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Top 10 Beginner to Intermediate Yoga Poses

Updated: Jun 17, 2019



Yoga can be intimidating, especially as a beginner. You roll up to a fancy studio and see someone doing a really advanced pose and you’re like forget this, I’m outta here. I felt that way. Being a beginner in a yoga class can be intimidating, humbling and embarrassing all at the same time.


You come to yoga for various reasons, maybe you want to build strength, flexibility, balance, gain a sense of calm. All of these benefits can be achieved through regular yoga practice, but they are not pre-requisites to go to class or start your own home practice. The point is getting started. Work with your body, appreciate what it can do, whatever that may be. If you stick with it you will be amazed at what can be achieved. It's a great feeling to finally master a difficult pose you’ve been working towards for months. Besides, everyone in there was once a beginner too, and most yogis I know are only supportive, welcoming and kind to class newcomers.


So, don’t be scared. Just do what you can, don’t push yourself too hard or you will get injured. It is always better to slow down. Stick with it, and over time you will be blowing through new poses with ease.


I’ve been researching this topic for an month and have counted on my personal experience of being a yogi for nearly 20 years to select the top 10 beginner to intermediate yoga poses for those of you who, like me, want to start or improve your home practice, or just prepare for your studio sessions. Enjoy, and remember to take your time and be patient with your body.


1. Seated meditation pose / Sukhasana (sook-ha-SAH-nah)



I like to open and close every practice in this pose. At the start of my practice, I use my time in seated meditation to set my intention for the day’s practice, focus on my daily mantra or affirmation, or simply be present with a quiet mind and slowed breathing.


It looks like you aren’t doing anything, but when done right you are engaging your entire core in this position. If you don’t have time for an entire session, it’s still great for the body and mind to take a few minutes to yourself in this pose to center yourself and get your daily dose of squatting in.


Benefits:

Gives you the opportunity to quiet the mind

Core strength builder

Stretches knees, ankles and hips

Modifications / precautions:

Be careful if you decide to try for lotus position, where the feet and ankles rest on top of the hip bones. This requires a great deal of flexibility.


Additions:

Wrists can rest on the knees, palms up or placed at heart center.

For a more advanced stretch, ankles can be lifted and positioned on top of hip bones for lotus position.

A nice side bend can be added here which feels wonderful on the spine.

A bolster, folded towel or a pillow can be used under the sit bones for comfort.


How to:

Step 1: Come to a seated position on your mat and sit crossed-legged.

Step 2: Keeping a neutral spine, sink sit bones into the earth and stretch your spine tall reaching all the way up through the top of your head. Engage your core. Push your shoulder bones down your back.

Step 3: Wrists can rest on knees, palms up or placed in prayer at heart center.


2. Child’s Pose / Balasana (bah-LAHS-uh-nuh)


This is quite possibly my favorite pose ever. It feels great on my lower back, and it’s very calming and centering. Your relaxation is deepened when you go into child’s pose after a challenging sequence.


Your breathing is automatically deeper, and this allows you to “sink into your mat” further and feel the benefits.



Benefits:

Relieves and stretches the lower back

Stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles

Calming, relaxing, centering

Relieves stress and anxiety

Reduces fatigue


Modifications / precautions:

Support the head, neck, and torso with a bolster pillow to relieve back and neck pain.

Place a yoga block under your forehead if the stretch is too intense.

A yoga block or folded towel can also be placed on top of your calves and under your buttocks if the stretch is too intense.

Avoid while pregnant.


Additions:

Enjoy stretching your arms out on the mat to either side to enjoy a deep side stretch.

Knees can be opened to deepen the stretch in the hips. Knees can also be closed.

Arms can be outstretched over your head on the mat or resting at your sides with palms facing up.


How to:

Step 1: Start on your hands and knees.

Step 2: Slowly lean back until your bottom is resting on your heels.

Step 3: Rest your forehead all the way down on your mat, bolster or block.

Step 4: Relax and let go.


3. Downward facing dog / Adho Mukha Svanasana (AH-doh MOO-kah shvah-NAHS-anna)



Downward facing dog, also known as down dog, is one of the most widely recognized yoga poses is fantastic for centering, stretching and building strength. Since your heart is positioned slightly above your head in this position, it’s considered a mild inversion. If you are a beginner, your down dog will not look like this! The woman pictured above looks like she’s been practicing yoga for several months if not years.


Don’t expect to have the flexibility needed to keep those knees straight or feet flat right off the bat. You could injure yourself if you try to push to this goal too fast. Take care, take it slow, and with persistence, you will get there.


Benefits:

Increases length in the spine and lower body

Builds full body strength (arms, legs, back)

Calming, relaxing, centering

Relieves stress and anxiety

Reduces fatigue

Aids digestion

Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain


Modifications / precautions:

Beginners can place hands on a yoga block for a less intense stretch.

Since it’s an inversion, come out of this pose slowly to prevent dizziness.

Take care not to curve your back. The back should be slightly arched back and hanging in this pose to get the full benefits and prevent injury.


