Woman on black yoga mat doing hand plank abdominal exercise. 7 important beginner yoga poses you need to learn
Woman on black yoga mat doing hand plank abdominal exercise. 7 important beginner yoga poses you need to learn

7 Important Beginner Yoga Poses You Need to Learn

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silhouette of a woman stretching near the ocean as the sun sets

Here are some easy beginner yoga poses, with added pictures, you can do at home to improve strength and flexibility.

Whether you are new to yoga or need a bit of a refresher, here are seven of the most widely practiced poses, with a breakdown of how to do each one of them.

Each pose (asana) has its English name along with its Sanskrit name. There are step–by-step instructions to bring you into the proper alignment and focus with each posture as well as some added modifications.

A yoga mat is helpful as it will add some cushioning as well as give you the grip you need to hold the poses. A towel on your carpet will work just fine too.

Woman rolling up a black yoga mat
one brown yoga strap, two yellow yoga blocks, and one purple yoga mat

Yoga blocks and a strap (or something similar you can find around your house) are also very handy to help when the full range of motion is not something you are able to reach at this time.

As always when starting any new fitness program or returning after an injury, talk with your doctor for medical clearance prior to beginning.

Yoga is a wonderful form of movement for the mind, body and spirit. Enjoy your yoga journey.

What are the best yoga Poses for Beginners?

People often asked ‘how can I make yoga easier?’ well one way is to learn the foundation poses that are important to all yoga programs.

Laying the foundation and mastering the poses will make the more challenging poses much easier to do.

Following are 7 foundation poses you need to learn which you will find in almost all yoga classes, so learning them now to do in a class later, or just to do your own program at home will be extremely beneficial to your success.

#1. Pose: Child’s pose

Sanskrit Name: Balasana

bala = child, young ; sana = pose

This is one of my favourites as I find it very relaxing. It is also a pose you can come back to when you feel you need a break.

Benefits:

  • Relaxing the muscles on the front of your body while passively stretching the spinal muscles, gluteal (buttocks) muscles
  • A resting pose that centres, calms and soothes the mind.
  • A great stress releasing position
  • Helps to relieve back pain. Your torso can be supported on a bolster if the range of motion is too much or you have back discomfort  
  • A chance to reconnect to your breath and intention.

Cautions:

  • If you have any knee, hip or ankle injury, that is aggravated in this position, use the modified version or do not do it at all.
  • Pregnant women will want to do the wide-legged version of the pose as to not press your belly onto your thighs. The wide leg version allows space for your belly.
  • Always work within your personal range of motion for each joint, do not force yourself into this or any pose.

Child’s Pose

Woman in front of brick wall doing standard child's pose beginner yoga pose
Woman on blue yoga mat doing modified child's pose beginner yoga pose

Modified Child’s Pose

Step-by-Step:

  1. Start on your hands and knees. Wrists should be aligned below your shoulders and your knees hip distance apart (two fist width if you’re not sure).
  2. On your inhale, bring your knees out slightly wider towards the edges of your mat, and having your big toes touch each other
  3. As you exhale, begin to drop your hips back towards your feet, sitting into your heels.
  4. As you do this extend your arms out on the mat reaching towards the top of your mat. And allow your torso to sink down between your thighs.
  5. Option to rest the shoulders by bringing your hands closer to your head and allowing the elbows to splay out to the sides on your mat.
  6. Rest your forehead on the mat while continuing to lengthen from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
  7. Maintain this position, breathing comfortably for three to five complete breath cycles

Modifications:

  • If you’re not able to bring your head down to the floor that is ok, you can rest your head on a yoga block.
  • The other option is to place a bolster between your knees and allow your torso and head to rest on it.
  • If the hips will not go all the way back you can put a block between your feet and rest your ‘sit bones’ on that.

#2 Pose: Downward Facing Dog

Sanskrit name: Adhu mukha svanasana

Adho = downward; mukha = face; shvana = dog

Benefits:

  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Energizes and rejuvenates the body
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Improves digestion
  • Strengthens the arms and legs
  • Stretches out the hamstrings, calves, shoulders, and arches of your feet.

Cautions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • High blood pressure or headache, modify by either supporting the head on a bolster or bringing your hands up to the edge of a couch or chair.
  • Pregnancy: do not do in late term
  • Diarrhea

Downward Facing Dog Pose

Woman in front of brick wall doing standard downward facing dog beginner yoga pose
Woman in front of brick wall doing modified downward facing dog yoga pose

To decrease the intensity you can place your hands on blocks, or on a chair.

