August 24, 2021
12 Key Yoga Poses For Beginners
Before my first yoga class, I remember wishing there were some sort of handbook titled ‘Yoga Poses for Beginners’.
**Prefer to listen to our guide on 12 Yoga Poses for Beginners? You’ll find audio players embedded throughout this post for your listening convenience.**
I was terrified–as a total novice and someone who was not athletic, my greatest fear was that yoga would be like a dance class and I would be the only person who didn’t know the moves causing the rest of the class to be stalled by my utter lack of knowledge about the poses, their names or how to transition.
This fear kept me from attending my first class for months.
When I began, online yoga classes didn’t exist as they do today. I wasn’t able to watch educational yoga videos or take a yoga poses for beginners class prior to my first in-person experience. And I certainly didn’t have a VHS player in my dorm room to pop in my mom’s old yoga tapes. I literally walked into the studio blind but full of trust and courage.
The beautiful thing about a beginner yoga class is that you get to go at your own pace, take breaks as often as you need and honor your body as you build strength. The most important thing is to be compassionate and patient with yourself as you grow your understanding about the postures, their names, yogic-style breathing and safe physical alignment.
So, if you’re eager to try yoga but are afraid of not knowing what to expect, here are the top 12 yoga poses for beginners to know to walk into your first class with confidence.
1. Mountain Pose / Tadasana
Tadasana or Mountain Pose provides the foundational alignment for all yoga poses and helps you build proper posture throughout the practice and your life. Here’s how to perform the Mountain Pose:
- Begin standing with your big toes together and your heels slightly apart. Or, if more comfortable, separate your feet sitting bone distance apart. Keep the toes and knees pointing directly ahead.
- Activate your thighs by drawing the kneecaps up and if you have a tendency to hyper-extend, try placing a small bend in your knees.
- Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and draw your lower belly up and in.
- Draw your bottom ribs down and stack your shoulders directly over your hips.
- Align the crown of your head above your heart keeping your chin parallel to the floor.
- Release your shoulders away from your ears and drop your arms by your sides with your fingertips pointing toward the floor.
- Close your eyes or gaze softly straight ahead and take 5-10 deep breaths.
In a power yoga class you will move through what is called the “vinyasa.” This is a series of movements linked by your breath.
You will transition from “Plank Pose” or a push-up position then lower your body to the floor before entering into a gentle backbend. It’s essential to establish safe alignment for the postures involved in the vinyasa to protect your back, shoulders and wrists from injury and also to help you build strength in these same areas.
These next 3 poses will help you build the knowledge necessary to safely learn the vinyasa.
2. Plank Pose
Plank strengthens the upper body while toning the abdominal muscles. They’re also known to help improve your posture.
While you are building your core’s strength, you can place your knees on the floor behind your hips for support.
- Place your palms to the floor and step your feet to the back of the mat arriving in the top of a push-up. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists with your arms perpendicular to the floor.
- Spread your fingers wide and place the weight evenly through the palms. Since people who are new to yoga often experience wrist tenderness or pain, it is essential that you keep the weight in the tips of your fingers while placing extra emphasis on the inner hand, making sure to press the mound of the thumb and first finger firmly into the floor.
- Hug the forearms toward the midline.
- Draw your chest forward, spread your collarbones and slide your shoulders down your back as your shoulder blades press into the back and widen away from your spine.
- Draw your lower belly up and draw the front ribs down, as you did in Tadasana/Mountain Pose.
- Lengthen your tailbone toward your heels so that you are not in a backbend. This strengthens your lower abdominals while protecting your low back.
- Press your heels back and distribute the weight evenly through all of your toes.
- Gaze just beyond your fingertips, keeping your neck long.
- Hold for 3 – 5 breaths.
3. Four Limb Staff Pose / Chaturanga Dandasana
The Chaturanga Dandasana posture strengthens your upper body while toning the abdominals. While you are building strength, place your knees on the floor behind your hips for support.
- Beginning in Plank, shift your weight forward to the tips of your toes moving your shoulders beyond your wrists.
- Bend your elbows, stacking the elbows directly above the wrists and hugging the elbows into your body. This is different than a traditional fitness push-up where the elbows point out. In yoga, the elbows stay close to the sides of the body.
