Get Started With Yoga: Must-Know Yoga Poses For Beginners

Laura Finch
created on July 21, 2019
updated on November 5, 2019

Yoga poses, aka asanas, are the building blocks of yoga. If you’re just getting started with the practice, learning most common yoga poses for beginners is the best way to build a solid foundation.

What makes things harder for yoga newbies is that there are hundreds of poses and their variations. As a beginner exploring yoga at home, I was surely overwhelmed by the amount. But what annoyed me the most is that the information on yoga basics is often opposite to being beginner-friendly.

I’ve come across posts on essential yoga poses that included headstands and advanced balancing asanas. Unless you’re a lifelong athlete, it would probably take you months if not years to get into some of the suggested pretzel-like postures.

I believe that regardless of your fitness level, starting easy is the best way to build a strong and lasting yoga practice. Besides, it often happens with yoga that there’s often much more to the pose than meets the eye.

These top yoga poses for beginners are truly foundational and beginner-friendly. Each pose can be easily modified if the full expression is not accessible to you yet.

But do you know what the best thing about these poses is?

It’s not just a random selection of asanas. This list strikes a perfect balance between building strength and gaining flexibility. You can easily mix and match the poses and create your own yoga flow. Whether you need to increase flexibility, build stamina, or relax after a long day – these yoga poses below will help you reach all of the goals.

Are you ready to begin your yoga journey?

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Mountain Pose/Tadasana

The Mountain pose is the foundation of all the standing asanas. Though it doesn’t look like much on the outside, Tadasana is a dynamic pose. It helps draw attention to your posture and breath, bringing a variety of physical and mental benefits.

Try it:

  1. Start in the standing position, big toes touching and heels slightly apart, arms alongside your body. To make sure you ground through the four corners of your feet and the weight is evenly distributed, lift up your toes, put them down and lift the balls of the feet. Rock back and forth to find the balance.
  2. Engage your legs, lift up the kneecaps and fire up quadriceps.
  3. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position and draw your navel in. Roll your shoulder blades back from your ears.
  4. Lift through the crown of your spine, imagining a straight line all across your body reaching the sky.
  5. Relax your throat, and face. Let your eyes soften. You can close your eyes if you feel stable. Focus on your breath as you hold the pose.

Modifications:

  • If you struggle with balance, place your feet hip-distance apart.
  • Check your alignment by standing against the wall. Your heels, buttocks, and shoulders will touch the wall. Notice the curve in your spine and keep your head in line with the shoulders.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Migraines and headache
  • Low blood pressure and dizziness

Benefits:

  • Improves posture
  • Relieves sciatica
  • Strengthens thighs, calves, and ankles
  • Lengthens the spine
  • Increases balance and focus

Upward Salute/Urdhva Hastasana

You were probably practicing yoga since you were a child without even knowing it. The typical way of getting out of bed and stretching out is actually a yoga pose. But stretching is not the sole benefit of Upward Salute Pose. Due to opening the chest, it is also therapeutic for people with asthma.

Try it:

  1. Start in Mountain pose/Tadasana. Make sure you stand firmly on four corners of your feet.
  2. Engage through your legs, belly, and keep the pelvis in a neutral position. Broaden through collarbones and keep the shoulders away from the ears. Turn your palms outwards.
  3. On an inhale, sweep your arms to the sides and overhead. Straighten your arms.
  4. If you’re flexible in your shoulders, press the palms together.
  5. Avoid drawing the shoulders up and try to keep the arms parallel with the ears. Do not protrude your ribcage forward. The alignment in the pose should resemble the one in Tadasana – your body has to form one line.
  6. To release the pose, exhale and draw hands at heart (prayer position). Alternatively, sweep the arms down.

Modifications:

  • Widen your stance if you keep losing balance.
  • Use a yoga strap to help you straighten the arms. Loop the strap around your arms, just above your shoulders.
  • Bring your arms shoulder-distance apart or wider if you can’t straighten your arms.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Shoulder or neck injuries/pain

Benefits:

  • Stretches shoulders, arms, armpits
  • Tones the belly and improves digestion
  • Expands the chest
  • Therapeutic for asthma
  • Reduces stress

Child’s Pose/Balasana

Balanasa is my personal favorite among the many yoga poses. It feels amazing first thing in the morning (better than morning coffee, believe me) and relaxing after a long day. You can open your practice with Balasana, catch your breath in it during some brutal power yoga flow and wind down if you have no time for Savasana at the end of the class.

