Many people are too intimidated by yoga to try it, but keep in mind that each yogi started with beginner yoga stances. Enter into your new practice with wonder and patience.
Child's Pose II, shown here, and Child's Pose I, with arms along your sides, are great ways to start your routine by helping you calm down and focus on breath. Return to either pose throughout your practice whenever you need to center yourself before moving on. If your thighs are tight, widen your knees to the edges of your mat.
Rise up on all fours, wrists under the shoulders, to begin the Cat/Cow flow sequence. This back and forth movement gently warms up the spine. In Cat, exhale and roll your back up as you draw the stomach inward. You'll continue the sequence by moving into Cow Pose.
In Cow Pose, inhale as you lift the chin and chest and create a small backbend. Move back and forth on your breath between Cat and Cow at least 10 times. Do this sequence at any point in your routine, or early in the morning to release any tightness.
Downward Dog is great for opening the lower back and stretching the hamstrings. While it may take some endurance at first to hold this posture for 5 full breaths or longer, Downward Dog is actually a restorative pose, increasing circulation to the brain. In just about every style of yoga, Downward Dog is repeated many times throughout a routine.
Beginners should focus on bending the knees slightly and keeping their feet hip distance apart. Really lengthen the spine by stretching the arms forward.
Mountain Pose is the standing equivalent to Child's Pose. It helps you return to a calm center before moving on to other poses, or asanas. If you're new to yoga, to keep to keep your feet hip distance apart, and let the arms hang relaxed at your sides. Inhale and exhale a few times at equal length before continuing with your routine. Eventually you may want to bring your palms together at heart center, shown here, in a posture known as Namaste.
Standing Forward Bend
Another common posture in most yoga styles is Standing Forward Bend. When the low back, thigh muscles, and hamstrings are fully open, almost every person can fold forward lwith straight legs and wrap their arms behind their calves. Beginners should coax these areas to open gradually by first practicing this pose with knees bent, but not over the toes, and resting the chest on the thighs. The longer you hold the pose, the more you can use your breath to help you straighten the legs, as this model demonstrates.
Plank Pose is one of the best ways to increase strength in yoga. You'll build upper-body strength as well as tighten the core; both helpful to advancing your practice. Make sure to stack your shoulders over your wrists and keep your feet hip distance apart. If you like, hold this posture for up to one minute. Plank is often a transitionary pose between standing and seated postures.
Full Cobra Pose can only be achieved with a good backbend. For many beginners, the low back is the less-developed area, so take Cobra in stages. Widen your feet so your toes are on the edges of your mat. Place your hands under your shoulders or, if your backbend isn't deep enough, rest your forearms in front of you for Low Cobra or Sphinx variation. Inhale as you lift up, hinging out of the low back. Keep your gaze forward.
Remember, Cobra is not a strength challenge, so if you're using too much of your arms to lift up, your backbend isn't fully developed. Only lift up as much as you can comfortably from the low back.
Low Lunge is another transitionary posture that helps beginners move between standing poses. It's also great for increasing leg strength.
For beginners, this yoga stance helps lengthen the side body. Move into the pose by positioning the arch of your back foot in line with the heel of your front foot. Next, bend your front leg and exhale as you slide your hand to your shin, ankle, top of the foot, or the floor. On your next inhale, straighten the front leg as you raise your arm and turn the external hip upward. Make sure to repeat on the other side for full balance.
Another important beginning yoga stance is Warrior II. It helps to strengthen the legs and tighten the core. It also builds confidence and purpose.
There are many mat poses that are helpful to learn, one of which is Bridge Pose. This backbend is actually preparation for more advanced poses, so once you can touch your ankles in Bridge and really lift your hips high, you can probably move on to Wheel Pose with assistance. Start with your arms at your sides, and make sure you don't feel any pressure on your neck when you raise your hips - distribute the weight of your upper body evenly across the shoulder blades and back of the head.
If you feel comfortable, move the arms under your raised body, or even walk the feet closer to the tailbone and clasp your ankles.
Inversions are important poses to end your sequence with because they help move all the energy you've created through the body and out the crown of the head. More advanced yogis often do Headstands and Handstands, but beginners should start with Half Shoulderstand.
Some people find it easier to sit on their mat with knees to chest, and rock back and forth a little before lowering to the mat and lifting their legs up. Place your palms at your low back, and tilt your legs toward your head a bit, while keeping a small space between your chin and chest. Hold this pose for at least 10 breaths before slowly lowering your legs to the mat and tilting your head back.
Final relaxation is a vital component to a successful yoga practice. You have to allow your body to process the energy, breath, and movement in a positive way. So always plan to recline fully on your mat, feet open, arms away from your sides, and simply let your breathing return to its natural state, without any effort on your part.
Stay in final relaxation for up to five minutes, then slowly wiggle parts of your body back to awareness, sit up, and acknowledge how well yoga makes you feel.
Learn more about beginner yoga stances in the LoveToKnow Slideshow Basic Yoga Poses.