To increase the intensity you can lift one leg behind you. 

Woman in front of brick wall doing advanced one legged downward dog yoga pose

Step-by-Step:

  1. Start on all fours, with your knees below your hips, feet hip width apart and your hands slightly forward of your shoulders.
  2. Spread your fingers with your index fingers parallel, rooting both palms firmly into the mat while simultaneously tucking the toes under.
  3. Take your hands and place them one  hand length forward (heel of the hand to where to middle finger was originally). This sets you up for perfect alignment.
  4. As you exhale lift your knees away from the floor while lengthening through the spine. Think of lifting your sit bones toward the ceiling, creating an inverted V-shape with the body.
    • Press your heart towards your thighs, then straighten the legs. If the legs do not fully straighten that is ok, you can have a bend to the knees.
  5. Breathe in and with your exhalation slowly straighten out your knees (keeping a slight bend) Now begin to gently press your heels towards the floor.
    • Do not worry if you cannot straighten out your knees or if your heels do not touch the floor… just do what is comfortable.
  6. Pressing your hands and base of the index fingers into the floor. Press out of your shoulders and think of lengthening. Keep the head between the upper arms; do not allow the head to hang.
  7. Press all your digits into the floor. Maintain a strong arm position and allow the shoulder blades to slide down your back.
  8. Stay in this pose up to 3 minutes. But start with a length of time that is comfortable. You can start with 30 seconds then come back to hands and knees for a break then try it again.

Modifications:

To decrease:

  • Place hands on blocks, a chair or edge of a couch
  • Keep knees bent
  • Only press heels as far as is comfortable

To Increase:

  • Raise one leg up behind until it is in line with your body (3 legged downward dog). Keep toes pointed towards the floor and hips level. Repeat other side

#3 Pose: Tree Pose

Sanskrit name: Vrksasana

Vrksa = tree; asana = pose

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the muscles, ligaments and tendons in your hips, ankles and feet
  • Improves balance which is essential not only in every day movement and in sports but also very important to maintain or gain as we age.
  • Helps to strengthen your posture by maintaining a balanced position with keeping your spine in good alignment
  • Assists the body in establishing pelvic stability

Cautions:

  • Those with foot, ankle, knee or hip issues need to be very aware of how they are feeling.
    1. If it doesn’t feel right (you know your body better than anyone!) then stop, realign and try again. Keep the core engaged.
    2. If you still feel any pain or discomfort, do not do this pose until those areas are stronger.
  • Those with any type of balance issue should have something beside you that you can hold on to, to help you balance.

Level 1 Tree Pose

Woman in front of brick wall doing level 1 tree beginner yoga pose

Level 2 Tree Pose

Woman in front of brick wall doing level 2 tree beginner yoga pose

Level 3 Tree Pose

Woman in front of brick wall doing level 3 tree beginner yoga pose

Step-by-Step:

  1. Stand with your feet together, or hip width apart, with your hands resting on your hips.
  2. Begin to slowly shift your weight over to the right foot rooting down firmly into the floor. Ground down through all four corners of your foot, finding a spot on the floor to focus on.
  3. Lift the left knee up and open to the side
  4. From here and with control bring the sole of the left foot into your chosen position: either at the ankle, the knee or the inside of the upper leg. Your toes should be pointing down towards the floor.
  5. Make sure you are standing tall and not allowing the right hip to drop out to the right. Keep your core muscles engaged.
  6. Bring the palms of the hands together over the heart or you can stretch them up towards the ceiling with the palms together.
  7. Find a spot on the floor to set your gaze as this will also help you to maintain your balance.
  8. Breathe comfortably for three to five full cycles
  9. Repeat with the other leg

Modifications:

  • The three levels are shown in the three picture options. Start with level one, once mastered you can move onto level two , then level three.
  • Hands can either be kept on your hips, together over your heart, or reaching up towards the sky with palms together

#4 Pose: Standing Intense Forward Stretch

Sanskrit name: Uttanasana

Ut = intense; tan = stretch; asana = pose

Benefits:

  • Passively lengthening and stretching the hamstrings, calves, buttocks and spinal muscles
  • Strengthens the thighs and knees
  • Relaxes tired muscles
  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Helps to reduce fatigue and anxiety

Cautions:

  • If you have had a back injury or are extremely tight make sure you keep your knees bent and place your hands on a chair or any other elevated piece of equipment/furniture giving you support.
  • If you suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure), place your hands on a chair keeping your torso parallel to the floor.

