When beginning a yoga practice… it can feel a bit confusing, conjuring up all kinds of questions– “what do I do with my body? am I supposed to look like that? am I even doing this right?” Well, fear not! Here are a few simple poses you may encounter or hear called out within a yoga class. And since it’s a good idea to start with a few poses, learn the names and the ins and outs of what to do and then gradually broaden your circle of knowledge– we will be adding a few more poses in new chapters, every Monday over the coming weeks. Keep in mind there are lots of variations of each pose (I’ve provided two different versions for some below) and it’s going to take some time for you to figure out the ‘sweet spot’, to build strength and flexibility, and to find some comfort within each one.
Where better to begin than with a Comfortable Seat?
A “comfortable seat” is just that! Any seated pose in which you can relax and breathe is also known as Sukhasana (soo-ka-sa-na) in Sanskrit. Here are a few variations to help with this:
- Try sitting on a block. This elevates the hips and makes it more comfortable.
- Some folks prefer to sit on their shins, rather than with crossed legs.
- When you find your pose, relax your shoulders, face, neck and jaw.
As you begin to move in a yoga class, you’ll probably encounter a Low Lunge.
A low lunge is a great way to stretch the hips if you’ve been seated all day, so expect to see this pose often. Try the following to make it your own:
- Place a blanket under your back knee to cushion tender, bony areas.
- Try placing your hands on yoga blocks or your thigh to encourage the torso to lift up.
- Place your ankle under your knee so your shin is straight up and down. Some folks experience knee pain if their knee goes past the ankle. In other words, wiggle your front foot further forward.
A High Lunge will get your blood pumping!
Similar to the low lunge, a high lunge tucks the back toes and lifts the back knee. By reaching the arms up over head, you also encourage the chest and torso upward to take bigger, deeper breaths. Place your feet hip distance apart so you’re standing on imaginary railroad tracks, not feet in line like a tight rope walker. This should help you feel more balanced. Other modifications include:
- Hands on the hips
- Hands at the heart
- Hands on thigh
- Shorter stance
Stand tall… like a Tree.
This pose is aimed at challenging your balance and toning the muscles of the legs and core. You might sometimes hear the Sanskrit term (vrik-sa-sha-na) to name this pose as well. Notice in the image that there are two different foot placements. The goal here is to open the hips while not putting lateral pressure on the knee joint. So:
- If you have the mobility and you feel comfortable, place your foot above the knee.
- If you don’t quite have the range of motion, place your foot below the knee.
- You can always place one hand on a wall to help keep your balance in this, or any other one-legged posture.
Stretching the shoulders and pecs.
You’ll find lots of poses with your hands clasped behind you, from seated variations to high lunges, and even one-legged balancing postures. To demonstrate this variation, notice that you can either lace your fingers behind you or reach for a strap, towel, or scarf. This will ease the pressure on the shoulders, especially if you’re feeling super tight from sitting at a computer.
Getting into the hips.
You’ll find lots of poses known as “hip openers” in yoga. The goal with these postures is to increase the range of motion in the hip girdle (think: any muscle attached to the pelvis– and there are lots of them!). However, some of them get a little, well, extreme. So when you hear poses like “pigeon”, “double pigeon” or “fire log pose” (poses we will address in a later chapter) remember that you can always roll onto your back and take this much more accessible variation to begin to open up those sticky hips. The biggest thing to remember in any hip opener is to avoid joint pain– knee, hip, or low back. If you’re feeling pain at any time– you’ve gone too far!
Saving the BEST for LAST!
You will definitely see this last pose and it might seem a little strange. Savasana (sha-vah-suh-nuh) translates to corpse pose. This sounds a bit morbid, but it symbolizes the ending of the practice. I typically refer to this pose as “final rest” which is the chance to relax, unwind, and soak up your practice. In this pose, you lie on the floor in any comfortable variation, close your eyes, and practice the delicate art of letting go. Let go of your inner dialogue, let go of your day, let go of any tension or anxiety. This is a break, a respite from your day and even from your self. So find a comfortable and relaxing shape, be still, and chill.
That’s it for Chapter 1. Take your time exploring the workings of these poses and feel free to write with any questions.