As you embark on your yoga journey, there are foundational postures that improve alignment, increase flexibility, and build strength. With consistent practice of these asanas, you’ll develop the awareness in your body to find profound progress in your practice.
These nine essential asanas are fundamental for any beginner yogi. There is no definitive list of yoga postures, thousands of yoga asanas exist. However, these nine postures will show up, again and again, no matter where you practice. Knowing the key cues will make your classes more enjoyable and give you the chance to gain confidence in your practice.
1. Mountain Pose
Mountain pose allows you to establish your connection with the earth and demonstrate the principle of “rooting to rise,” as your spine lengthens from your tailbone through the crown of your head.
Key cues for this pose: Settle the feet firmly into the floor, distributing the weight equally through the balls of the feet, the heels, as well as both the inner and the outer edges.
“Zip up” the front of your body. Feel the kneecaps lift, the thigh muscles engage, the belly button draw in and up, the heart reach forward, and the shoulders relax, with the shoulder blades drawing together.
Fix your gaze softly on the horizon with your chin slightly tucked. Bring your focus to your breath. Breathe slow and deep.
2. Downward-Facing Dog
Downward-facing dog stretches the back of the legs, lower back, and shoulders, while strengthening the core and arms.
This pose can be a resting posture and it is also a preparation for inversions.
Key cues: Start on your hands and knees with your wrists under shoulders and knees under hips. Tuck your toes and press your tailbone up while drawing your hips back. Knees may be slightly bent.
Draw your heels toward the floor while your hips rise up. Plant the hands into the floor and outwardly rotate the arms, elbows back and in toward your ears.
Relax your shoulders and release your neck, looking behind you between your feet. Hold for five to ten breaths.
3. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is a resting pose that stretches your lower back, hips, and shoulders.
Key cues: Starting on hands and knees, with the tops of the feet on the floor, bring your toes together and open your knees wide. Lower your hips onto your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you, letting your heart reach towards.
Your forehead should touch the floor here. Use a block or a blanket under your forehead if you need to.
Take long, slow breaths here to fully relax your body and experience a comforting, grounding sensation.
4. Cobra Pose
Cobra pose opens your heart center and helps you release your shoulders, strengthen your arms, and increase your flexibility in the spine.
Key Cues: Lie down on your belly. Place your hands under your shoulders, squeezing the elbows to the sides of your body.
On an inhale, press the tops of the feet, thighs, and hips down into the floor. Straighten the arms, lifting your chest up. Bring your shoulder blades together and down the spine as your heart opens forward.
Hold for five to ten breaths.
5. Chair Pose
Chair pose increases stamina and demands you to keep your focus on your breath while strengthening your legs, abs, and glutes. It’s a powerful and challenging pose. Rise to the challenge of this asana and you’ll quickly experience its benefits.
Key cues: Standing with feet together activate an inward rotation of the thighs by squeezing the knees together.
On an inhale, sweep your arms overhead as you sink your hips down into a squat. Imagine that you’re sitting back in a chair that is just below and behind you.
Tighten your core. Pull your belly button in and up, let your tailbone root down towards the floor and open your heart, dropping your shoulders away from your ears. Breathe here for at least five complete breath cycles.
6. Warrior I
Warrior I is a strong standing pose that strengthens your legs, builds confidence and taps into your balance and grace.
Key cues: Stand at the top of your mat with your feet together. Ground into your right foot and take a big step back with the left foot to a deep lunge.
Place the back heel down on the mat, in line with your right heel, toes angled forward at 45 to 70 degrees. Press the outer edge of your back foot down and square your hips forward.
Inhale the arms overhead, shoulders relaxing down. Breathe through five breath cycles, softening all the muscles in your face.
7. Warrior II
Warrior II opens your hips, builds strength in your legs and increases your sense of determination.
Key cues: Stand at the top of your mat. Ground into your right foot and take a big step back to a lunge with your left foot. Place the sole of your left foot down on the mat, perpendicular to your right foot, right heel in line with left arch.
Square your hips and shoulders toward the long edge of your yoga mat. Open your arms so that they’re parallel to the floor. Deepen your lunge, keeping your back leg strong and straight.
Gaze over your right fingertips and breathe for at least five full breaths.
8. Triangle Pose
Triangle pose is a strengthening pose for the full body that improves digestion and balance.
Key cues: Starting in Warrior II, straighten your front knee. Moving as though you are standing between two panes of glass with your legs firmly planted. Hinge at the hips, reach your right hand toward the floor and rest it on your shin, or touch the floor if you can reach.
Rotate your heart open to the right and raise your right hand to the sky. Your right hand is at 12 o’clock and your left hand is at 6 o’clock. Reach and stretch through your shoulders.
Hold for five to ten breaths.
9. Seated Forward Fold
This is a deep stretch for the lower back and hamstrings. Forward folds calm the nervous system and soothe emotions while toning the reproductive and digestive systems.
Key cues: Come to a seat and extend both legs straight in front of you. Flex your toes toward the ceiling. Place your hands by your sides on the floor. Sit up tall, lead with your heart and begin to fold forward, hinging at your hips.
Keep your chin tucked and your back relatively straight. You certainly don’t have to touch your toes. You can bend your knees as you increase flexibility in your back. Breathe five to ten breaths into your hamstrings.
Listen to your body and you’ll find more flexibility with consistent practice.