Additions:

You can “walk your dog” by bending one knee and lifting the heel on one side while bringing the opposite heel closer to the floor. Do this a few times to improve your flexibility.

One leg can be lifted behind you at a time for a more intense strength-builder.

For a challenge, alternate high plank with variations of lifted legs or hug a knee into your chest and go back into down dog.


How to:

Step 1: Start on your hands and knees.

Step 2: Come off your knees lifting your buttocks up. Keep lifting your sit bones towards the sky.

Step 3: Go as far as you comfortably can to straighten your legs and lower your heels. Pull your torso to your thighs.

Step 4: Keep your hands planted firm and let your head hang.

Step 5: Breathe and let go.


4. Four-limbed staff pose / Chaturanga Dandasana / (chaht-tour-ANG-ah don-DAHS-anna)



This pose is most often referred to as just Chaturanga. I’ve actually never heard this called four-limbed staff pose in any of the classes I have ever taken. Whatever you want to call it, this pose is another tremendous total body strength builder. If you’re used to lifting weights, this pose may surprise you at just how effective and challenging bodyweight exercises can be. This pose is often placed in between down dog and cobra in sun salutations and other vinyasa flows.


Benefits:

Incredible full body strength builder (arms, core, legs).

Modifications / precautions:

Drop to your knees if it’s too hard. You will still work your core and upper body.

Avoid while pregnant.


Additions:

For a challenge, one foot can be lifted off the ground at a time.


How to:

Step 1: Start in a high plank position, with your hands placed down on the mat under your shoulders. Fingertips should be pointed forward.

Step 2: Hug your elbows tight into your body and lower your body closer to the mat until you hover with your elbows bent at 90 degrees.


5. Cobra / Bhujangasana (boo-jang-GAHS-anna)



This heart opener is a great counterpose to down dog and is commonly used as such after chaturanga in sun salutations and other vinyasa yoga flows. It feels truly wonderful on the spine, but beginners can overdo it here and injure themselves. You may not get straight elbows here, and that’s ok. Just go to the point where you feel a nice stretch and hold it there.


Benefits:

Strengthens and stretches the spine

Lifts the booty

Wonderful back pain reliever

Opens the chest/heart

Calming, relaxing, centering

Relieves stress and anxiety

Reduces fatigue

Aids digestion


Modifications / precautions:

Keep elbows bent, don’t lift your head as high, walk your hands further away from the body. Just go to the point where it feels good.

If your hip bones are not connecting to the mat you’re stretching too far.

Place elbows to the mat for sphinx pose if cobra is too intense.

Avoid while pregnant.


Additions:

The knees can be bent and the feet can be brought to (or towards) your head for a challenge.

This is an excellent pose to prepare your spine for backbends.


How to:

Step 1: Start by laying on your mat, belly down and hands placed palm down under your shoulders.

Step 2: Look up and slowly lift from your crown by pressing your hands into the ground and stretch your back into an arch.

Step 3: Go as far as you comfortably can working towards straight arms.


6. Tree Pose / Vrksasana (vrik-SHAHS-hannah)



Tree pose is a great standing pose to build balance and strength. It’s tricky at first, but it’s attainable for a beginner to find balance here and that gives such a great feeling of accomplishment. So give it a shot and don’t worry about it if you’re all wobbly. I have fallen out of this pose many, many times it is so easy to do if you lose focus.


Benefits:

Strengthens legs, ankles, and core

Improves balance and focus

Modifications / precautions:

If the balance is too challenging, this pose can be started with the toes of the bent leg touching the mat with the heel against the standing leg. Then the foot can rest on the inner calf. Work your way up the standing leg in your practice until you can reach the full tree. This may take some time.

This pose can also be done near a beam or wall to assist with balance.


Additions:

For a challenge, wrap two index fingers around the big toe on the side of the bent leg, using the arm on the same side of the body as the bent leg. Slowly outstretch the leg for a standing hand to big toe pose.

The hands can be outstretched and reach slightly above the shoulders in a “Y” position to stretch the chest and engage the shoulders and upper back. Squeeze your shoulder blades together.


How to:

Step 1: Begin in a standing position and focus on a non-moving object in front of you. This focus will help you balance.

Step 2: Keep your standing leg strong and engaged, engage your core and lift tall through your crown. Shoulder bones slide down the back.

Step 3: Slowly lift the bent leg to wherever you can, with the goal of having the foot of the bent leg rest on the opposite inner thigh. You can help position your foot using your hands before placing them in prayer at heart center.


7. Warrior I / Virabhadrasana I (veer-uh-buh-DRAHS-uh-nuh)



We continue with our standing poses with Warrior I. Virabhadra is the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs and wearing a tiger's skin. This fierce strength building series in daily practice is meant to be a spiritual warrior, who will battle our own suffering. This is the first of a series of three warrior poses. This pose is a great lower body and back strength builder and provides a nice stretch. This powerful pose builds focus and stamina as well. Time to get the blood flowing a bit more here.


