10 Essential Yoga Poses for Beginners

Did the poses taught in your first yoga class pass in one ear and out the other in a blur of confusion as you tried to register what the teacher was saying and, at the same time, create some semblance of those crazy shapes with your own body? Well, relax. It happens to everybody. Use this guide to help you get a grip on what you just learned. 

These ten foundation postures will be among the very first things you learn as a new beginner and will stay with you for as long as you stay with yoga. The alignment tips below come from years of observing the troublesome areas of each pose. Study them well to get a leg up on this yoga thing.

Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukah Svanasana

Top 10 Poses - Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog. Ann Pizer

The name downward facing dog goes hand in hand with yoga, but just because you've heard of this pose doesn't mean it's easy to do.

Beginners often lean too far forward in this posture, making it more like a plank. Instead, remember to keep your weight mostly in your legs, your butt high, and your heels reaching toward the floor. Bending your knees a little or a lot is an accepted modification for people with tight hamstrings.

Eventually, this pose becomes a resting posture. Believe it!

Mountain Pose - Tadasana

Top 10 Poses - Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose - Tadasana. Ann Pizer

Mountain pose may not be as famous as downward facing dog, but it is every bit as important. This is a good time to talk about alignment, which is the way that your body parts are ideally arranged in each pose. The alignment in mountain pose draws a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels, with the shoulders and pelvis stacked along the line on the way down.

A good yoga teacher will talk you through this in class, reminding you to slide your shoulders down your back and keep weight in your heels.

Warrior I - Virbhadrasana I

Top 10 Poses - Warrior I
Warrior I - Virabhadrasana I. Ann Pizer

The important thing to remember in warrior I is that the hips face forward. Think of your hip points as headlights. They should be roughly parallel with the front of your mat.

Sometimes this requires that you move your legs into a wider stance (towards each side of the mat), which is ok in my book.

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II

Top 10 Poses - Warrior II
Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II. Ann Pizer

Unlike warrior I, above, in warrior II, the hips face the side of the mat. When moving from warrior I to warrior II, the hips and shoulders both open to the side. This is a movement that is done a lot, and not just in classes for beginners.

In both warrior poses, aim to get the front thigh parallel to the floor. You've heard of feeling the burn, right?

Extended Side Angle - Utthita Parvakonasana

Top 10 Poses - Extended Side Angle Pose
Extended Side Angle Pose - Utthita Parsvakonasana. Ann Pizer

The accepted modification of extended side angle pose is the bring your forearm to your thigh instead of your hand to the floor. This allows you to stay open across the shoulders.

If students reach for the floor before they are ready, it compromises the position of the torso, meaning that the chest is turned toward the floor instead of toward the ceiling.

Triangle Pose - Utthita Trikonasana

Top 10 Poses - Triangle Pose
Triangle Pose - Trikonasana. Ann Pizer

The triangle can cause the same issues as extended side angle, so have a yoga block handy for your bottom hand. You can also rest your hand higher up on your leg, but avoid putting it directly on your knee.

Familiarize yourself with the microbend and apply it here, particularly in your front knee.

Cat-Cow Stretch - Chakravakasana

Top 10 Poses - Cat Cow Stretch
Cat Cow Stretch. Ann Pizer

Cat-Cow may be the most important pose you learn when starting yoga, especially if you have back pain. Even if you never make it to more than a few yoga classes (no! come back!), continue doing this stretch on your own for your spinal health.

You can read more about the importance of cat-cow on About.com's back pain site.

Staff Pose - Dandasana

Top 10 Poses- Staff Pose
Staff Pose - Dandasana. Ann Pizer

Staff pose is the seated equivalent of mountain pose (above), in that it offers alignment guidelines for a host of other seated poses.

You can (and should) sit on a folded blanket or two if you have trouble sitting up straight with your butt flat on the floor. Oftentimes this pose leads into a forward bend.

Cobbler's Pose - Baddha Konasana

Top 10 Poses - Cobber's Pose
Cobbler's Pose - Baddha Konasana. Ann Pizer

It can also be a good idea to sit up on something like a blanket in cobbler's pose, especially if your knees are way above your hips in this position.

Since we rarely sit this way in our everyday lives, this pose stretches some neglected areas of the body.

Child's Pose - Balasana

Top 10 Poses - Child's Pose
Child's Pose - Balasana. Ann Pizer

I know I said all the other poses were important, but child's pose is really important. It's the position you can assume at any time you need a break during a yoga class. If you feel ever feel light-headed or overly fatigued, you don't have to wait for the teacher to call for a break. Just move into child's pose on your own and rejoin the class when you are ready.

Taking child's pose is really up to your discretion, which happens to introduce one of yoga's best lessons: being attuned to the signals your body is giving you and respecting them above any external directions you may be getting. It's all about you, baby.

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