Level 1 Forward Fold

Woman in front of brick wall doing modified forward fold beginner yoga pose
Woman in front of brick wall doing forward fold beginner yoga pose

Level 2 Forward Fold

Level 3 Forward Fold

Woman in front of brick wall doing level 3 forward fold beginner yoga pose

Step-by-Step:

  1. Standing with your feet hip width apart and your hands on your hips.
  2. Inhale, lifting your chest and looking up
  3. Exhale, hinge from the hips, not the waist, keeping your spine lengthened, reaching with the crown of your head as you fold.
  4. With your knees either bent or straight bring your palms or finger tips to the floor slightly in front of or beside your feet.
    • Options: A. bring your palms to the back of your ankles B. cross your forearms and hold your elbows C. place your hands on blocks or a chair
  5. Press the heels firmly into the floor while lifting the ‘sit bones’ toward the ceiling. Allow the head to relax and release your facial muscles. All the weight should be forward in your toes, keeping the heels grounded but light.
  6. Gaze is to the knees, with crown of the head towards the floor.
  7. 3 – 5 breath cycles. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward fold.
  8. To return to the upright position, place your hands back onto your hips. Keeping the spine lengthened hinge once again from the hips, pressing your tailbone down, coming up on an inhalation.

Modifications:

To Decrease:

  • Bend your knees
  • Place your hands on yoga blocks or a chair
  • You can also try placing your buttocks against the wall with your feet 6 – 12 inches away from the wall and practice your fold from there

To Increase:

  • Place the balls of your feet on a folded towel
  • Lift your heels off the floor slightly, deepening into the fold

#5 Pose: Warrior II

Sanskrit name: Virabhadrasana II

Virabhadra = the name of a fierce mythical warrior

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the legs, opens the hips and chest
  • Develops balance and concentration
  • Energizes the body

Cautions:

  • Recent or chronic injury to the hips, knees or shoulders will require modifications. This pose may not be one to add at this stage for you, listen to your body.

Warrior II Pose

Woman in front of brick wall doing warrior yoga pose

Step-by-Step:

  1. Starting tall in Mountain position (feet together or hip width apart), facing the long end of your mat
  2. Take the feet wide apart so that with the arms outstretched the ankles are in line (under) your wrists.
  3. Turn your left foot out to 90 degrees, so your toes are point to the short end of the mat
  4. Turn your right foot in slightly towards the top of the mat to help maintain balance. The heel of your right foot should align with the arch of your left foot.

Tip: Look down to make sure you can see your left big toe, if not, open the knee to the left.

  1. Slowly begin to bend the left knee, aligning the knee with your second toe, as the thigh comes parallel to the floor. The bend comes from the hips, careful not to tilt forward from the waist, keep the body upright and stacked over your hips.
  2. Rooting your feet firmly into the mat, outstretch the arms to reach in opposite directions one to the front wall and the other to the back, keeping your arms in line with your shoulders. Palms facing the floor.
  3. Keep your shoulders stacked over your hips as you gently turn your head towards the front outstretched arm, gazing softly over your fingertips.
  4. As much as you are lunging forward, pull your torso back to stay in line with your hips.. Shoulders are soft and pressed down away from the ears.
  5. Maintain this position for three to five full cycle breathes.
  6. Reverse the steps to bring you back into your wide position and repeat on the other side.

Modifications:

To Decrease Intensity or range of Motion:

  • Place your hands on your hips instead of outstretching them.
  • Do not go quite so deep into the bend, small range of motion is perfectly fine

#6 Pose: Plank Pose

Sanskrit name: Kumbhakasana

Kimbhaka = inhaling, retaining and exhaling (breath retention) asana = pose

Benefits:

  • Builds upper body and core strength
  • Lengthens the spine and strengthens the low back muscles
  • Good preparatory pose for more difficult poses. Is also a transitional pose used often in a yoga flow.

Cautions:

  • Anyone with Carpal Tunnel should go onto their forearms
  • Any recent or chronic injury to the arms, back or shoulders need modifications or not done at all if it aggravates your current condition.

