You do not need to know the name or positions of any yoga poses to take a beginner class. If you’re new to yoga, rest assured that your instructor will call out and demonstrate the pose, and likely modifications, so previous knowledge is not a pre-requisite. However, there are some poses that are very common in yoga classes and knowing them will give you a head start on just about any class you take. Learning a handful of poses prior to class can help you spend less time looking up at the instructor and more time relaxing into the poses and deepening your practice.
At Inspiring Actions, we love beginners, and we strive to be a non-intimidating, welcoming place for all levels of experience, including the person who has never stepped foot on a mat. If that’s you, read our article Yoga for Beginners for some foundational information, or check out our Yoga 101 series. Visit the schedule page for a calendar and descriptions of the classes we offer, and keep reading to learn five common yoga poses, what they help with, and how to do them!
Beginner Yoga Pose #1: Tabletop (Bharmanasana)
Tabletop is one of the most common yoga poses; I can honestly say I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a yoga class where it wasn’t included at least once! Many poses in yoga use tabletop as a base, so it’s a great one to learn and…..you already know how to do it! Essentially, tabletop is simply being on your hands and knees. Since we want to do poses with intention, however, pay special attention to the alignment of your arms and legs. This yoga pose is also used a transitionary pose or starting pose for others, or as a resting/neutralizing pose.
To do tabletop pose, come to your hands and knees on your mat. Hands should be about shoulder-width apart, aligned with your shoulders. Knees should be about hip width apart, aligned with your hips. Keep your chin up, but not too far up that it is straining the neck muscles. Imagine your spine in a straight line all the way from your tailbone to your head. You could also try cat/cow (Bitilasana Marjaryasana) from this pose, another great beginner pose we cover in this article.
Beginner Yoga Pose #2: Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Downward dog is another very common pose you’ll come across in just about any class. Downward dog can be done by itself, but in a class it is typically a transitional pose for ‘flow’ or moving from one pose to another. Although it may look easy, holding yourself up in this way can be tiresome; I remember aching, shaking arms after holding it for awhile, wondering why the instructor was making us hold it for what was clearly an hour. A beginner class will offer modifications to take weight off the arms.
Downward dog is a whole-body stretch, with focus on the shoulders and the hamstrings. Start in Tabletop pose. Make sure knees are in line with hips, and shoulders are in line with your hands. From here, push yourself up and back and straighten your legs. Try to keep your spine straight, and do not worry abut getting your feet flat on the ground like you see in a lot of yoga pictures. That will come with time, and it’s much more important to be aligned in the pose.
Beginner Yoga Pose #3: Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Forward fold is also a very common yoga pose, and often used as a transitionary pose in a flow class similar to Downward dog. Forward fold might be used as a first step in a chaturanga or as a resting pose. Don’t worry about how far your hands go down when you bend. Some people will be able to place their hands flat on the floor, and some people will be more comfortable bringing their hands to the knees. Flexibility comes with time, so don’t be discouraged if your Forward fold isn’t where you’d like it to be yet.
This pose stretches the hamstrings and glutes and causes blood to flow to the head, nourishing it with oxygen. To do forward fold, stand up straight with arms at your side. You can choose to go directly into the pose here, but bending at the waist and bringing hands to wherever is comfortable; I like bringing my arms up first and pulling them back into a cactus stretch before transitioning into Forward fold. Do what works for you!
Beginner Pose #4: Warrior I (Virabhadrasana)
Warrior I is a standing yoga pose that is often used as part of a flow. It’s a good one to know because there are several other poses that have their foundation in Warrior I and utilize it as a starting point. Warrior II, Warrior III, and Reverse Warrior are similar poses that are common in yoga classes. Depending on the class, Warrior I is sometimes held for a period of time to maximize its strengthening and stretching benefits.
To do Warrior I, start in a wide-legged stance, toes pointing forward. Pivot your right foot so it faces out to the right, then pivot the other foot in the same direction as much as you can while bending the front knee. By trying to keep the back foot/toes facing towards the front, a big stretch happens on the back leg, so this is another pose that is not as easy as it looks. However, poses should always be held in a comfortable position; you want to feel a stretch, but stop when you’ve reached a point that feels challenging.
Beginner Yoga Pose #5: Warrior II (Virabhadrasana B)
The difference between Warrior I and Warrior II is in the positioning of the hands and the back foot. I actually find Warrior II easier than Warrior I because it doesn’t stretch the back leg as much; everyone’s experience will be different! This pose is often used as part of a standing series, a transitionary pose to get from a standing position to chaturanga, and a foundation for related poses.
Warrior II pose strengthens the legs similar to Warrior I and gives as extra stretch to the arms and shoulders. To do Warrior Two pose, start in a wide-legged stance, toes pointing forward. Pivot your feet so your front toes point forward in one direction and bend the front knee. Extend the arms out straight, with the arm on the side of the front leg out in front of you, and the arm on the side of the back leg behind you.
Thanks for reading!