Yoga has been practised for thousands of years and today is one of the most popular ways of getting fit, or simply finding serenity in an ever frantically paced world. Utilising breathing techniques and perfecting poses known as Asanas, Yoga aims to refresh, mind, body and soul.
There are many Asanas spread across a range of skill levels. A lot of people are introduced to Yoga, seeing masters completing the most advanced of poses and think straight away that it is too complex for them. That’s not the case at all. As with every aspect of life, there is always a place to start and several beginner Asanas to allow a student to develop posture, perfect their breathing, and scale-up in difficulty.
Yoga is a large part about the Asanas, but it is equally about controlling our breathing. Did you know that most of us do not breathe correctly? We effectively starve ourselves of oxygen, operating on the lowest of levels and we experience many physical discomforts because of this including headaches, difficulty in remembering information, and inhibited digestion system being just a few examples.
Breath control, or Pranayama, is an important yoga practice that you should exercise just as much as yoga asanas. Expanding your breathing and mind is just as important and strengthening your body. In this article, however, we will begin by looking at 9 yoga poses for absolute beginners. They combine a mix of standing, sitting and bending positions and are a great way to teach your body the beginnings of yoga.
1.) Mountain Pose – Tadasana
The Mountain Pose improves posture and firms both the buttocks and abdomen. This position is the foundation for all of the standing postures.
Description: Begin by standing with feet together, heels and toes touching. While maintaining a straight back, hold your arms gently to your sides and turn your palms outward. Lift your toes, spreading them out and placing them back down so you create a wide base. Sway, side to side, until you place your weight evenly on all four corners of your feet. The muscles in your knees and thighs should be contracted, rolling inward to create a widening of the sit bones, and your abdominal muscles should be tightened. Make sure that your shoulders are parallel to your pelvis, lengthen your neck so your crown extends towards the ceiling and your shoulder blades slide down your back. Hold for 30 seconds and relax.
Benefits: The mountain pose is the foundation of all standing poses and once mastered will allow your to progress onwards. It improves your posture and firms the buttocks, thighs and abdomen.
Common postural errors: Wrong alignment or ankles banging against each other. Tips: Practice against a wall first so that you learn how to form a true, straight line. If your ankles are hitting against one another, widen your feet slightly and find your centre of balance again.
2.) Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana
Description: Begin in the Mountain Pose (above), inhale and swap your arms out in front of you to the height of your shoulders. Slowly raise them past your ears up towards the ceiling, palms pressed together. Spread your shoulder blades and tilt your chin backwards so you gaze at your palms, stretched towards the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, exhale and bring your hands back down to your sides, dropping your head back down to its normal level and returning to the mountain pose.
Benefits: The Upward Salute stretches and firms the back and shoulders, and aids digestion.
Common postural errors: Jutting out your rib cage. Tips: Move your armpits down when lifting your hands towards the ceiling, rather than lifting with your chest.
3.) Awkward Pose – Utkatasana
Description: Begin in the Mountain Pose, raise your hands forwards and over your head, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart or clasped, depending on your preference. Exhale and bend your knees and your upper body forward so that it is at a 45-degree angle in relation to the floor. Maintain a straight back and relax your calf muscles, allowing the weight of your upper body to sink into your pelvis instead, transferring the weight onto your heels. Inhale and straighten your knees while lifting strongly through your arms. Exhale, returning your arms to your side and returning to mountain pose.
Benefits: The Awkward Pose strengthens the lower back and quadriceps, stretching the shoulders, arms and hamstrings.
Common postural errors: Having an arched back. Tips: Try to keep your back as straight as possible by performing the lowering motion with your thighs, knees and hips.
4.) Garland Pose – Malasana
Description: Begin in Mountain Pose and keeping your heels on the floor, extend your arms directly in front of you, bending your knees and folding your body forward and downwards by dropping your pelvis and moving your thighs slightly wider than your torso. Exhale and lean your body forward so it fits snugly between your thighs. Press your palms together as in prayer, and place your elbows against the back of the knees. Press your knees into your elbows, inhale and hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Exhale and straighten your knees, slowly returning to the mountain pose.
Benefits: The Garland Pose tones abdominal and pelvic floor muscles while stretching the snakes, groin, legs and lower back.
