New to yoga?
Your first yoga class can be a lot to take in. Why can everyone speak Sanskrit all of a sudden? What is a chaturanga? How do I ‘meet in downward-dog’?
In this article, we are going to de-mystify yoga by going through 8 basic yoga poses for beginners. More specifically:
- How/Why Sanskrit Is Used In Yoga
- The Sun Salutation Sequence Poses (a must-know for beginners)
- 8 Most Common Yoga Poses For Beginners
Sanskrit For Beginners
Every yoga pose that you can think of has an equivalent name in Sanskrit.
This is because the yoga that we know today evolved from ancient Sanskrit texts that date back to 5000 years ago.
As a beginner, it is useful to be familiar with some of the Sanskrit words for the basic yoga poses, as you’ll find that teachers will often use these as default in class.
However, there’s no need to study and memorize these if it’s not your style, you’ll find that as you practice, you’ll naturally pick up lots of Sanskrit vocab over time!
Here are some of the most common yoga poses for beginners and their Sanskrit equivalents:
|Downward Facing Dog||Adho Mukha Svanasana|
|Warrior I Pose||Virabhadrasana I|
|Warrior II Pose||Virabhadrasana II|
|Warrior III Pose||Virabhadrasana III|
|Seated Forward Fold Pose||Paschimottanasana|
The Sun Salutation Sequence Poses
The Sun Salutation Sequence is a foundational sequence of yoga poses in many modern-day yoga classes. It is often performed at the beginning of a yoga class to get the blood and energy flowing.
The Sun Salutation Sequence is also known as Suryanamaskara: Surya (sun) + Namaskara (salute).The sequence was popularised by Krishnamacharya and his students Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar and is central to Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and flow yoga styles.
There are a few variations of a Sun Salutation Sequence, but here are the yoga poses which you will commonly find in it:
- Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
- Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
- Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Ardha Uttanasana (half way lift)
- Utkatasana (chair pose)
- Phalakasana (Plank Pose)
- Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
- Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
- Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I)
The following slideshow explains each yoga pose in the sun salutations sequence, along with its Sanskrit name, and labeled cues for proper alignment.
8 Yoga Poses For Beginners
Let’s run through the 8 most common yoga poses for beginners!
“Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down.”– Judith Hanson Lasater
#1: Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana)
Tabletop pose is a foundational yoga pose that is often used as a transition pose for many sitting and kneeling yoga poses.
Finding proper alignment in Tabletop Pose sets you up for the poses that follow it.
What does an aligned Tabletop look like?
Hips over knees, elbows over wrists, spine long and flat, neck long and neutral, palms pressing into the earth, fingers spaced apart, and the inside of your forearms rotated forwards.
#2: Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
Get that tabletop pose moving with a Cat-Cow sequence!
You’ll often find Cat-Cow Pose at the beginning of a yoga class as it’s a great move for waking up the spine, arms, and wrists.
It also helps you link your movement up to your breath, something that is key in many yoga styles.
To do this, you can take a deep inhale as you drop your belly, tilt your tailbone, up and look up to the sky in Cow Pose. On your exhale round your spine, tuck your tailbone, and look towards your navel in Cat Pose.
#3: Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Think of yoga and you might be picturing someone in Downward Facing Dog Pose, also known as Downward Dog, or just Down Dog.
Finding the full expression of this iconic pose can actually be quite a challenge for beginner yogis. But don’t worry! You can always modify your Downward Dog by bending your knees more or keeping your heels lifted. Just make sure that your back is nice and straight.
Believe it or not, Downward Facing Dog is often used as a resting pose in between harder poses. So your priority for Downward Dog should be to find a version of it that is comfortable for you.
You’ll find Downward Facing Dog in a Sun Salutation Sequence, where you may take a pause before continuing on with the flow.
So when your yoga teacher says ‘let’s all meet in Downward Dog’, you’ll know what they mean!
#4: Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Commonly simply referred to as ‘chaturanga’, this pose, like Downward Facing Dog, is part of the Sun Salutation Sequence.
Four limbed staff pose is essentially a low plank with your elbows hugging into your sides.
Sounds hard right? Don’t fret, it’s not typically a pose that is held for a long period. It is often done as part of a ‘Vinyasa’ and held just for the length of an exhalation. What’s a Vinyasa?
A Vinyasa is a series of yoga poses all linked together. Namely:
So, the next time you’re in High Plank and your teacher says ‘Let’s meet in Down Dog’, take a Vinyasa and end up in Down Dog like a pro!
#5: Warrior 1 Pose (Virabhadrasana I)
As the name Warrior One suggests, this pose is the first in a series of five yoga warrior poses.
These five warrior poses are named after the Hindu God Vīrabhadra, a mythical warrior in Hindu texts.
Warrior I represents Virabhadra arriving at Daksha’s ceremony with a sword in each hand, ready to kill Daksha and everyone at the ceremony at the command of Lord Shiva.
For a full explanation of the story of Virabhadra, check out this article: The Yoga Warrior Pose Explained
The challenge with Warrior 1 is to keep the back heel planted with your foot at a 45 degree angle whilst keeping your hips square and facing forward. This takes a surprising amount of flexibility, so shorten your stance and focus on proper alignment over a wide stance.
#6: Warrior 2 Pose (Virabhadrasana II)
The second in the yoga Warrior Pose sequence, and one of the most re-visited standing yoga poses.
Widen your stance with Warrior 2, and channel the strength and stability of a powerful warrior.
This is a great pose for building mental strength alongside physical leg strength as your front leg takes a heavy load.
The focus in Warrior 2 should be on making sure that your front knee is stacked over the front ankle, not collapsing inwards, and that your spine is long and upright.
It is easy to lean forward with your torso in this pose without realizing it, so having a mirror whilst you practice can help with the alignment of your warrior.
#7: Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is also a great pose to rest in in a yoga class if things get a little too intense.
Remember, you’re in control of your own practice, so if you’re not feeling your tenth Sun Salutation, just take a pause in Child’s Pose and re-join the class when you’re ready to.
There are many variations of Child’s pose.
You can stretch your arms out towards the front of your mat, or drape them around your sides facing pointing towards the back of the mat. You can spread your knees, letting your torso melt down between them, or keep your knees together, folding your body over the top of your thighs.
#8: Corpse Pose (Savasana)
My personal favorite yoga pose of all time, and arguably the most important and most difficult yoga pose there is. Surprised?
In Corpse Pose, you lie on your back with your arms and legs splayed out naturally, releasing all the tension in your body, and letting yourself melt into the yoga mat.
Props are commonly used in this pose to support you in deep relaxation. You can cover yourself in a blanket for warmth, place a bolster or pillow beneath your knees to relieve your lower back, or place a sandbag or eye mask over your eyes.
It’s commonly said that in Corpse Pose you consolidate, integrate, and absorb the benefits of your practice.
Corpse Pose can last anywhere from five minutes to a good 15 minutes or longer.
It is a place of meditation. Without the focal point of movement, you can focus on your breath, or, on the space behind your eyelids, or on nothing and everything.
More Yoga Poses For Beginners?
These are just 8 foundational yoga poses for beginners, but there are many, many more!
Enjoy your yoga journey!
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”–The Bhagavad Gita