The first couple of times you lay out your yoga mat can be a bit intimidating, especially if you’ve been following ‘insta-famous’ yogis on social media.

But it’s imperative to remember that yoga is not a skill, it’s a lifestyle — and it’s for everyone.

You, too, can practice yoga. All it takes is consistently meeting yourself on the mat.

Don’t let the myriad of philosophies, teachings, poses and asanas intimidate you. Just start somewhere, and when the time is right, you will pick up all of these deeper aspects of yoga.

After all, being a beginner is beautiful, and you only get to do it once.

To set yourself up for success, it’s important to build a strong foundation. Here are 5 foundational yoga poses for every beginner to get you started:

1. Mountain Pose

Sanskrit: Tadasana

MountainPose

What’s it good for?

Mountain Pose is probably THE beginning pose. It teaches you how to stand properly in a way that ignites your body with strength. Mountain Pose also improves your posture and balance, and centers your mind, body, and spirit.

How To Properly Do The Pose:

  • Stand tall and strong, with your feet firmly placed on the ground. To secure your footing, place your feet directly below your hips, and inch them inward so that the big toes meet. You can spread your heels apart if it is more comfortable.
  • Lift up your toes, spreading them apart as far as you can, then slowly place them on the ground one by one. Feel the way your pressure is spread across your feet, and try to make it as even as possible.
  • Inhale your arms up, and exhale them back down, rolling your shoulders back. Place your arms at your sides, but keep your shoulders rolled back.
  • Inhale your chest up and out. If you feel an arch in your back, tuck your tailbone slightly, lift the pelvis, and engage your core. You should feel a tall, strong, straight spine, with your head stacked on your neck, stacked on your shoulders, stacked on your core, stacked on your hips, and supported by strong active feet pushing against the floor.
  • Really focus on your breath here. Match the length of your inhale to your exhale. Focus on the way this position feels. As you continue in your yoga practice, this will be an essential pose that you’ll notice as the “backbone” of higher level poses, such as inversions.

Tips And Modifications

  • If you struggle to find your balance, stand with your feet farther apart.
  • Stand against a wall, and/or in front of a mirror, to gauge how straight and stacked your body is.
  • Closing your eyes will make balancing harder. As you continue to practice, try to master this pose with your eyes close. This challenge will help you focus on the internal, and master your sense of balance.

2. Downward Facing Dog

Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Svanasana

DownwardDog

What’s it good for?

You will notice this pose in nearly every yoga class you take. It’s the “go-to” pose, used to stretch the entire body and get you warmed up. Although this pose is a little challenging in the beginning, eventually it will become your resting pose!

How To Properly Do The Pose:

  • You may like to start this pose from all fours, or bend down from Mountain Pose to place your hands on the mat.
  • Begin by lining up your hands to be directly beneath your shoulders, and your knees directly beneath your hips. Check to make sure your calves are parallel to the side of the mat.
  • As we did with out feet in Mountain Pose, spread your fingers as wide as you can and place them on the mat, middle finger pointing straight in front. Check that the pressure is evenly distributed across your hands and fingers.
  • When you’re ready, push through your hands as you straighten your knees and elbows.
  • You should look like an upside down “V” with your buttox as the highest point.
  • Your neck should be relaxed, parallel to your arms, and looking at your toes.
  • Push through the ball of your feet, so that your hips are as high as they can. Feel the way this straightens your spine.
  • The most important part of Downward Dog is a straight spine.
  • Bend your knees, if you need to, and continue to push on the balls of your feet (your heels may rise in the air slightly) until you feel your spine is straight.
  • As you advance in this pose, try to lift your hips higher, straighten your legs, and bring your heels to the ground. Remember, don’t compromise the integrity of the pose just to get your heels down.

Tips And Modifications

  • Bend one knee while keeping the other straight, and focus on the way it affects your hips. This movement will teach you about the inner workings of the pose AND give you a great stretch. 

3. Upward Facing Dog

Sanskrit: Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

UpwardFacingDog

What’s it good for?

Upward facing dog is a powerful chest opener and strength builder, all while working in a nice light back stretch.

How To Properly Do The Pose:

  • Lie on the floor, or begin in plank pose. It is important to note the “stacking” of each body part as we talked about previously.
  • Spread your fingers wide, and notice the way the pressure feels. It is crucial that you push through the fingertips, spreading the pressure across your hand. You will naturally want to collapse into your wrists, but this is bad both for your wrists and your lower back.
  • Place your feet, tops down, on the mat. Check to see that your legs are parallel to the sides of the mat and not spreading out in a V shape.
  • In this pose, you will push through the tops of your feet and your hands. LIft your stomach and thighs off of the ground so that your feet and hands are the only parts touching the floor.
  • As you lift off the ground in this way, bring your gaze upward.
  • Resist the urge to collapse your neck into the shoulders, but rather look up strongly while you roll your shoulders down your back.
  • Slightly rotate your biceps out.
  • Check to see that your wrists are beneath your shoulders, your shoulders are rolled down your back, your neck is tall and strong, and your gaze is toward the ceiling. Your thighs should be off the mat, and the top of your feet should be pressed firmly into the floor.
  • Focus on the breath here, and when you’re ready, slowly place your thighs on the ground and bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the ground.