Try it:

  1. Start in the tabletop position on your hands and knees.
  2. Draw your big toes together and widen your knees and thighs to the outer edges of your mat.
  3. Inhale and on the exhale send your sit bones back to your heels and lay your torso between the thighs until your forehead touches the ground. You can keep your arms extended forward, palms face down, for an opening in your shoulders.
  4. Lengthen from the hips to the armpits and reach forward through the fingerprints.

Modifications:

  • For a more restful and relaxing stretch, lay your arms by the outer edges of your thighs, palms face up.
  • If you have a hard time sitting on your heels, place a thin bolster or a rolled yoga blanket between the calves and the back of the thighs.
  • Grab a big firm bolster/a few cushions and place it between your thighs lengthwise. Fold your torso and head down over the bolster, relax the arms. Settle and breathe.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Knee or ankle injury
  • Stomach infection and diarrhea

Benefits:

  • Stretches the thighs, hips, and knees
  • Lengthens the spine
  • Relieves stress and reduces fatigue
  • Energizes the body

Cat-Cow Stretch/Chakravakasana

Cat-Cow is a great stretch to wake up your spine and prepare your body for movement. It releases stiff back and shoulder muscles after a long period of sitting and easily fits into a five-minute break. And have I mentioned that you can do it in your chair as well?

Try it:

  1. Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Make sure your shoulders are stacked directly over your wrists, and your knees are under your hips. Keep your spine neutral and look at the floor.
  2. Inhale and fire up your abdominal muscles. Drop the belly and lift your chest and tailbone, creating a U-shape in your spine. Gaze up without cranking your neck (Cow Pose).
  3. On an exhale, round your spine and gently tuck your chin to the chest, reversing the curve of the spine (Cat Pose).
  4. Repeat 5-20 times.

Modifications:

  • Fold a yoga mat or place a yoga blanket to pad your knee caps.
  • In case of wrist pain, do the pose on your forearms. Place a small bolster or a folded blanket under the forearms to get your body higher.
  • Do the pose while sitting in the chair.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Keep your neck in line with the spine at all times if you have a neck injury. Be mindful and avoid straining the neck even if it’s healthy.

Benefits:

  • Warms up the spine and prepares it for further postures
  • Eases back pain, especially after long periods of sitting
  • Gently massages belly organs
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves posture

Downward Facing Dog Pose/Adho Mukha Svanasana

Downward Facing Dog is the most recognizable yoga poses that you’ll encounter in any classroom. It brings the best of two worlds – strengthening and stretching your whole body. There’s a lot going on in the pose, but don’t get frustrated. After getting the alignment right for a few times, your body will naturally learn to take the correct form.

Try it:

  1. Start in the tabletop position on your hands and knees. Place the knees directly under your hips and hands slightly forward from your shoulders.
  2. Make sure your fingers are spread wide with the middle finger pointing forward. Tuck your toes, fire up your core by drawing the navel in.
  3. On an exhale, lift your knees off the floor and send the tailbone up and back. Draw your chest towards your thighs, slowly straightening your knees and pushing the heels into the ground.
  4. Firm up and straighten the arms. Keep your shoulders away from the ears by drawing them outward and gaze back.

Modifications:

  • Keep the knees bent if your hamstrings are not flexible yet. This pose is about keeping a straight spine, not about straightening the legs.
  • Those with tight shoulders can place the hands on yoga blocks or even a chair to get more height.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Wrist issues

Benefits:

  • Boosts energy in the body
  • Strengthens arms, shoulders, core and lower body
  • Increases flexibility in shoulders, hamstrings, calves
  • Improves blood flow
  • Relieves stress
  • Reduces back and neck pain

Plank/Kumbhakasana

Kumbhakasana is not unique to yoga. Mostly referred to as Plank Pose, Kumbhakasana is a great strengthening exercise that builds heat, boosts energy and prepares your body for more challenging arm balances.

