When we talk about yoga, we often hear “Oh I always wanted to try yoga, but I’m not flexible!” Can you relate? Does yoga look like an extreme sport to you?
Well we are here to remind you that anyone, we repeat AN-Y-ONE can do yoga. Flexibility is not a prerequisite to yoga, in fact it is the very practice that can increase your flexibility. Here we want to provide you with some simple ways to get started, good things to keep in mind as a beginner and a few poses that you can start to practice at home or anywhere.
Listen to your body
As with any movement or exercise, poses should never be painful, so pay attention to any joint pain as you go through each pose. All poses will include some options that you can play with to find what suits your body best. Maybe you are asking, “how do I listen to my body?” - great question! Start by following the cues to get into a pose and then make small adjustments if you notice any pain in one specific area. For example, inch your foot forward or back, bring your arms up or down 10%, etc. Make these small types of adjustments until you find more comfort in your body.
Equipment & Attire
You do not need to go out and start investing in fancy yoga clothing in order to start a yoga practice - no fancy pants required! You need only comfortable clothes that allow you to move easily. Yoga can also be practiced on a bare floor or rug, but for the best experience we recommend finding a mat you love. Rolling out your mat every day helps establish a routine. Plus, a beautiful mat can inspire your practice. My favorite Alma Mat is the AZUL (author’s choice). If you need extra cushion for your knees, use a towel or blanket folded in half. For extra stability for your yoga practice you can use yoga blocks. They greatly shorten the distance between you and the floor, but can also support the back, head and hips to help the body settle into a pose.
Choose your intensity & breathe, baby, breathe
If you are brand new to yoga poses we recommend practicing each one for a few breaths (4-6 full inhale and exhale) to start. This will allow your body to get comfortable with the movements. Then you can choose to have a static practice or a flow practice.
For a static practice: Hold each pose for 5-10 full breaths before moving on to the next one. This type or practice focuses on strength and can also be more restorative. You will notice the intensity of the pose increase the longer you hold. Inhale deeply expanding your lungs and exhale completely.
For a flow practice: First get familiar with the poses, then use a “one breath one movement” approach. Example Inhale - reach high for Mountain, Exhale - sit back into Chair, Inhale - Mountain, Exhale - reach down for Forward Fold, etc. Ensure that you are getting a full inhale or exhale on each movement as breath is important to building endurance and stamina. This type of practice can be great for working on your cardio endurance and relieving stress. We have included an example flow at the end of this post.
Now let’s get into Yoga poses for beginners. For each pose below there are some postural cues, options and pictures to assist in your practice.
Tadasana - Mountain pose
Start with your feet hips width distance apart and reach both hands high. Spread your fingers wide, relax your shoulders away from your ears and flex your toes up towards your face. Flexing your toes helps to root down your feet and provide a strong base.
Options: Instead of reaching overhead press your palms together at heart center.
Utkatasana - Chair pose
Take your feet wide and sink your hips low (like you are sitting back into a chair), but stop before your heels come off the ground. We want both feet firmly planted, weight in the heels. Pull your shoulder blades down your back and press your palms together at your heart's center. Once you find balance, look down and make sure you can see your toes. Knees should sit behind your toes.
Options: Play with your stance. Taking the feet wider than hips distance can help if you experience any knee pain. Moving the feet closer together will challenge balance. Whichever spacing you choose, ensure the weight stays in your heels.
Uttanasana - Forward Fold
From any standing position simply fold your upper body towards the floor, letting your head and hands hang heavy. This pose can be very enjoyable with a slight bend in your knees. Bending at the knee will help alleviate any lower back pain and if you have tight hamstrings or are moving first thing in the morning, it can help you find more length in your back.
Options: Here you can also play with the distance of your feet, either hips width distance or big toes touching.
Kumbhakasana - High Plank
Plant both hands on the mat and stack your shoulders over your wrists. Step both feet back behind you and press back through your heels to form one long line of energy from your heels to your head. Draw your belly button into your spine and don’t forget to breathe.
Options: For beginners and seasoned yogis alike, it can be tempting to drop to your knees to hold this pose, however we encourage you to find the full expression of high plank and hold it for as many breaths as you can. Then take a break and try again. This will help build your stamina and strength in the pose.
