Keen to start yoga but not sure where to begin? Take a read of these 10 key yoga poses that are frequently taught within vinyasa yoga classes. As with any form of physical exercise, it is important to approach the practice with care and attention so I’ve included some important cues to help you get started safely…
Down Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana)
GOOD FOR: stretching and strengthening the wrists, arms, shoulders and calf muscles.
In order to transition in to this posture, come onto the floor on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Notice that your feet are hip width apart and your hands are shoulder width apart. Spread your fingers wide. Hug your arm bones into the sockets and push the floor away from you as you lift your hips into the air. Initially, keep your knees bent to allow you to lengthen your spine. Maintaining the length of your spine, slowly straighten your legs and allow your heels to drop towards the ground. Take your gaze to look between your feet. In this Yoga pose, the back should be lengthened along its entire length so be careful not let your chest hang downwards or make your back extremely sunken.
Plank to Chaturanga
GOOD FOR: strengthening the whole body and building shoulder stability within a weight-baring scenario.
This is a transition sequence that is very common within the vinyasa yoga setting. Not only is this sequence repeated within the sun salutations that often come and the start of the class, it is frequently practiced between each flow as well. Needless-to-say, it is important to practice this mindfully and with care to avoid injury. To set up for plank: firm up through the legs, draw the belly in to activate the core muscles and stack your shoulders over your wrists. To transition to chaturanga: Press the floor away, hug the shoulders into the sockets, energetically drag the thumbs towards one another and shine your sternum forward. From here, shoot forward onto your tiptoes so that your shoulders are beyond your wrists and bend your elbows into the side body less than 90 degrees so that your shoulders are still higher than your elbows. Please note that there is always the option to lower down your knees as your transition from plank to chaturanga.
Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana)
GOOD FOR: stretching the abdominal muscles and opening up the chest to help improve posture. Strengthening the shoulders and activating the abdominals to protect the lower back.
This pose is commonly practiced after chaturanga within the vinyasa yoga setting. Traditional alignment for this deep backbend includes the following: shoulders stacked over the wrists, push the floor away so that your shoulders are away from the ears, chest is shining forward majestically, thighs are lifted, firm up through the legs and toes pointing (so that you are on the tops of your feet). It is important to note that this is a deep backbend and can be intense to practice at the start of the class for many people as it requires significant flexibility, shoulder stability and core strength. A fantastic alternative to upward facing dog is cobra pose, which I will be explaining next…
GOOD FOR: stretching the abdominal muscles and opening up the chest to help improve posture.
This is an excellent posture for improving posture and, in my own practice, I often choose to practice this pose instead of upward facing dog as I really feel the benefits for the upper back, especially if I have been sitting at my desk all day. For cobra, lie on your front with your legs straight. Firm up the muscles in your legs and have your feet hip width apart with your toes pointing behind you. Push down through your pubic bone to avoid collapsing into the lower portion of the spine. Place your weight onto your forearms. Ensure that your forearms are parallel to one another with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Make sure that your neck is long as you look ahead. There is also the option to bring your hands under the shoulders and raise the hands off the ground as your come up into the pose to build more strength in the upper back.
Locust Pose (Shalabasana)
GOOD FOR: strengthening and increasing flexibility throughout the entire back of the body, including the spine, legs, buttocks, and all of the muscles surrounding your ribs and upper torso.
Lie on your front with your neck long and forehead touching the mat. Stretch your arms in front of you, palms facing towards one another shoulder width apart. With your feet hip width apart, point your toes directly behind you. Firm up in your legs and draw your pubic bone down towards the ground. On your inhale, straighten your arms as you use the muscles along the backside of your body to raise chest and legs simultaneously.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
GOOD FOR: Stretching the Psoas muscle and broadening the chest to help improve posture.
For this posture, Low Lunge, make sure that your front bent knee is directly above the ankle and that your knee is tracking over the foot. You can simply place both hands on your front knee or clasp your hands behind you. In either option, make sure that you draw your shoulder blades towards one another to help broaden your chest. Depending on your flexibility, either look straight ahead or tilt your head upwards (without collapsing into your neck).
Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana I)
GOOD FOR: Strengthening your shoulders, arms, legs, hips, ankles and back. Opens your chest. Improves focus, balance and stability.
In order to practice Warrior 1, step your front foot straight forward and position your back foot at 45 degree angle. Your feet aren’t on a type rope here; have a little space in between your feet so that you are able to square your hips to the front of the mat. Bend into your front knee and notice that your knee is directly above your ankle or less. With your hips facing forward, see if you can gently lengthen the tailbone down towards the mat to find a neutral positioning of the pelvis. As you raise your arms up straight above your head, ensure that your shoulders are relaxed as you draw your shoulder blades towards one another and broaden your chest. There is a tendency here to flare into the front ribs so notice that you are using your core muscles here by knitting the front ribs back.
Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II)
GOOD FOR: Strengthening your shoulders, arms, legs, hips, ankles and back. Improves focus, whole body balance plus mobility and stability of the hips.
For Warrior 2, step one foot straight forward and position your back foot at a little less than a 90 degree angle. Align your front heel in line with the arch of the back foot. Just like with Warrior 1, bend into your front knee and notice that your knee is directly above your ankle or less. Your hips will be facing toward the long side of your mat, (not completely flush towards the side though, they will be at a slight forward facing angle). Wrap your front hip down and into the socket to keep your knee pointing in the same direction as your foot. Turn your rib cage so that it is facing towards the same long side of the mat. Raise your arms so that they are parallel with the ground and turn your gaze to look forward at your front hand. Just as with Warrior 1, there is a tendency here to flare into the front ribs so notice that you are using your core muscles here by knitting the front ribs back.
Warrior 3 (Digasana)
Good for: Strengthening the ankles and legs. Strengthening the shoulders and muscles of the back. Toning the abdomen and improving balance and posture.
From standing step one foot back into a high lunge position with your front knee bent and left leg straightened behind you with your hips facing the front of you mat. From here, bring the midline of your torso (from the pubis to the sternum) half way down. Stretch your arms forward with your palms facing towards one another. From here, start to slowly straighten your front leg and bring your weight forward into your front foot. Keeping your hips facing down towards the mat, start to raise your leg behind you. Ensure that your upper body stays strong here and take your gaze to look ahead but be sure not to compress the back of your neck. Hold this pose for 5 deep breaths and to come out of the pose simply step your foot back to standing. Repeat Degasana for the same length of time on the other side.
From standing, shift your weight onto the left foot, keeping the inner foot firm to the floor, and bend your right knee. Draw your right foot up and place the sole against the inner left thigh, inner calf muscle or inner ankle with your toes touching the floor. Notice that the center of your pelvis is directly over the left foot. Place your hands on the top rim of your pelvis to make sure that it is parallel to the floor. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Firmly press the right foot sole against the inner thigh/ calf or ankle and resist with the outer left leg. Raise your arms straight above your head, making sure that you keep your shoulders relaxed. Gaze softly at a fixed point in front of you on the floor about 4 or 5 feet away. Step back to standing with an exhalation and repeat for the same length of time on the other leg.
To really benefit from these yoga poses, consistency is key. Hold each pose for 3-5 breaths to help to ease the tissues and create circulation in the tissues. Practicing these poses in the morning will help prepare your body and your mind for the day the ahead, while practicing in the evening can help to release stress from the day in preparation for a good nights sleep.