Tips And Modifications

  • Remember, never get out of a pose too quickly. This can cause injury. Undo each movement in the opposite way you got into the pose.
  • Push through those hands so you don’t collapse in your wrists and hurt your lower back.
  • If you find it difficult to lift your thighs off of the ground, roll a blanket or use a block, and gently place it under your thighs.
  • Lessen your gaze, if needed, bringing your eyes to look either forward or slightly up. If you lessen your gaze, make sure that your neck has not collapsed into your shoulders, but remains tall and strong.

 

4. Child’s Pose

Sanskrit: Balasana

ChildsPose

What’s it good for?

You will notice a lot of yoga practices end with the pose, or use it as an intermediate rest. It’s a great, light stretch that’s calming and perfect as a cool down after an asana.

How To Properly Do The Pose:

  • Begin by sitting on your knees, with the tops of your feet against the floor.
  • You may like to place your feet parallel, or you may like to spread your feet into a “V” by widening the heels and placing the big toes together.
  • Keep your buttox on your feet, but lower your chest to the ground.
  • Widen your knees and place your chest between either knee.
  • You may like to outstretch your arms, straight in front of you, lengthening through your fingertips and walking your arms out further for a deeper stretch.
  • Or, you may choose to keep your arms on either side of your body, with either palms up or palms down.
  • Place your forehead on the ground, or turn to one side to place your cheek on the ground.
  • Focus on your breath here, close your eyes, and let the relaxing effects take over.

Tips And Modifications

  • Don’t do this pose on a full stomach.
  • Use blocks and blankets as needed. You may like to roll or fold a blanket and place it between your calves and thighs if you have a hard time sitting back all the way.
  • You may also find it nice to place a blanket beneath your forehead or under your knees.

 

5. Pigeon Pose

Sanskrit: Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

PigeonPose

What’s it good for?

This is an amazing hip opener. Your hips store trauma and emotions, and are the powerhouse behind your movements. Taking good care of your hips releases dynamite power into your life and into your practice.

Pigeon Pose can also be used to increase balance and range of motion. It will release tension and open your two lower Chakras. Pigeon Pose will make you feel great, and will help you get into tons of poses with ease.

How To Properly Do The Pose:

  • One great way to move into Pigeon Pose is by beginning in either Downward Dog or a plank. Ground your hands and your feet, and bring either leg up toward your wrist
  • You can place this leg down on the ground in a few different ways. The more difficult version will have your calf parallel to the top of the mat. The beginner version allows you to bend your knee, bringing your ankle closer to your hip.
  • The back leg should be extended behind you with the top of the foot placed firmly into the ground, and the entire leg parallel to the sides of the mat.
  • Check to make sure this back leg is extended straight from your hip and that the tops of your thigh, calf, and foot are all pressed into the ground.
  • One of the most important parts of this pose is that your hips remain even and in line with one another. If your hips become out of line, your lower back will compensate and you run the risk of injury.
  • From here, there are several modifications you can make. You may like to prop your hands up and simply hold this position with a tall straight back. Again, make sure not to collapse your neck.
  • You may like to lower your body down, and begin to lay down on top of your bent leg, outstretching your arms before you. This is a very deep and powerful stretch.
  • You may also find it good to work on your balance here by hinging your back leg at the knee, so that it makes a perpendicular angle with the floor. You can grab your back foot with your hand, and allow your back foot to pull your chest up. This is a great way to practice balance while getting an amazing stretch.

 

Tips And Modifications

  • Use blocks, blankets, and straps to your advantage.
  • If you are moving into the balancing pose, use a block by one hand to help prop you up, and use a strap to hold onto your back leg.
  • Place blankets under your knees, thighs, and calves to help lessen the resistance and pressure.
  • Bend your front leg more to lighten the pressure on your knees.
  • Take it slow, and really feel each movement before proceeding to the next. If you flop into the full Pigeon Pose it is possible to injure yourself and miss out on the powerful effects of this pose.

 

Mastering these foundational 5 yoga poses for every beginner will set you up for success in your practice. The foundation is the most important part. Knowing the proper form of these foundational poses will give you the ability to better resist injury as you get into more difficult poses.

Just because they are foundational doesn’t diminish the importance and the beauty of each one of these poses. Remember, this is YOUR journey, so take it at the pace that best fits you.

 

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