For any wrist pain, make fists instead of planting your hands or try a forearm plank.
Adho Mukha Svanasana - Downward-Facing Dog
Spread your fingers wide and press down into your mat with all 10 knuckles. Send your hips high to form a capital A with your body. Allow your head and heart to hang heavy. Peddle out the feet and eventually sink your heels down towards the mat.
Options: This is another pose that can be beneficial to take a slight bend in you knees. Bending at the knees allows you to press your heart closer to the mat and get your upper body more involved.
Anjaneyasana - Low Lunge
Step forward between your hands with your right foot, knee stacked over ankle. Press both palms into the mat. Your back leg can either be straight and strong behind you, or your knee can lower down to the mat. This pose is a great hip opener. Repeat on the opposite side.
From a lunge press down through the front foot and reach your upper body high, fingertips towards the ceiling as in Mountain Pose. Relax your shoulders away from your ears. Press through the back heel so your leg is straight and strong. Sink into the lunge in your front leg. Repeat on the opposite side.
Options: Bend the back knee and rest it on the mat. This is a great place to add a blanket or towel under your knee for some extra padding.
Marjaryasana - Cat/Cow pose
Plant your palms and knees on your mat, shoulders stacked over wrists and hips stacked over knees. As you inhale, drop your belly, lift your chin and tailbone towards the ceiling for Cow. On an exhale press the mat away from your and round your spine for Cat. Repeat as many times as you like.
Options: Add some organic movement to this pose, make it your own! Make circles with your hips, roll out the head and neck, whatever feels good.
Balasana - Child’s Pose
Sit back on your heels and then take your knees wide (as wide as your mat or wider) and bring the big toes to touch. Fold forward onto your mat and rest your hands palms down on your mat. Rest your head on your mat or fold a blanket and place it beneath your forehead.
Options: For an added shoulder stretch, bring your palms together and then bend at your elbows and bring your thumbs to the base of your skull.
Setu Bandhasana - Bridge pose
Lie on your back and plant your feet close to your glutes about hips width distance apart. Allow your arms to rest by your side. On an inhale press down into the mat with your palms while at the same time, press your hips up towards the ceiling. Keep your knees in line with your hips and avoid bowing the legs out or in.
Options: For a restorative pose, roll a blanket or towel and lift your hips just high enough to place the rolled blanket underneath. Allow the weight of your body to rest and hold for at least 10 breaths.
The best pose! Lay your entire body on the mat. Let your palms face open towards the sky and your feet to relax. The goal is to relax every muscle in your body and enjoy the grounding after your practice.
Here is an example of a flow sequence to practice:
Start in Mountain Pose > Forward Fold > Rise to Chair Pose > Forward Fold > High Plank > Downward-Facing Dog > Low Lunge > Crescent > High Plank > Downward-Facing Dog
Repeat alternating sides for a total of 6-10 times or more.
Then move into a cool down holding each pose for a few breaths:
Cat/Cow > Childs Pose > Bridge > Savasana
How often should you practice?
In general, any time you practice yoga, you are going to help relieve stress and prevent tension in your body. Benefits can be gained from even practicing once a week, however, we highly recommend practicing a simple 10-15 flow at least three times a week to start. If you are brand new to yoga, you will start to notice changes and strength building in your body after just a few practices.
Why you should practice Yoga?
Practicing yoga can have a range of benefits. If you are stressed out on any level, incorporating yoga a few times a week is scientifically shown to reduce stress. If your body experiences stiffness, tension or achy joints then a yoga practice will help mobility and improve blood circulation which aids in healing inflammation. Posture, strength, and weight loss are all side effects of a consistent yoga practice. So head to your mat yogi, and get your flow on!
We wish you all the best in your yoga journey.
Prepared by Rachel Jacquelyn
Rachel is a Colorado based yoga teacher & content writer. Avid hiker, workshop junkie and always up to share a charcuterie board and wine, Rachel values learning and connection. She is an empowering teacher bringing a background in exercise science and calming presence to her classes. Connect with Rachel on Instagram @racheljacquelyn