Level 1 Plank

Woman on black yoga mat doing knee to forearm plank beginner yoga pose
Woman on red yoga mat doing arm plank beginner yoga posse

Level 2 Plank

Level 3 Plank

Young woman on black yoga mat doing level 3 plank beginner yoga pose

Step-by-Step:

  1. Start in your downward facing dog pose
  2. Slowly start to drop your hips as you move your body forward until you are in the plank position
  3. Your hands should be under your shoulders
  4. From here you can do any of the modification
  5. Hold for three to five breathe cycles

Modifications:

  • If it bothers your wrists you can take it onto your forearms

To Decrease Intensity:

  • Drop down to your knees
  • Do not hold the position for as long

To increase Intensity:

  • Lift on foot off the floor

Tips:

  • Keep the upper body strong and do not allow your chest to sink down
  • Keep the spine, neck, head in alignment not allowing your belly to sag and hang down.
  • If you cannot keep proper alignment and technique modify the pose by coming down on your elbows and/or dropping to your knees.

#7 Pose: Low Lunge Pose

Sanskrit name: Anjaneyasana

Anjaneya = Lord Hanuman, divine entity of spiritual significance Asana = pose

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the leg muscles of the front leg (quadriceps and gluteus muscles), developing stamina and endurance
  • Stretches the hip flexors in the back leg
  • Improves balance and concentration
  • Calms the mind
  • A good stretch to help relieve sciatica pain
  • Opens your chest, lungs and shoulders

Cautions:

  • Any recent or chronic hip / knee injury you should either modify or not do at all if it is uncomfortable.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Any limited range of motion in the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder or spinal joints should not be pushed past a comfortable range. Know your flexibility limitations

Level 1 Low Lunge

Young woman on blue yoga mat doing level one low lunge beginner yoga pose
Woman on black yoga mat doing level 2 low lunge beginner yoga pose

Level 2 Low Lunge

Level 3 Low Lunge

Young woman on black yoga mat doing level 3 low lunge beginner yoga pose

Step-by-Step:

  1. Starting in Downward Facing Dog
  2. On exhale, step your right foot forward placing it between your hands with your toes in line with your fingers. And your knee should be in line with your ankle
  3. Slowly drop your left knee to the floor. Hold for a couple of breathes
  4. On Inhale, raise your torso up and place your hands on your thigh. Hold for a couple of breathes. Level out your pelvis by pulling your right hip back and your left hip forward, this will help you to keep square to the front of your mat.
  5. On your next inhale, raise your hands up overhead with your palms facing one another and softening the shoulders away from your ears.
  6. On your next exhale, allow your hips to settle forwards and down until you feel a stretch in the front of your left hip. Release the pelvic floor and release the hips towards the mat.
  7. Begin to draw your thumbs back slightly and reach up and open through the chest, allowing for a mild back bend, keeping your gaze forward. Hug your lower ribs in and lift your heart.

Modifications:

To Decrease Intensity:

  • Drop the back knee to the floor and uncurl your toes.
  • Place your hands on blocks on either side of you when in the lunge position for support
  • Keep the gaze forwards and downwards if you have a neck injury
  • You can keep your hands on the blocks, the floor or just onto your thigh, choose the position that fits your fitness and flexibility level.

To Increase Intensity:

  • You can challenge your balance by closing your eyes
  • You can bring your hands up onto your front thigh
  • You can extend your arms and reach overhead

Tips:

  • Place a soft foam block, pillow or rolled up town under the back knee for cushioning

These seven yoga poses are good foundational poses to learn, master and become comfortable with to bring you to more challenging poses.

They will also help when starting a yoga program at home or in a studio to have the knowledge of the basics.

Enjoy

Namaste

Cited Works:

Kainoff L., Matthews A., (2012) Yoga Anatomy Second Edition. Human Kinetics

Long R., MD, FRCSC. (2008) Your Guide to Functional Anatomy in Yoga, The Key Poses of Yoga.

Brown C., (2002). The Book of Yoga

Prathikanti S., Rivera R., Cochran A., Tungot JG., Eavazmanesh N., Weinmann E (2017). Treating major depression with yoga; A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28301561

Cramer H., (2017). Where and How does Yoga Work? – A Scientific Overview. Retrieved from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29241287

Wang MY., Yu SS., Hashish R., Samarawickrame SD., Kazadi L., Greendale GA., Salem G. (2013) The biomechanical demands of standing yoga poses in seniors: The Yoga empowers seniors stufy (YESS). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23302513

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