what I was supposed to do, I couldn't tell if I was doing it right.Taking some cues from the more advanced yogis around me helped, but I do wish that I had familiarized myself a bit with some yoga poses for beginners before I took my first class.
To help you do the same, I asked Heather Peterson, certified yoga instructor and chief yoga officer at CorePower Yoga, to share what she thinks are some of the best yoga poses for beginners to learn. The moves below "are the blueprint postures that allow you to build upon your practice and move onto more advanced poses and sequences," says Peterson.
"Oftentimes we let comparison or the thought that I should already be good at this push us to unrealistic expectations. Be willing to let that mindset go and pause for a moment, and realize that everybody starts somewhere." Another tip that she gives her beginner students: If anything hurts, stop doing it.
On that note, it's also always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start a new form of exercise to make sure it's safe for you.And of course, remember that practice makes progress. "The more you practice yoga, the more you’re building awareness in your body," says Peterson.
Although it’s an ancient practice, yoga has become the exercise du jour in recent years. Everyone from A-list celebs to your coworkers are getting their om on these days — and for good reason. Practicing yoga has serious health benefits beyond flexibility and balancePolsgrave MJ, et al. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes.
Studies show yoga does everything from fighting anxiety, depression, and stressMasoumeh S, et al. (2018). The effect of yoga on stress, anxiety, and depression in women. DOI: 10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_242_16, to reducing inflammation in the body. Vijayaraghava A, et al. (2015). Effect of yoga practice on levels of inflammatory markers after moderate and strenuous exercise.
(2014). Effect of yoga on migraine: A comprehensive study using clinical profile and cardiac autonomic functions. DOI: 10.4103/0973-6131.133891Plus, striking an impressive asana (yoga lingo for pose) looks ridiculously cool. The only problem? Sometimes our yoga teacher is speaking a different language, which makes it slightly difficult to follow along.With Sanksrit names like Utkatasana and Trikonasana, yoga poses may sound a lot more like spells you’d learn at Hogwarts than shapes you can actually get your body to make.
Consider it your cheat sheet to finally mastering the common poses you’re likely to encounter in most open-level classes.Stand with your feet together or hip-width apart. Ground down through the four corners of your feet. Roll your shoulders away from your ears, draw your shoulder blades down your back, and lift the crown of your head.Engage your thighs, draw your belly button in, and lengthen up through the spine.
Relax your jaw and unfurrow your brow. Breathe easy.It may seem like you’re, well, just standing there, but bear with us. This is the blueprint for all other poses. It promotes balance and directs your attention to the present moment.Start in Mountain Pose. As you inhale, raise your arms, spread your fingers, and reach up through your fingertips.
Shift your weight toward the heels and lengthen up through the spine. As you inhale, lift and lengthen through your arms. As you exhale, sit deeper into the pose.This heating standing pose (give it a minute, you’ll feel the burn) strengthens your legs, upper back, and shoulders. As a bonus, you’ll have an opportunity to practice patience as your thighs work hard.
Place your hands on the back of a chair with palms shoulder-distance apart. Step your feet back until they align under hips, creating a right angle with your body, spine parallel with the floor. Ground through your feet and lift through thighs. Reach hips away from hands to lengthen the sides of your torso.
This modification shares the same benefits as the classic pose — stretching the hamstrings, opening the shoulders, and creating length in the spine — without all the weight on your upper body. From all fours, walk your hands 6 inches in front of you. Tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back to lengthen your spine.
Spread your fingers wide, press into your hands, and rotate your arms so that your biceps are facing toward one another. Press your thighs back toward the wall behind you.This classic pose opens your shoulders, lengthens your spine, and stretches your hamstrings. Since your head is below your heart, the mild inversion creates a calming effect.Stand with feet wide, 3–4 feet apart.
Turn your left foot out 90 degrees. Line up your left heel with the arch of your right foot. Bend your left knee to a 90-degree angle, keeping the knee in line with the second toe to protect the knee joint. diastasis recti. Stretch through your straight back leg and ground down into the back foot.
Draw your shoulder blades down the back. Spread your fingers and keep palms facedown. Gaze over the front fingers. As you exhale, sink deeper into the stretch. To draw your shoulder blades down the back, rotate your palms face-up. Notice how that shifts your shoulders. Once settled, rotate your palms facedown.A pose with “warrior” in its name may not sound very zen, but this standing pose can help calm and steady your mind.
Shift your right heel out so your toes are pointing slightly inward. Turn your left foot out 90 degrees. Line up your left heel with the arch of your right foot. Keeping both legs straight, ground through your feet. Lift arms into a T at shoulder height. Reach forward with your front arm.
Lift your back arm up toward the sky and spread your fingers. Take your gaze down to the floor or up toward your lifted hand.While this pose can be challenging for those with tight muscles, it will help promote balance, stretch the hamstrings and inner thighs, and create a feeling of expansion in the body.Start in Mountain Pose.
As you inhale, shift the weight into your left foot and lift your right foot an inch off the floor. Using your right hand, bring the foot to your shin or inner thigh. Avoid placing your foot directly on the knee. As you exhale, ground through the standing leg and lengthen through the crown of your head.
To play with your balance, lift your hands up toward the sky in a V-shape. Take your gaze up toward the ceiling. If you’re an experienced practitioner, you can even try closing your eyes. This pose helps improve concentration and your ability to balance by strengthening the arches of the feet and the outer hips.Lie faceup with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms at your sides with palms facedown.
On an inhale, activate through the legs and the glutes. Press the floor away with your feet and lift the hips off the floor toward the sky. If your shoulders are tight and you want more leverage, try holding the sides of your yoga mat and lifting your hips. You may also wish to interlace your fingers underneath your “bridge” and shimmy your shoulders under the chest.
To keep your knees from bowing out to the side, place a block between the upper thighs. Squeeze it tight as you lift up into Bridge Pose.This energizing backbend opens your chest and stretches your neck and spine. It can calm the mind, reduce anxiety, and help improve digestion.Sitting on the floor, bend knees and open them out to the side like a book.