Try it:

  1. Start in Downward Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana.
  2. On an inhale, roll onto your toes, shift your torso forward parallel to the ground.
  3. Align your shoulders over the wrists, broaden in the upper body and engage your core. Tuck your tailbone to protect the lower back and keep a straight spine. Keep your neck relaxed and in line with your spine.
  4. Breathe slowly and steady and hold up to 1 minute.
  5. On an exhale, send your tailbone up and back into the starting position of Downward Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana.

Modifications:

  • You can start on all fours in the tabletop position. Press through your hands and fingers, look between your hands, fire up the core and step back with your feet forming a straight line with your body.
  • Lower your knees to the floor to make the pose more accessible.
  • If you feel discomfort in your wrists, place the base of your palms on the rolled edge of your mat or a folded yoga blanket to ease the pressure.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Wrist pain

Benefits:

  • Builds strength in the arms, shoulders and lower body
  • Tones the abdominals
  • Increases stamina
  • Develops balance and concentration

Low Plank/Chaturanga Dandasana

Low Plank is hard! It will challenge your body strength and help you expand your mental limits. Just try doing Chaturanga Dandasana every day for a week. You’ll be surprised at how easier it gets to flow with life’s hardships.

Try it:

  1. Start in the Plank Pose. Stack the shoulders over the wrists, tighten your core, and keep a straight spine.
  2. On an exhale, shift slightly forward and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle while slowly lowering your torso parallel to the ground. Your elbows should stay close to your body, hugging your ribcage.
  3. Keep your legs and abs very active and don’t let the chest and shoulders fall lower than the line of your elbows.
  4. Stay in the pose for one breath.

Modifications:

  • From the Plank pose, lower your knees on the floor. Don’t bring the knees forward; position them behind the line of your hips. Keep your core engaged the whole time and lower into modified Low Plank.
  • Use props such as a long bolster of two yoga blocks to make the pose more accessible and build muscle memory. For example, place two blocks slightly in front of your hands. Elongate from head to toes, lower your body until shoulders rest onto the blocks. In case of the bolster, place it lengthwise and lower down until you lean the body over the prop.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Back, shoulder injuries
  • Pregnancy

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the arms, forearms, and chest
  • Tones core muscles
  • Lengthens the spine
  • Prepares the body for advanced arm balances

Cobra Pose/Bhujangasana

Ancient texts say that practicing Cobra Pose helps awaken kundalini energy – an essential step on the spiritual journey to the enlightenment. If you’re not really excited about connecting with the unconscious, you can still benefit greatly from including Cobra Pose into your daily routine. It will keep your spine flexible, reduce stress, and open the chest and lungs.

Try it:

  1. Begin on your stomach with your face down. The tops of the feet should lie flat on the mat.
  2. Place your palms under the shoulders with fingers pointing towards the front of the mat and elbows hugging the rib cage.
  3. Ground the tops of your feet, the thighs and pubis into the floor and firm up your belly.
  4. On an inhale, press into the palms, extend through the spine and start lifting the chest off the floor. Keep the shoulders away from the ears and your neck straight.
  5. Keep straightening your arms until you feel comfortable, but ground your pubis into the floor. You can lift your gaze in the pose if your neck is healthy. Actively press the shoulder blades into the upper back and widen through your collarbones.
  6. Do not dump your weight into the wrists. Instead, extend from your spine. To check if you’re lifting from the spine, take the palms off the floor for a moment. If you manage to keep the height, you’re doing the pose correctly.
  7. To release the pose, make sure your elbows are bent. Exhale and slowly bring your body and forehead back onto the mat.

Modifications:

  • Place a folded yoga blanket under your wrists for extra padding.
  • If you’re feeling too stiff, try doing the Cobra Pose while standing. Face the wall and place your palms against it. Keep the elbows close to the sides. Press into your palms and broaden through your collarbones.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Pregnancy
  • Back injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Benefits:

  • Increases flexibility in the spine
  • Opens the chest and lungs
  • Strengthens the spine, shoulders, abdomen muscles and buttocks
  • Therapeutic for asthma and sciatica
  • Relieves stress and fatigue

Standing Forward Bend/Uttanasana

Standing Forward Bend is one of my go-to poses after sitting all day. It stretches the entire backside of the body and muscles along the spine as well as releases tension from the neck, shoulders, and hips. While it sure feels like a stretch, Standing Forward Bend is restorative and relaxing. Dropping your head below the heart increases blood flow to the brain, calming the mind and combating fatigue.