- Lower your body down until the upper arms are parallel to the floor and your elbows are directly above your wrists. Your shoulders should be in alignment with your elbows, not any lower. Too often students think they need to lower more than is actually necessary! In this practice, less is more!
- Keep all of the alignment you established in Plank along the fingers, wrists and palms as well as in the torso, abdomen and lower back.
- Gaze just beyond the tips of your fingers.
- At the bottom of the exhale, lower all of the way to the floor.
4. Cobra / Bhujangasana & Upward Facing Dog / Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Cobra and Upward Facing Dog strengthen the shoulders, back and spine while opening the chest and front body. Here’s how to master this yoga pose for beginners:
- After you have lowered your body all the way to the mat from Four Limb Staff, extend your legs to the back of the mat and press your feet into the floor.
- Place your hands by your lower ribs and align your wrists under your elbows to create a vertical line from the elbow to the wrist.
- Hug your elbows in, roll your shoulders down your back and lift your chest as you spread your collarbones.
- To move into Upward Facing Dog, straighten your arms lifting your pelvis, thighs and knees off of the mat. In Upward Facing Dog your hands and tops of your feet remain firmly connected to the mat.
- Gaze ahead as the back of your neck lengthens.
- Hold for 3 – 5 breaths.
5. Downward Facing Dog / Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward Facing Dog is both a strengthening and rejuvenating posture. It stretches the calm muscles, strengthens the arms and shoulders, and elongates the torso or spine.
For people who are new to the practice of yoga, this can be a very demanding pose. Take breaks by coming into Table Top pose or to an all-fours position on the floor and return to Downward Facing Dog when you feel ready as you build stamina and strength.
Here’s how to perform the Downward Facing Dog pose:
- Beginning on the hands and knees, tuck the toes and lift the hips. Place your feet hip distance apart at the back of your mat. Hide your heels directly behind your second and third toes.
- Descend your heels toward the floor (please note: your heels may not touch the floor, this is ok!). Press your legs toward straight but if straightening the legs causes your spine to round, place a slight bend in your knees and lift your sitting bones toward the sky to lengthen your spine toward straight.
- Place your hands shoulder distance apart and the top of your mat. Maintain the same vigor in the fingers, hand and palms that you found in Plank. Spread your fingers wide and place the weight evenly through the palms. Keep the weight moving toward the tips of your fingers while placing extra emphasis on the inner hand, making sure to press the mound of the thumb and first finger firmly into the floor.
- Straighten your arms.
- Draw your forearms toward the midline and lift your forearms up, away from the mat.
- Rotate the upper arms outward and slide the shoulders down your back, keeping your neck free and long.
- Align your ears between your upper arms and rest the gaze comfortably around the middle of your mat.
- Hold for 5 – 10 breaths.
6. Chair Pose / Utkatasana
Chair pose helps to strengthen the lower body and develops core strength. This standing yoga pose is invigorating and builds heat:
- Starting in Tadasana/Mountain Pose bend your knees as your hips descend and shift back.
- Align your shins directly above your ankles, moving the weight into your heels.
- Gazing past your knees, make sure all of your toes are visible. If they are not, shift your weight back further until they are.
- Drop your tailbone toward the floor and lengthen the lower back while drawing your lower abs in.
- Draw your front ribs down ensuring you are not in backbend.
- Reach your arms overhead with your palms facing in as you slide your shoulders down your back.
- Gaze directly ahead toward the horizon line.
- Hold for 5 – 10 breaths.
7. Warrior I Pose / Virabhadrasana I
Warrior I pose is a heat-building posture that strengthens the legs and develops hip flexibility along the psoas muscle.
- Beginning in Downward Facing Dog, step one foot forward and pivot the back foot flat.
- Seal the back edge of the back foot into the mat and point the back toes slightly forward toward the front of the mat. This helps to square the back hip forward.
- Align your front heel to the outside edge of the back heel, ensuring that the feet at hip distance apart.
- Keep the front thigh parallel to the floor and firm the back thigh.