Common postural errors: Leaning forward or sinking shoulders. Tips: When you Squat, if your heels come up and don’t lie flat on the floor, try placing a blanket or towel underneath and start again.
5.) Tree Pose – Vrksasana
Description: Begin in mountain pose and bring both hands up, pressed together in a prayer gesture and shifting your weight onto your left foot keeping the inner foot firmly to the ground. Bend your right knee, reach down with your right hand and grasp your right ankle, drawing it up and placing the sole against your inner left groin with toes pointing at the floor. The centre of your pelvis should be directly over the standing foot. Straighten your spine and firmly press your right foot into the inner thigh while resisting with your outer left leg and returning your hands to the prayer position in front of you. Gaze at a fixed point directly in front of you and hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Exhale and return to Mountain Pose, repeat again for the opposite leg.
Benefits: The Tree Pose improves your sense of balance and strengthens thighs, calves, ankles and spine. It also relieves sciatica pain and reduces flat feet.
Common postural errors: Misaligning the hip. Tips: You can start by doing this pose against a wall to aid in finding you balance. Keep your hips square and pointing forward.
6.) Upward-Facing Dog Pose – Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Description: Start by lying in a prone position on the floor. Bend your elbows and place your hands directly beneath them flat to the floor on either side of you. Separate your legs slightly, extending your toes backwards so the tops of your feet press against the floor. Inhale and push against the floor with your hands and tops of your feet, lifting your torso and hips from the floor. Contract your thighs and tailbone toward your pubis. Continue lifting until your arms are fully extended, creating an arch in your back. Push your shoulders down and lengthen your neck, gazing slightly upwards. Hold for 15-30 seconds and exhale as you lower your self back to a prone position.
Benefits: The Upward-Facing Dog Pose improves your posture and strengthens your spine, arms and wrist.
Common postural errors: Raising the shoulders or dropping the thighs to the floor. Tips: Make sure your arms and legs are fully elongated to create the full extension and drop your shoulders while lengthening your neck upwards.
7.) Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana
Description: From a prone position, place your palms under your shoulders and legs flat to the floor. On inhalation slowly raise your chest up, bending backwards as much as possible and hold for 10-15 seconds. On exhalation bring your body back down to the prone position. Repeat 5 times, taking a 15-second break between each hold.
Benefits: Strengthen the spine, stretches the chest, shoulders, and abdomen, firms the buttocks, and relieves stress and fatigue.
Common postural errors: Overarching the neck and lower back. Tips: Keep your gaze directed down at the floor and focus on bringing movement into the area between the shoulder blades.
8.) Hero Pose – Virasana
Description: Begin by kneeling, with your thighs perpendicular to the floor and your feet angled slightly wider than your hips. Bring your knees together while pushing your feet into the floor. Lean forward, exhale and sink back so that you are sitting with your buttocks to the floor, in between your heels. Lift your chest and press your shoulders back and down, lengthening your tailbone. Rest your hands, palm down on your thighs, pulling in your abdominals and hold for 30 seconds to one minute.
Benefits: The Hero Pose stretches thighs, hips and ankles and provides a counterbalance to hip-opening postures.
Common postural errors: Lifting shoulders, turning the soles out or sitting on the heels. Tips: If you experience pain then place a folded blanket beneath you and point your big toes inward slightly.
9.) The Plank Pose – Kumbhakasana
Description: Begin by kneeling with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders. Stretch your hands slightly infant of your shoulders, with your fingertips facing forward and hands shoulder-width apart. Slowly step your feet back, one at a time, extending your legs behind you so your feet are square, legs long and straights and heels pointed at the ceiling. On the inhalation, look just ahead of your palms so that your neck is aligned with the spine. Hold your abdominal muscles in to keep posture, your body must form a straight line from heels to hand. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute and release the pose by exhaling and dropping the knees to the floor.
Benefits: The Plank Pose strengthens and tones your arms, wrists and abdominals.
Common postural errors: Not forming a straight line, from head to toes. Tips: Really focus on holding in your abs when holding this pose, it will cause you to form a straight line. Try to practice by a mirror initially so you can see when a straight line has been achieved.