Group of young people attending to a yoga class outdoors at sunset with New York cityscape on their background. They are meditating and relaxing.
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Yoga poses for beginners: a guide to starting with 12 simple poses

July 5, 2023
5 minutes
Lifestyle Health & Wellness
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Yoga's history traces back to more than 5000 years ago in northern India, and it stems from the culture’s philosophy. Originally, yoga was considered to be a spiritual practice, but it has evolved to promote mental and physical well-being as well.

In recent years, this complex and ancient practice has become increasingly popular in the U.S. with more than 55 million people currently practicing yoga. What are the benefits of yoga, and how does a beginner get started? Let's dive in and learn more.

What are the benefits of yoga?

Yoga's benefits are well-documented. Once you become active in your yoga practice, most can expect to reap all of these benefits and more:

  • Stress relief
  • Weight loss
  • Improved emotional and mental health
  • Relief from arthritis symptoms
  • Help with the management of depression and anxiety
  • Improved balance
  • Neck and back pain relief
  • Improved sleep
  • Relief from menopause symptoms
  • Improved quality of life

Simple yoga poses

There are various types of basic yoga poses, and the ones that are a good fit for you depend on how you want to move your body and any restrictions or health conditions you may need to account for.

  • Standing poses: You'll likely do some standing poses to warm up and "build heat" when you arrive at your yoga classes. Standing poses are strung together in flow style or vinyasa yoga to form long sequences.
  • Backbends: For beginners, most people begin with gentle spine extension and flexion before moving into deeper backbends. Most of us rarely do backbends in everyday life, so becoming adept at doing these is essential for longevity and spinal health.
  • Balancing poses: At the beginning of your yoga practice, it's important to build core strength, which is necessary for doing more advanced poses. Balance poses can be challenging at first, but with regular practice, you'll quickly improve.
  • Supine or resting poses: When you need to take a break during a yoga class, you'll probably be encouraged to do a resting pose. These poses are also sometimes called a "child's pose." Resting poses keep the hamstring and hip work of seated poses going.
  • Seated poses: Seated stretches focus on stretching your hamstrings and hips. Typically, seated stretches are done once your body is warmed up.

Yoga poses for beginners

1. Chakravakasana (cat-cow stretch)

Pose type: backbend

Cat-cow stretches offer both spinal extension and spinal flexion. When you move back and forth, it warms and awakens your back. The cat-cow stretch serves as a basic introduction to a vinyasa sequence. This pose helps alleviate back pain.

Chakravakasana (cat-cow stretch)

2. Baddha konasana (cobbler's pose)

Pose type: seated

With the cobbler pose, you let gravity do all the work to stretch your inner thighs. If this position is difficult for you, use props for support or sit on a cushion to raise your hips.

Baddha konasana (cobbler's pose)

3. Vrksasana (tree pose)

Pose type: Balancing/standing

The tree pose is one of the first balancing postures new yoga practitioners try. If you have a medical condition such as low blood pressure that affects your balance, the tree pose is one you may want to skip. You can also modify the tree pose by placing one of your hands against a wall for support.

Vrksasana (tree pose)

4. Balasana (child's pose)

Pose type: resting

When you need a break from your class or you're feeling fatigued, the child's pose allows you to gently stretch your hips, back, ankles, and thighs while you rest.

Balasana (child's pose)

5. Bhujangasana (cobra pose)

Pose type: backbend

The cobra pose is popular in flow yoga, where it's done several times during every class. This pose is a part of the vinyasa poses sequence. A full cobra offers a deeper backbend, while low cobras are done by lifting your chest without pressing into your hands.

Bhujangasana (cobra pose)

6. Adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)

Pose type: standing

Because of its unique name, the downward dog is one of the most well-known yoga poses. Remember to place most of your weight on your legs and get your hips up high with your heels stretching to the floor. You don't have to have your heels touching the floor.

Adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)

7. Sukhasana (easy pose)

Pose type: seated

The easy pose is one of the first poses new yoga practitioners learn. This pose is what many people think of when they picture someone doing yoga or meditating. To do the easy pose, sit cross-legged on your mat and rest your hands palms up on your knees, keeping your spine as straight as possible.

Sukhasana (easy pose)

8. Uttanasana (standing forward bend)

Pose type: standing

To do this pose, stand up straight, exhale, and bend down to touch your hands on the floor, allowing your head to hang heavy. Your legs can be gently bent with your feet hip-width apart.

Uttanasana (standing forward bend)

9. Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)

Pose type: seated

The seated forward bend is a hamstring stretch. This pose helps people who do a lot of sitting strengthen and lengthen their hamstrings. The seated forward bend gives the entire back of the body a stretch.

Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)

10. Janu sirsasana (head-to-knee pose)

Pose type: seated

If you have tight hamstrings, forward bends can be challenging. The head-to-knee pose is more accessible because you stretch just one leg out at a time. For this pose, you can also use a strap to place around your foot.

Janu sirsasana (head-to-knee pose)

11. Tadasana (mountain pose)

Pose type: standing

Mountain poses align your body from the top of your head down to your heels. In this pose, your pelvis and shoulders are staked along the line. The mountain pose helps improve posture and will give you clues about which poses you need to implement for strengthening.

Tadasana (mountain pose)

12. Setu Bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose)

Pose type: backbend

The bridge pose is the first backend pose most people do. This pose is ideal to begin incorporating backbends into your practice because it improves your spine's mobility. You can also try a supported bridge pose with a block. If you have a neck injury, avoid the bridge pose.

Setu Bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose)

Yoga classes: what to know before you go

First of all, is yoga for everyone? The short answer is yes. Whether you're fit or “out of shape”, young or older, there are yoga poses for almost everyone. To do yoga, you don't have to be flexible. Your yoga practice will need to be adjusted depending on your ability. For example, if you have ankle or knee problems, some poses will be more challenging.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you attend your first yoga class:

  • Most yoga studios don't provide mats, but if you forget yours, they will probably have one you can borrow or rent.
  • You don't have to invest in expensive clothing to do yoga. Just wear something that's loose, stretchy, and comfortable.
  • Beginner and intermediate yoga classes last about 60 minutes, while classes for certain styles may take up to 90 minutes.
  • Arrive at your first class early so you can ask questions or observe other classes.
  • Be sure to bring a towel and water to drink.
  • For two hours before class, avoid eating a full meal. You can enjoy healthy light snacks.

Reach your health goals with yoga

A yoga practice can add value to many different areas of your life. Evidation Members can track their healthy activities. Download the app to learn more.

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