- Stack the shoulders over your hips and maintain a natural spinal curve while avoiding a backbend as your sits bones lengthen toward the mat and your lower belly draws up and in.
- Sweep your arms overhead and gaze directly ahead.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
8. Warrior II Pose / Virabhadrasana II
Warrior II is also a heat-building pose that strengthens and tones the legs while aligning your shoulders, hips and pelvis.
Here’s how to do the Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II):
- Beginning in Warrior I, spread the arms, reaching the front arm toward the front of the mat and the back arm toward the back, opening up into Warrior II.
- Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot.
- Point the front toes straight ahead with your knee aligned directly over your front ankle. To avoid injury, the knee should never collapse inward.
- Bend your front knee until your front thigh is parallel to the floor.
- Firm the outer edge of your back foot into the floor with the back toes pointing slightly ahead. Keep the back thigh firm.
- Stack the shoulders over the hips and extend evenly through both sides of the torso.
- Extend both arms energetically at shoulder height with the palms facing down.
- Gaze over your front middle finger.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
9. Reverse Warrior Pose / Viparita Virabhadrasana
Reverse Warrior pose strengthens the quadriceps, stretches the chest and obliques, and opens the inner groin muscles and hips.
- Beginning in Warrior II, spin the front palm toward the ceiling and sweep the arm over your head. Keep the arm straight and the fingertips reaching back.
- Rest your back hand lightly on the back thigh.
- Turn your gaze under your front arm.
- Maintain a deep stretch as the front arm reaches back.
- Your lower body should remain in Warrior II for the duration of the pose.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
10. Side Angle Pose / Parsvakonasana
Side Angle pose is a strength-building pose that aids in digestion by targeting the abdominal organs. It also tones and stretches the thighs and hips.
- Beginning in Warrior II, place the front hand to the outside edge of the front foot and lift your back arm straight up to the sky. You can also place your front elbow above your front knee as a modification.
- To keep the front knee safe, press the knee actively into your front arm and the arm actively into the knee.
- Draw your front hip under by spiraling the outer thigh down and lengthen the tailbone toward the back of the at while drawing your abdominals in.
- Revolve your chest and core toward the ceiling as the top ribs roll back and bottom ribs roll under.
- Look up toward your top hand.
- Hold for 5 breaths.
11. Triangle Pose / Trikonasana
The Triangle pose is the most stable shape and this posture helps to create deep inner stability, steadiness and focus. It strengthens the legs and aligns your hips and shoulders.
Here is how to do the Triange Pose (Trikonasana)
- From Warrior II straighten your front leg and shorten the distance between your feet by drawing the back foot slightly forward.
- Point the front toes directly ahead and seal the outer edge of the back foot into the floor.
- Place your front hand to the outside edge of your front foot to the floor or a yoga block keeping your spine parallel to the floor.
- Extend your top arm to the sky and create a straight line of energy from your bottom fingertips to your top fingertips.
- Rotate your chest open and stack your shoulders directly on top of each other.
- Keep both legs active at all times.
- Gaze toward your top thumb.
- Hold for 5 – 8 breaths.
12. Tree Pose / Vrksasana
Tree pose improves balance and increases poise. This is critically important, especially as you age since balance tends to diminish over time. It is a strengthening posture that tones the leg muscles.
- Beginning in Mountain Pose, lift the sole of one foot and place it firmly to the opposite inner thigh. For a modified version, you can place the sole of the lifted foot to the inside of the opposite calf. You can also do this pose standing by a wall for support.
- Firm your standing leg.
- Your frontal hip points aim directly ahead.
- Draw your bottom ribs down and lower belly in as you lift both sides of the waist evenly.
- Sweep the arms overhead with the palms facing each other.
- Gaze straight ahead, or to challenge your balance look up toward your hands.
- Hold for 5 – 10 breaths.
Ready to practice these yoga poses for beginners as well as many more yoga poses you’ll love?
Practice all of these postures within our amazing beginner’s yoga program: Yoga For Beginners. This 28-day online yoga program teaches you foundational poses and even a full yoga practice where we highlight learning safe alignment and yogic-style breathing.
This program goes at the perfect pace for new practitioners and experienced practitioners alike who are interested in re-learning the basics!