The world of Yoga is huge, and it can be quite daunting as a beginner to wrap your head around it all.
Just 2 years ago, I was also a beginner who’s hands were about a foot away from the ground in a forward bend and didn’t even know what the word yoga meant. I was advised to start yoga by a private councilor who took me through a few basic poses that would help loosen up my muscles as she believed a lot of my emotions were trapped in these stiff, tight muscles. I thought it was absolutely crazy, and still do to that matter but not because I don’t believe in it…but because it actually works for me!
As a beginner, I was shocked by the amount of Asanas (poses in Sanskrit) there are, and their Sanskrit names that go with them.
I decided that as a once clueless beginner, I would share what I believe are the first few basic poses that you need to know to get started. If you have never been to a yoga class before and want to know some base poses or want to start your own home practice, then you are in the right place!
(These poses may not be suitable for anyone with injuries or pregnancy – please check with your doctor before attempting them)
Downward Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana (Sanskrit name)
This is probably one of the most well-known yoga poses. It is also generally one of the first poses that is practiced as a beginner, and can be performed by all ages from toddlers to adults.
This pose is usually used as a transitional pose in a Vinyasa flow or used as a resting pose in-between flows. I had zero body strength or flexibility when I started so I found this pose so hard that my arms used to shake whilst trying to hold it – so don’t panic if that is you! It doesn’t take long for your body to get used to it but, don’t force it as you may have tight areas in your body that will take longer to open up.
Downward dog is a perfect pose to do first thing in the morning, it gets the circulation going and wakes up all the muscles in your body giving them a great stretch to start your day.
Top Tips for Downward Dog
- Make sure your arms are shoulder width apart and legs hip width.
- It takes time for your legs to become straight and flat on the floor without compromising a flat back so, bend your knees as much as you need to and push your hips towards the ceiling.
- Spread your fingers and really push into the floor.
- I never completely lock out my knees as it more comfortable on the joints.
- Take a picture of your downward dog so that you can see your alignment.
Sun Salutation A – Surya Namaskar
This is a traditional yoga sequence which was created to honor the sun. A sun salutation is generally performed near the beginning of a yoga session as a warm up as, the movements build up heat in all the major muscle groups which prepares the body for practice.
There is more than one sun salutation so as a beginner it is best to start with the one pictured above know as sun salutation A, or the Sivananda sun salutation – which is what I use in my children’s yoga classes.
The sun salutation pictured above can be performed for as many rounds as you like at whatever speed you feel suits you. In the fitness yoga classes I used to attend, my teacher used to make us increase the speed each round to really warm the body ready for the class.
The poses performed in Sun Salutation A are:
- Standing Mountain Pose – be strong and grounded then rise up to the sky lifting your gaze up with your arms.
- Standing Forward Fold – bend your knees as much as you need to here.
- Half Standing Forward Fold – it is really important to keep your back flat in this pose so bring your hands however far up your shins you need to in order to keep it flat. Bring your gaze forward in line with your torso so that it is parallel to the floor.
- Four-Limbed Staff Pose – The transition to this pose is to jump or step back into plank before lowering down. You have to have good strength to perform this pose as you need to slowly lower without collapsing onto the floor. Your elbows are tucked in to the side of the body, and think of it as a lean forward to the floor rather than a straight down as your legs need to be lengthened with heels pushing back. If this pose is too strong for you, then bring your knees, chest and chin down to the floor with your bum and hips still in the air.
- Upward Facing Dog – This pose can be done at the full expression as shown in the picture or with your forearms on the floor which is a lighter backbend. If going for the full posture make sure you are lifting your chest up to the sky and keeping elbows tucked into the sides of the body. Again – lots of different ways this pose is performed, I personally keep a slight bend in the elbows, as it does not feel good on the joints to lock out.
- Continue as shown in the picture above transitioning to downward dog, then to half standing forward fold, forward fold, finally raising your arms to the sky and finishing with your hands at heart center in the traditional prayer position.
Warrior 1 – Virabhadrasana
There are 3 variations of warrior pose and all of them are very strong, solid, foundation poses. All 3 of the warrior poses are great for strengthening the body, increasing flexibility and also balancing.
Warrior 1 stretches your chest with a slight backbend and is a fantastic calf stretch. When your body starts to open up you can sink the hips lower to the ground which stretches the hip and inner thigh, all whilst keeping the legs and whole body strong. Your arms can be straight up to the sky with palms together or apart with your gaze straight ahead.
My Top Tips for Warrior 1 Pose:
- Make sure your hips are facing forward and don’t slip sideways
- Don’t compromise your alignment over trying to bring your heel to the floor – many people find it difficult to bring their heel flat to the floor because of the stretch in the back leg, just go to where your body feels comfortable.
- Harden the whole body and feel the power of the warrior pose.
Tree Pose – Vriksasana
Tree pose is a very basic balancing pose which is a perfect pose to begin with as the leg that is raised can be modified to anywhere lower down on the leg – apart from on the knee joint. Start off with one leg just resting on your ankle and gradually increase it until you can balance with it resting on your inner thigh.
Tree pose is a great strengthening pose for your whole leg including your ankle, calf muscles and thigh. It also stretches your hips, inner thigh and groin. Hip stretches are very good for relieving stress, and releasing any unwanted emotions that are there.
Once you have found stillness in this pose you can put it to the test by playing around with different arm movements or even trickier – try closing your eyes!
My Top Tips for Tree Pose:
- Make sure your knee is facing the side and your hips are open facing forward – bring the leg further down if alignment is compromised.
- Focus on one point that is not moving to improve your balance.
- Hold on to the wall or stand with your back against it if you are really struggling to find stillness.
- Try holding the pose for 5 breaths on each leg.
Triangle Pose – Trikonasana
Triangle is an all round fantastic pose to get practicing. It is a pose that benefits the body in many ways with quite a few variations that can be explored.
Triangle pose should be included in everyone’s yoga practice as it stretches the leg muscles, the hips, the groin, all the way up the side of the body to the shoulder. It strengthens the legs, ankles, and abdominals when weight is taken off of the arm resting on the leg. I found this pose did wonders for my tight hamstrings and it did not take long before they started opening up and lengthening.
Triangle pose also offers a beautiful spinal twist which massages the internal organs increasing detoxification in the liver. Spinal twists are also said to release stress and anxiety and stimulate circulation and digestion.
My Top Tips for performing Triangle Pose:
- Use a block under the hand towards the floor instead of putting pressure on your leg.
- Keep hips square, not letting your outside hip come forward – this usually happens when you try to force the lower arm too far down your leg. The best way to understand how it should feel is by practicing the pose with your back against the wall and pushing the back of the hips on the wall, you’ll be surprised how different your triangle pose looks.
- Focus your gaze up towards the hand in the sky to improve your focus and balance.
- If you feel really strong, practice without resting the lower hand on the leg and just let it hang – your abs will thank you.
A couple of final tips I will give you from my own experience is to not underestimate these base poses; they are the ones that will make you strong, increase your balance and flexibility and focus your mind. They are the Asanas that you will spend the most time in and the ones you will quite quickly notice your progression weather that be mental or physical. Most importantly, practice, practice, practice! I am living proof that you can go from a stiff, inflexible human being living with aches and pains to one that is healthier, happier, stronger and much more flexible – your body will thank you.
Lots of love, Dans x