Yoga Poses Beginners Should Learn

The first yoga poses beginners learn often include gentle stretches for the back and core. Many of these poses require the use of props, such as a yoga blanket, to increase comfort or reach.

All of these poses engage multiple muscles to help maintain balance and posture. If a pose feels uncomfortable or painful, return to a previous position.

Forward Fold

This pose strengthens the feet and ankles, engages the core and quadriceps muscles while stretching hamstrings, calves and back. It also enhances spinal flexibility, especially in the lumbar area. It is contraindicated for people with back injury, high blood pressure or in the 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

It can be tempting to take forward folds for granted, letting the movement of the yoga flow carry us through the poses without much thought or attention. But, to reap the most physical benefits of this posture, we need to be aware of its nuances.

When it comes to forward folds, we need to prioritize length in the front body over depth. Widening the legs, adding a block under your seat and bending the knees can all help to give you more space for this.

Janu Sirsasana

Janu sirsasana, also known as Head-to-Knee Pose or Staff Pose, is a seated forward fold and mild spinal twist. It’s a common posture taught at the beginning or end of a yoga class, when the body is already warm.

This pose stretches and soothes the back muscles, hips, and groin. It may also ease headaches and neck pain. For women, it alleviates premenstrual symptoms by loosening the heaviness in the lower abdomen and strengthening the muscles around the organs.

The most basic version of this pose involves the bent leg resting on top of the inner thigh. There are two other variations that differ by the position of the straight leg. One variation, called janu sirsasana B, engages the mula bandha, which is important in yogic practices that incorporate the ashtanga system of poses.

Warrior II

Warrior II, or Virabhadrasana II, is a demanding standing pose that requires balance and strength. It opens the hips, strengthens the arms and core, and improves posture long term. It also builds stamina because holding the pose for longer requires that students have the right amount of strength and stability to do so.

One misalignment to watch out for in Warrior II is the front knee drifting inward, which can weaken the psoas and pectineus muscles that support the front leg. A simple cue is to encourage the student to widen the space between the feet, or to imagine a rubber band pulling the knee outward.

The external rotation of the front leg is a strong preparation for poses like Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose) and Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). It also stimulates and releases the lower back, which is good for healing the stiffness that can develop from sitting at a desk all day.

Tree Pose

Vrksasana or Tree Pose is a balancing pose that strengthens the ankles and feet, opens the groin and hips, and tones the abdominal muscles. The pose is also present in many Hindu stories as a symbol of strength and perseverance.

The most important aspect of the pose is finding the right foot placement. If the lifted foot lands in a way that causes the hips to stick out of alignment, the balance will be off.

A yogi should try to place the foot somewhere along the inner leg line, not directly on the groin area or near the knee. Yoga teachers can also encourage students to stand a few inches away from a wall on the straight leg side to help them feel confident that they will not fall out of the pose.

Downward-Facing Dog

Downward-Facing Dog is a powerful whole body stretch and strengthening pose. It increases circulation, stimulates the abdominal organs, strengthens the arms and shoulders, and provides a good stretch for the back of the body, legs and ankles.

Like all inverted poses, Downward-Facing Dog encourages blood flow to the head, bringing oxygen and nutrients into the brain to energize and calm the mind. It also helps to relieve stress, tension and fatigue.

It’s easy to see why yoga practitioners use versions of Downward-Facing Dog in everything from Sun Salutations to post-run recovery routines and injury prevention workouts. But if it’s too much for you, try variations like Puppy Pose or Resting Hand-to-Big-Toe Poses to work the same muscle groups without the high load of the full Downward-Facing Dog pose.