Ask an ordinary person what they think about yoga, and for many, thoughts of impossibly complex, body-contorting pretzel-like positions will come to mind. But like so many activities, yoga has a learning curve, and it can be as nurturing or challenging as you want it to be, and this applies to its many poses.
Yoga is a very inclusive activity and presents very little to no barriers to entry. There are a number of poses that are well-suited for beginners including familiar postures like the:
- Downward Facing Dog
- Warrior poses (I and II)
Yoga poses are more than getting your body into certain, oftentimes challenging and sometimes uncomfortable, positions. Consider these asanas as gateways to enhanced strength, improved flexibility, and overall better physical health. Thinking about learning yoga? These 10 beginner poses are a great way to get started on your yoga journey.
What Is a Yoga Pose?
A yoga pose is a specific posture with the body and limbs aligned and positioned in pre-scripted ways. There are numerous poses in the practice of yoga’s many disciplines (more on this later) and there are many ways to categorize them.
One common way to group yoga poses is according to body positioning:
- Seated poses – used for meditation exercises and to promote mental calm and relaxation
- Standing poses – executed from a standing base, these encourage strength and flexibility
- Supine poses – performed while lying on your back or side
- Prone poses – lying face down, these postures work on your back and core
Within each category of poses are numerous variations with levels of difficulty ranging from beginner to highly advanced. It is also important to note that yoga poses are associated with certain benefits, be they physical or mental, and they are therefore sequenced and performed to achieve particular results.
What’s the Difference Between Yoga Pose and Asana?
The ancient Sanskrit word asana has several translations and means “a steady, comfortable seat”, “posture” or “pose”.
When these meanings are taken together, yoga poses and asanas refer to the same things, that is, any number of body positions that yoga practitioners use to unlock certain benefits, effects, or results.
Yoga is actually a collection of eight intertwined practices (often referred to as the eight limbs of yoga). Asanas represent the third limb of yoga and are therefore considered a fundamental component of this ancient art, along with other well-known limbs such as pranayama (breathing techniques) and dhyana (meditation).
Are Some Yoga Poses Harder Than Others?
According to ancient Sanskrit texts, there are 8.4 million yoga poses, but the revered yoga thought leader B.K.S. Iyengar identified a more manageable 200 asanas in his groundbreaking book Light on Yoga. In practice, however, around 50 poses are commonly used in yoga studios and class settings.
Yoga, as it is practiced today, heavily incorporates the use of poses to achieve results benefiting the body and mind. Some postures are intended to relax the body (and hence, the mind) while others are more challenging because they focus on:
- Particular areas of the body (e.g., the back)
- Muscle groups (e.g., core muscles)
- Systems (e.g., digestive or cardiovascular)
In terms of difficulty, certain yoga poses are more difficult than others because of the way they are performed or sequenced. For instance, vinyasa yoga is known for its rapid flow between poses and is therefore one of the more strenuous disciplines. Restorative, on the other hand, typically utilizes fewer poses, holds them for much longer, and even encourages the use of props to aid in body positioning.
10 Beginner Yoga Poses To Get You Started
One of the greatest things about yoga is its inclusivity. Regardless of your body type, fitness level, or physical capabilities, there is a form of yoga that will fit you. This also means that there are a number of poses that are perfectly suited for beginners and these 10 are great ways to get started.
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Of all the poses recommended for newcomers to the practice of yoga, the Mountain Pose may be one of the most important as it is a building block for many other postures. Start with your feet together and allow your arms to hang naturally at your sides. With your leg muscles engaged but not tense and your back straight, lift your arms outward and then upward and then lower them back to your sides.
2. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
Starting from the mountain pose, the left leg slides back while the right knee is flexed. Proper footwork is key here with the right (front) foot pointing straight ahead and the left (rear) foot pointing to the left. Your shoulders and hips should be squarely aligned forward and as you draw a deep breath, raise both arms straight upward.
3. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
This pose incorporates the same footwork as the Warrior I but instead of your chest facing forward, it is facing to the left. Your arms will be raised at shoulder height with your right arm pointing straight ahead and your left arm pointing straight back.
4. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
One of the iconic poses in yoga is the Downward Facing Dog. With your feet shoulder distance apart, place your hands in front of you and bend forward at the waist so that your body forms a peak. Your back should be straight but your knees can be bent (and your heels off the ground) if it helps.
5. Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana)
Standing with your feet roughly two shoulder-widths apart and in an upright posture, raise your arms so that they are shoulder height and pointing straight to either side. Bending at the waist, reach for your right ankle with your right arm while your left arm points straight up. Repeat this move with your left hand reaching for your left ankle and your right arm pointing straight up.
6. Plank (Kumbhakasana)
The Plank is another building-block pose and essentially looks like the posture you take when preparing to do push-ups. All of your weight will be distributed between the toes of your two feet and your hands which should be shoulder-width apart. Keep your legs, spine, neck, and head on a level plane and hold for 3-5 breaths.
7. Lower Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana)
This position begins with the standard plank and then the body is lowered (while maintaining a level plane) by bending your elbows 90 degrees. Remember to keep those elbows tucked close to your body instead of bending outward.
8. Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
A common sequence in yoga is progressing from the Lower Plank to the Upward Facing Dog which is executed by lowering your hips toward the floor, straightening your arms, and arching your back so that your chest is facing forward and your head is tilted upward.
9. Tree (Vrksasana)
This iconic pose is a great way to stretch out your body and improve your balance. To perform the Tree pose, join your hands together and raise them over your head while taking your left foot and bracing it against your right inner thigh so that you are standing on one leg. Repeat with the other leg.