Try it:

  1. Begin in the standing position, feet together. Spread the toes and distribute the weight evenly between the toes, balls of the feet and heels.
  2. Breathe in. On an exhale, hinge from your hips and fold your torso over the thighs.
  3. Place your hands on the floor in front of you or beside your feet. Relax the head and neck.
  4. Make sure to keep your spine straight and lengthened. Lift your knee caps but avoid overextending. Lift and lengthen your torso with each inhale, and with each exhale, dive deeper feeling the breath massaging the muscles along the spine.
  5. To release, slightly bend your knees, place the hands on your hips and come back to standing with a straight spine.

Modifications:

  • Bend your knees as much as you need if your hamstrings are tight. The goal here is to lengthen your spine, not to straighten your legs.
  • You can also use a set of yoga blocks to bring the floor closer to use. Just place your hands onto the blocks as you fold forward with a straight spine.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Lower back or hamstring injury
  • Sciatica
  • Late pregnancy

Benefits:

  • Stretches the entire backside
  • Increases flexibility of hips, hamstrings, and calves
  • Reverses the adverse effects of sitting
  • Massages abdominal muscles and improves digestion
  • Relieves stress and fatigue
  • Increases blood flow to the brain

Low Lunge/Anjaneyasana

Are you forced to sit all day? Then your hips need some extra love and care. Low Lunge works wonders to your lower body flexibility and well-being. You can always get further by lifting your arms above the head and giving your chest and shoulders some of that ‘oh-so-good’ love too.

Try it:

  1. Begin in Downward Facing Dog Pose/Adho Mukha Svanasana.
  2. As you exhale, step your right foot forward between your hands. Make sure your right knee is stacked over your front heel and isn’t moving forward or leaning to the right or left.
  3. Lower your left knee onto the floor. You can keep your left foot tucked or place the top of the foot onto the mat. You should feel a gentle stretch in your left hip and thigh.
  4. Square both hipbones to the front of the mat. Keep your legs active as if you’re trying to scissor your inner thigh together.
  5. Place your hands on either side of the front foot. Keep the shoulders away from ears and your spine long.
  6. Slowly lift your torso and sweep your hands above your head. Firm up your lower belly, tuck your tailbone, and keep the chest open.
  7. If you’re comfortable in the pose, gently bend back and gaze up towards your thumbs.
  8. To get out of the pose, tuck your back toes under (if they’re not already), lower your hands to the floor and step back into Downward Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana.
  9. Repeat on the other side.

Modifications:

  • Keep your hands on the floor if you lack balance or flexibility in the shoulders.
  • Fold the long side of the yoga mat or place a folded yoga blanket under your back knee for extra comfort.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Knee or hip injury

Benefits:

  • Stretches the lower body, including legs, hip flexors, and groin area
  • Opens the front side of the body and increases energy, depending on the variation
  • Improves balance
  • Therapeutic for sciatica

Crescent High Lunge/Utthita Ashwa Sanchalanasana

Crescent High Lunge is a whole-body strengthener and a prime example of flexible strength. Active and grounding lower body together with an open heart will give you enough energy for new experiences and daily challenges.

Try it:

  1. Begin in Downward Facing Dog Pose/Adho Mukha Svanasana.
  2. On an exhalation, step your right foot forward between your hands. Your feet should be approximately hip-distance apart.
  3. Bend the front knee to a 90-degree angle. Stack the knee over your front ankle and don’t let it move forward past your foot.
  4. Keep your back leg active and flexed and come to the ball of your foot. Try to straighten the back leg as much as you can. Your toes should be pointing forward.
  5. Square both hips to the front of the mat. Usually, you have to push your left hip forward and right hip back.
  6. Inhale and raise your torso. Sweep the arms to your sides and bring them overhead with palms facing.
  7. Keep the shoulders away from the ears and open through your chest. Flex your abdominal muscles and draw your tailbone down to the ground to avoid overarching in your back.
  8. On an exhale, lower your torso and your hands on the ground, step back into Downward Facing Dog Pose/Adho Mukha Svanasana.
  9. Repeat on the other side.

