Yoga as a wellness activity has been steadily rising in popularity for its many health benefits and the fact that absolutely anybody with any body can start an asana practice. But it can still get daunting as a beginner to go to that first class and you may need to go to a few more to get into the flow of things. But keep the practice regular and you’ll very quickly begin to start seeing the benefits of yoga not only in your body, but emotionally, mentally, and holistically too.
This guide is a brief overview of the most basic poses, or asana, to get you started. They are staples in most yoga classes you will attend anywhere in the world and great to practice for beginner and advanced yoga practitioners alike! We provide both Sanskrit and the most commonly used English names just in case the class you go to calls it something else.
Savasana — Corpse Pose
Most classes will end with Savasana or Corpse Pose. And unfortunately, many try to skip this part altogether. But it’s one of the most important parts of the class because in complete relaxation, the body is able to repair, rejuvenate, and truly reap the benefits of yoga. It’s also one of the rare moments in modern life that you are allowed to completely let go of your to-do list or any obligations except to relax and be on the mat. So instead of sneaking out of the class, give yourself this chance to lay down for a few more minutes in silence.
Balasana — Child’s Pose
This pose is a great space to rest in-between stronger asana and sequences. It’s even encouraged to recover in Child’s pose at any time in the practice you start to feel weak, light headed, dizzy, or just need to take a breather. Keep the foundation of the pose healthy by ensuring your sit bones keep contact with your heels. Even if your forehead and chest don’t touch the ground yet, trust that with regular practice, they will get there in time.
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Malasana — Garland Pose aka Full Yogic Squat Pose
Pelvic floor and hip health is so important for all age groups. It will affect mobiloty and quality of life as you age so its good to keep the joints and muscles in this area strong and mobile. Malasana is a full squat that is actually a more natural way to sit than on a chair. If you find your hip anatomy simply won’t allow you to get into the full expression of the pose, you may always modify by sitting on a block or bolster (etc……)
Marjayasana and Bitilasana — Cat-Cows Pose
“Cat-Cows” are often introduced at the same time in a class towards the beginning to start getting some spinal movement. Use this time to tune in to your body as it moves to notice and tightness, soreness, or other sensations to be aware of. Add a wave motion into the two asana by starting each movement from the tailbone and curving vertebrae by vertebrae to the full expression of each pose.
Vrksasana — Tree Pose
Balance is an important part of a yoga class and any movement practice in general. It’s good for checking in and keeping focus and helps with overall body coordination. You may try closing your eyes from the very beginning to challenge yourself in Tree pose or choose a spot in front of you to softly focus on. This is called a Drishti and helps keep the mind from wandering while in an asana and in meditation.
Tadasana — Mountain Pose
Tadasana is not simply standing up straight. It is actually the foundation for every other asana and, when expressed with proper engagement, utilizes all major muscle groups of the body. It promotes good spine alignment, symmetrical balance, gently works the core, and helps ease chronic back pain. A proper Tadasana, just like its name, creates a strong foundation with the ground through the feet, and allows you to stand tall like a mountain.
Uttanasana — Forward Fold Pose
Uttanasana can help lengthen the spine and stretch the hamstrings. But if your hamstrings are tight or sore, don’t worry about bending your knees enough so that your hands touch the floor in the beginning. It’s more important to keep the core engaged and back straight, and not force anything into a particular shape if it’s not ready yet. Be patient with the hamstrings. They are the thickest tendons in the body and will more need time to stretch than others for greater range of flexibility.