Benefits:

Builds lower body and back strength

Stretches the lower body and core

Stretches the spine

Improves balance and stability

Clears the mind

Can be therapeutic for sciatica


Modifications / precautions:

To help you balance, focus your stare on a nearby object.


Additions:

Deepen your lunge to build more strength.


How to:

Step 1: Begin standing at the top of your mat.

Step 2: Step the left foot back and face your toes to the front left corner of the mat as you raise your arms above your head, or clasp the hands together and extend the index fingers. Keep the knee of the right bent leg over your right ankle, it should not go beyond this point. Sink your weight into your right heel.

Step 3: Arch your back and look to the sky. Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.


8. Warrior II Virabhadrasana II (veer-uh-buh-DRAHS-uh-nuh)



We’ll move from Warrior I into Warrior II. This pose continues to build strength and will deepen your stretch. I can tell you, the power you feel in these warrior poses truly improve your focus and confidence to take on your day like a true warrior of peace!


Benefits:

Builds lower body and back strength

Stretches the lower body

Improves balance and stability

Clears the mind

Aids digestion

Hip opener


Modifications / precautions:

To help you balance, focus your stare on a nearby object.


Additions:

Deepen your lunge to increase strength.

You can move from this pose into Warrior III by flipping your front hand and raising it over your head in a crescent shape as you arch back and bring your gaze beyond your fingertips.


How to:

Step 1: From Warrior, I, with your left foot behind you, swing your left arm out to your side as you turn your body 90 degrees to your left to face the side wall. The toes of your left foot now face the side wall as well while the toes of your right foot remain facing the front of your mat.

Step 2: Keeping your right knee bent, deepen your lunge and bring your gaze over your right palm as it faces the front of the mat. Arms are outstretched to your sides. Keep your torso upright.

Step 3: Breathe and hold for a few breaths.


9. Legs up on a wall pose / Viparita Karani (vip-par-ee-tah car-AHN-ee)



Inversions, or any pose that positions your heart above your head, are a cornerstone of all yoga practices because they are so incredibly beneficial. They reverse the weight of gravitational pull on the body, stimulating the chakras, increasing blood flow and eliminating toxins. The increased flow of oxygenated blood to the brain is a natural antidepressant and mood-enhancer. Regular practice of inversions will reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, concentration, and confidence. You will strengthen the core and back and improve balance. Plus, they’re fun to do.


The big inversions are hand and shoulder stands, but this article is for beginners and these are very advanced poses. You can get many of the benefits of a full-on inversion with a semi-inverted pose like legs up on a wall, where the legs are in an inverted position while the upper body lays horizontally. Downward dog is also considered a mild inversion.


Benefits:

Energizes the body, eliminates toxins

Reduces stress and anxiety

Improves confidence, clarity, and calm


Modifications / precautions:

If the stretch is too intense, you can move your body away from the wall.

With any inversion pose, it’s important to come out of it slowly. If you go straight to standing you can get a sense of dizziness or even vertigo from the change of blood flow to and from the brain. Stay horizontal for a minute or two before trying to stand up straight again. That’s why it’s good to follow any inversion with meditation in corpse pose.


Additions:

Place a bolster or folded up towel under your hip bones for comfort and increased inversion.


How to:

Step 1: Position yourself next to a wall. Lay on your mat with your legs pointing towards the wall.

Step 2: Scoot your body as close to the was as you comfortably can and stretch your legs upright to rest on the wall.

Step 3: Rest your body, place your arms out to the sides, palms up. Breathe and stay in this position for a few minutes, or as long as you’re comfortable.


10. Corpse pose / Savasana (shah-VAHS-anna)



This is a pose of total relaxation and a great way to end your daily yoga practice. I lovingly refer to this pose as the “nap pose,” and it’s always my favorite part! Allow yourself to completely relax and use meditation techniques to calm the mind. Focus on your breath, imagine your body sinking deeper into your mat with each exhale. I like to imagine my chakras clearing each time I’m in this pose and I go through and focus on each one. Clear your thoughts, when a new thought enters your mind, imagine calmly swiping it to the side. Meditation takes practice, and clearing your mind is not easy to do, but it is incredibly worthwhile. Like all aspects of your yoga practice, just keep at it and it will improve.


Benefits:

Allows the body to completely relax

Reduces stress and anxiety

Improves sleep

Improves digestion

Clears the mind


Additions:

Make yourself comfortable. You can bend your knees if you like, or place the soles of your feet together stretching your knees out to your sides.


How to:

Step 1: Lay face up on your mat, legs straight out and arms to your sides, palms up.

Step 2: Close your eyes, breathe and let go.


Summary:

There you have it, my top 10 beginner yoga poses to get you going. This sequence can help you prepare for studio sessions or just used as your kick start for your home practice. You can make it easier or more difficult depending on how fast you want to flow from one pose to the next, or how long you want to hold each pose. It’s best to practice daily, even if you just have 10 minutes you will still benefit. I hope you enjoy this sequence as much as I do!


Namaste.

#beginnersyoga #yogapractice

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