You may feel overwhelmed if you’re new to yoga and must learn to perform the poses safely. In our Asana Index, we have more than 120 different yoga poses. Fortunately, you do not need to know them all when just beginning yoga. The foundational poses share similar alignments and muscular actions as all other yoga poses. Even though there are hundreds of asanas in yoga, many classes only cover a few. Becoming familiar with the basic poses is essential to feel confident when you attend a class or practice at home.
We asked eleven yoga experts for suggestions on the essential poses all beginners should learn. They were also asked for tips on how beginners can approach the asanas and how they could modify them to make them more approachable. You can find detailed instructions for each yoga pose by clicking the link. Take your time and absorb the information. Listen to your body, and adjust your posture according to its level of strength and flexibility.
Cat and Cow (Marjaiasana/ Bitilasana)
Cat position and Cow pose are two of the most accessible and important yoga poses a beginner can learn. Brooke Nicole Smith, a yoga instructor, explains, “This sequence connects breath with movement and moves through both flexions and extensions of the spine. It also allows the practitioner stillness between movements and neutral spine positions.”
The key benefits of this Pose are increased awareness and deeper breath, as well as enhanced awareness and control over spinal, shoulder, and pelvic movement and position. This Pose allows new yoga practitioners to experience the connection between the spine, shoulders, and pelvis. These small movements and connections facilitate the understanding in many other poses. Understanding internal and external rotations of the hips is easier when you consider how the spine connects with the pelvis. I feel connected and present to my body when I do this Pose. My awareness is focused on my body when I do this Pose. My mind quiets. My attention is focused on my breathing, movements, and body. “I experience peace.”
This movement and action are present in other yoga poses. It is therefore considered an important pose to master for beginners. You can place your fists on a block or bolster if you are experiencing wrist pain or discomfort. You can do this spinal movement exercise in a standing or seated position.
Easy Pose (Sukasana)
Achieving the classic seated position with crossed legs and a straight back is not always easy. Easy Pose is the first Pose that most yoga classes begin with, so knowing how to make it as comfortable as possible for beginners is important. According to Yoga Therapist Donna F. Brown, “Easy Pose is difficult because most people cannot sit still even for 5 minutes in today’s chaotic and fast-moving world! This Pose is great for beginning students as it helps them establish a foundation in their practice. It’s also a good pose to learn Meditation and promotes proper spine alignment and lengthening. Sukasana is also very calming to the mind and body and allows concentration. Support your knees with blocks or blankets if they feel sore.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
The basis of all standing poses is the Mountain pose. Laura Finch founded Yogakali.com and believes that Tadasana poses are essential for beginners and yoga teachers working with students at an entry-level. Both students and yoga teachers must analyze the foundation before diving into more complex poses. From an anatomical perspective, Tadasana is the most basic Pose that can tell us a lot about our body and mind. Tadasana also reveals that everybody is unique, allowing for creative expression instead of forcing ourselves into the “perfect shape” we see on Instagram.”
“Beginners can do Tadasana, accessible to most able-bodied yoga students. Tadasana, the opening pose of a yoga class, is an excellent way to identify what’s “broken” and to set an intention for your yoga practice. How we stand can reveal our emotional health, past injuries, or lifestyle habits. Tadasana is extremely soothing and grounding. “I treat it like a standing Savasana. It’s a great way to center yourself, connect with your breath, and feel the body.”
Donna F. Brown also considers the Mountain pose to be essential for beginners. She says it can be hard for many people to maintain alignment and stand still. In Tadasana, you use every muscle in your body to keep you upright. The dynamic of the Pose starts with the foot-grounding to establish balance. The energy then travels up the legs, thighs, and throughout the body. This helps align the spine by engaging hips and abs. The shoulders are relaxed, and the head is directly above the spine. The Mountain Pose creates a feeling of strength, steadiness, and power.
Try to spread your feet apart if you are having trouble feeling stable. You can practice this asana in front of a wall to align your spine for extra support.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward-Facing Dog is one of the most commonly practiced poses in yoga classes. This Pose can be used to transition between poses or as a place to catch breath during a fast-paced class. Kelly Clifton Turner is the Director of Education at YogaSix, and she tells us, “This Pose can be challenging, but it’s the fastest way to feel better about my body. I move into Down Dog for 5-10 breaths.” The Pose decompresses your spine from the base of the spine to the top of the neck. This allows the head to hang freely. It lengthens hamstrings which is great for people who sit a lot or are very active. It allows for a smooth and easy breath. Just a few minutes of practice will make people feel more grounded and energized. Place one block beneath each hand at the lowest level. This will help to release the pressure in the shoulder girdle and allow you to concentrate on increasing the length of your spine.
Donna F. Brown also loves this Pose. She says, “This posture strengthens, tones, and energizes your entire body!” This inversion also improves circulation and tones the arms and legs while strengthening the head, neck, and shoulders. “Many students lean on their hands too much and should focus on re-centering their weight to the hips and legs.”