5 Yoga Poses for Beginners
Our bodies carry us through our lives everyday, so the body is always in some kind of shape or posture. The shapes of everyday life can become repetitive and habitual, and if we spend most of our time walking, sitting, and standing, we start to forget the other shapes our body can take. Our bodies don’t forget, and they crave full variety of movement. That’s why we naturally stretch the arms overhead first thing in the morning.
In a yoga class, the body moves through all kinds of shapes in a systematic way. Some of these poses are simple and some are complicated, and along the way, the natural power and ease in the body is set free. As you begin your practice, look for the similarities between different poses to tie your practice together. Here are five great yoga poses for beginners to try today!
Tadasana / Mountain Pose
Stand with your weight evenly distributed through both feet, and the knees straight but not locked. Bring the belt line parallel to the floor, and lift through the long natural curves of the spine to the crown of the head. Extend your arms by your sides with the palms facing forward and reach down from wide shoulders into each finger. Your knees, hips, shoulders, and ears are aligned over the heels, and there is balance between effort and ease. This is tadasana, or mountain pose.
Tadasana is a foundation of every active yoga class. You will notice elements of tadasana in every other pose, including your mountainlike attitude. Be strong, supporting your aligned bones with active muscles. And be easy, as if you will stand forever undisturbed, simultaneously focused and calm. With a few deep breaths in tadasana, you will know it is very different from the way most of us stand in daily life. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the difference between conscious posture and unconscious posture is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
Marjaryasana and Bitilasana / Cat Pose and Cow Pose
Move onto your hands and knees. Your hips are above your knees with the shins parallel and the tops of the feet on the ground. The wrists are under the shoulders with fingers spread wide. Your pelvis, spine, and head are aligned in the same way as in tadasana. Support your long neutral spine with the muscles of the midsection, and press into the floor evenly through the feet, shins, and hands. As you breathe in, bring a gentle backbend through your whole spine for cow pose. As you breathe out, round gently through your whole spine, moving into cat pose. As you move between these poses, you can feel the difference between a neutral spine, back bending (spinal extension), and rounding (spinal flexion).
Being familiar with sensations in this pose will help you move into more complicated poses. In forward folds, ask yourself if you are practicing a neutral spine or rounded spine variation. In backbends, find length first, so your spine bends evenly. As you move into side bending and twisting poses, you will usually move from a long neutral spine, neither backbending nor rounding, so notice the feeling of your long neutral spine here also.
Trikonasana / Triangle Pose
From tadasana, separate your feet, and stand on wide, strong, straight legs with the feet parallel or turned slightly in. Reach the arms straight out from the shoulders. Keep your hips and shoulders facing the same direction as you externally rotate one leg. Let your stance and pelvis adjust naturally as you reach over that leg. Then bring a side bend into the spine as the arms reach down and up. Find a firm foundation in your strong legs and find length in your side body. You will begin to enjoy the endless complexities and variations of this seemingly simple pose.
The strong foundation you build in your legs in trikonasana will be useful in many other poses. Most of us feel like our feet start to slip away from each other here, so keep your inner thighs engaged to press your feet straight down. Let your ability to breathe deeply and calmly guide you into a deeper side stretch.
Marichyasana III / Seated Twisting Pose
Sit on the ground with your legs together. The pelvis, spine, and head are aligned and tall, just as in tadasana. Bend one leg with the sole of the foot on the floor, let your straight leg shift slightly forward, and begin to twist. Your pelvis, shoulders, and head turn towards your bent leg. Keep long and tall as you twist through the lower, middle, and upper spine. Use one arm behind you for support, and bring the opposite hand to the shin of the bent leg. This is a seated twist known as marichyasana III.
Feel each inhale supporting and lengthening your tall spine and you may find more space to twist with each exhale. Twisting poses are a great opportunity to feel the breath, so let your breath be your focus. It will be more beneficial to find a gentle twist with full breath than to move yourself so deeply into the twist that your breath becomes shallow. This is easy to notice in twisting poses, and it is true in other poses as well.
Lie down on your back, relax all of your muscles, and close your eyes. Let your breath relax as you make yourself more comfortable. Let the muscles of your neck and face relax as you release the weight of the head, legs, arms, and torso into the ground. Notice the similarities and differences between savasana and tadasana.
As the body and breath relax, the mind can relax. Just as a child will rest more easily after an active day, the mind and body can rest more easily in savasana after the activity of a vigorous practice. You will continue to find new places to release and new support to surrender into as the minutes and years pass. This state of relaxation is natural and free and belongs to you unconditionally.
You will move through these five poses and many more as you practice yoga. Notice that, even as the poses become more complex, they share certain fundamental elements. Then begin to also notice, those same elements exist in the postures of your daily life. Your yoga practice will let the body move with its natural variety, releasing its natural energy. With regular practice, you will develop strength and ease of body and mind that will serve you in everything you do.