Yoga is a mind-body practice whose origins pre-date written history. Nobody knows who invented it, but yoga’s history is rather unique in that it equally incorporated women into its tradition. There are several types of yoga-- called “branches”-- and not all of them emphasise the physical positions. The most familiar branch of yoga today is Hatha, which utilizes the physical poses to prepare the mind and body for meditation. Yoga emphasises a student-teacher relationship as there are subtleties to the mind-body connection that you just can’t get from a video or guidebook.
Taking a yoga class for the first time can be very intimidating-- if you’re not sure of the poses, you can feel like that bull allegedly positioned inside a china shop.
Above all, remember that yoga is called a “practice” for a reason-- it’s not perfect, and it’s meant to be incorporated into your lifestyle. Here are some poses that are super-simple, and easy to do at home or in a park. Even if you don’t take a class, these poses will promote a great awareness of yourself as a physical and mental being. So unroll your matt, and try these simple beginner poses!
Balance is key to walking, standing, and moving. Many of us don’t realize how bad our balance it until we’re asked to do simple balance exercises. Doing yoga poses for balance reduces fall risks and helps those whose weight is unevenly distributed throughout their body. They also help those recovering from lower body injury to strengthen muscles that have been inactive or healing.
Rag Doll is one of the easiest poses in yoga. It helps to center your physical being, strengthens toe muscles, and stretches calf muscles.
Start by planting your feet slightly wider than hip distance. Slowly lean and bend over so that your head hangs between your legs. Relax all of your neck muscles, and cross your arms behind your head so that each hand holds the opposite elbow. You can gently sway back and forth if that feels good to you.
To come out of Rag Doll, keep a flat back. Don’t arch your back-- you can strain muscles that way. This pose feels particularly good after a long day of standing!
First, firmly plant your feet hip-distance apart. Stand up straight with your arms at your sides. Take a breath in and as you exhale, lift and extend your arms and gaze up until your palms touch. You can either look at your hands or at the ceiling. Then rise up on your toes.
When you set your heels back down, lower your arms and gaze to normal levels. Try to keep a straight back throughout this pose-- slouching will lessen the effects and throw off your balance.
Tree Pose is slightly trickier, but one of the best yoga poses for beginners because it trains your body and mind to work together.
Begin by planting your feet hip-distance apart, as usual-- arms at your sides, palms facing front. Shift your weight slightly into one foot, placing the weight evenly. Be careful to not cock your hip-- keep both hips squared to the front.
Lift your opposite foot, and place the sole of your foot on the inside thigh of the weight-bearing leg. Placing your hands in prayer position at heart center can help remind your body of its center and make it easier to balance.
If you fall out, get right back in. Be sure to repeat it on the other side.
Flexibility is one of the elements of yoga that often scares people away-- they feel that if they aren’t as flexible as the professionals, they can’t do yoga. This is simply not true! Again, remember that yoga is called a “practice” for good reasons-- perfection isn’t the goal.
Stretching poses improve flexibility but should only be done to the point where the stretch is felt. Keeping up with your practice ensures that over time, your flexibility will improve-- push, but don’t hurt yourself. Yoga doesn’t support the “no pain no gain” attitude!
Begin in quadruped, which simply means that you’re on your hands and knees. Shoulders, elbows and wrists should be stacked over each other with your fingers splayed out. Knees are under hips-- keep your spine flat and neutral.
For “cow,” inhale into your stomach and drop it-- let it expand like a balloon as you bow your back to form a U-shape. Some people find it comfortable to drop their head back a bit too.
Next, exhale to “cat”-- arch your back like an angry feline. Round through the spine and roll your shoulders forward a bit.
Always return to neutral, flat spine before beginning the next Cat-Cow stretch.
Plank is more of a strengthening position than a stretch, but it’s a key pose to practice.
Begin in quadruped, but place your weight into your hands. Make sure your fingers are splayed out to evenly distribute weight. Step one foot back at a time until your legs are straight and you’re balanced on your toes with a flat back. You can modify this by dropping to your knees. Keep your shoulders away from your ears and tension out of your neck.
Some yoga styles prefer a straight plank, but others-- such as buti yoga-- prefer a high plank. This means that you keep your pelvis tucked and position your hips a bit higher. If you look in a mirror, you should look like a bell curve. High plank works your core muscles more but it protects the lower back better than traditional flat-backed plank.
Begin in quadruped or plank position. If you’re in quadruped, tuck your toes under and lift through the core and hips. If you’re in plank, simply lift your hips high.
Balance on your toes-- they should also take some of the weight. Your heels should hover over the ground but not touch. Your arms and hands will take some weight too.
This pose always feels good after a sedentary day spent sitting in your office chair.
Child’s pose is a pose inspired by how children like to curl up when they’re sleeping or snuggling. There are two variations.
Begin both variations by kneeling in quadruped.
For the first variation-- which offers a stretch through the upper back and shoulders-- shift your knees wider than your hips. Push back with your arms, keeping them long in front of you. Place your butt between your heels and keep your shoulders away from your ears. Try to let your chest touch the ground. This is called wide-legged child’s pose.
To accomplish regular child’s pose, begin in quadruped with the tops of your feet on the floor. Push and shift back to rest your butt on your heels and your forehead on the ground. Slide your arms around to stretch behind you and hold onto the sides of your feet.
While breath is not a yoga pose, it is key to success in yoga-- or any exercise, really. If you’re not breathing properly, your blood doesn’t bring enough oxygen to your muscles to allow you to keep exercising. Many of us breathe through the chest, especially after we’ve engaged in intense cardio. Believe it or not, this is not the best way to breathe.
Pranayama-- yoga breathing-- begins by inhaling through the nostrils. Breathe slowly, and down into the diaphragm. Your belly-- not your chest-- should expand with this breathing. This technique ensures that your breath is fully purified (our mucus membrane cleanses the breath) and your lungs fill to capacity by being drawn down not out.
Try this simple exercise: Begin by sitting comfortably with your sit bones firmly planted and your spine straight. Close your eyes. Imagine that there is a silver straw that runs from your nostrils down into your stomach, where it’s attached to a red balloon. As you inhale through your nose, breathe down and fill the red balloon. As you exhale through the mouth, push up with your core muscles and try to sit a bit taller. This will help push out more air, so that your next inhale will be deeper. Repeat this three times to quiet your mind and refresh your body.
For a more active breathing technique, try taking a Lion’s Breath. Breathe in using the method described above. As you exhale through the mouth, widen your mouth and loll out your tongue like a lion. Heat your breath-- it can help to make a “ha” sound as you do this.
Taking a yoga class is highly encouraged-- the practice places emphasis on a student-teacher relationship. However, if that’s intimidating for you, try some of the simple poses suggested here.
There are more yoga poses, but these are the most beginner friendly and require no special ability to accomplish. Anyone can do these poses and prayanama anywhere there’s room to groove. Pick two or three to try for a week, then slowly add one more each week. Before you know it, you’ll have a full beginner’s practice!
Drop a comment and let us know if there are any yoga poses or modifications you’d like us to explore next.