Modifications:

  • For a more accessible version, do the Low Lunge variation instead – leave the back knee on the mat.
  • Instead of raising the arms overhead, place them on the hips, or draw the palms together at heart.
  • If you’re struggling with the balance, practice the pose in front of the wall. Let your front toe touch the wall and move your arms slightly forward so that your fingertips are supported.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Injuries of knees, feet or ankles
  • High blood pressure

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the lower body: legs, hip flexors, and groin
  • Opens the chest and shoulders
  • Improves balance
  • Increases energy
  • Therapeutic for sciatica

Warrior II/Virabhadrasana II

Named after an ancient Hindu warrior Virabhadra, this pose is exactly what you need to boost your confidence and find your inner strength. Warrior II will help you build stamina, increase energy, and develop self-acceptance.

Try it:

  1. Begin in Tadasana/Mountain pose. Focus on your breath.
  2. On an exhale, step the left foot back in a staggered stance.
  3. Your front toes should face the top of your mat. Turn your back foot to the left so that it’s perpendicular to the front one. Press actively into all four corners of your back foot.
  4. Bend into your front knee so that your front thigh comes parallel to the ground. Keep the knee directly over your ankle and make sure it doesn’t move forward.
  5. Raise your arms to your sides so that they’re parallel to the floor. Stay active through your arms and reach actively through the fingertips, but don’t tense up your shoulders.
  6. Keep your torso open to the side so your front hip is facing forward and the back hip is facing toward the back. Don’t lean onto the front leg and stay upright. Turn your neck to the front of the mat and gaze past your front fingertips.
  7. Release the pose on an inhale. Repeat on the other side.

Modifications:

  • If you have tight hips, shorten the stance and don’t bend as deeply into your front leg.
  • If you don’t have enough upper body strength yet, keep your hands on your hips instead of lifting them.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Injuries of knees, hips or shoulders

Benefits:

  • Builds strength in the legs, ankles, abdomen
  • Increases flexibility in the whole body: legs, groin, hips, chest, shoulders
  • Improves stamina and focus
  • Therapeutic for flat feet, sciatica, osteoporosis

Chair Pose/Utkatasana

Also known as Awkward Pose, Utkatasana is a powerful yoga posture that strengthens both physical body and mental endurance. It engages big muscle groups and improves balance necessary for everyday activities. If you need to build heat in your lower body fast, this is your pose-to-go.

Try it:

  1. Begin in Mountain Pose/Tadasana. Place your feet together with toes touching and heels slightly apart.
  2. Inhale and raise the arms overhead with palms facing each other. Relax the shoulders and don’t let them scrunch up. Rotate your pinky fingers towards one another.
  3. On an exhale, start bending your knees as if you were trying to sit in the chair.
  4. Shift the weight of your body slightly back and into your heels. Your knees have to stack over your ankles. The best way to check if you distributed the weight correctly, try lifting your toes. You should be able to wiggle them.
  5. Lean slightly forward with your torso, but keep your chest open and the spine extending forward. Slide your shoulder blades down to create more space.
  6. Avoid arching your spine. Keep your tailbone tucked and pointing down towards the ground. Your abs should be working, and the spine should stay long.
  7. To get out of the pose, inhale and straighten your legs.
  8. On an inhale, sweep your arms down to the sides.

Modifications:

  • Beginners can widen their stance to hip distance. Make sure to keep your knees parallel and don’t let them cave in or splash out to the sides.
  • For a gentler version, use the wall for support. Stand with your back to the wall and start getting into the pose. As you sit in your chair, your tailbone will be supported by the wall.
  • Place a yoga block between your upper thighs for a more active version of the pose.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Injuries of knees, feet or ankles

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the thighs, hips, ankles, and calves
  • Tones the abdomen
  • Builds endurance
  • Increases flexibility in the upper body
  • Therapeutic for flat feet

Corpse Pose/Savasana

Do it in the evening to relax and let go off the passing day. Do it in the morning to invite stillness and peace into your scheduled tasks. Do Savasana anywhere and anytime you like. Because practicing awareness and learning to stay conscious here and now is the key to a healthy life.

Try it:

  1. Lie on your back. Spread your feet wide, let them relax and drop open.
  2. Place your arms alongside your body, but don’t let them touch the sides. Turn your palms to face up.
  3. Soften the shoulders and tuck the chin lightly. Close your eyes.
  4. Allow your body to completely relax and melt into the ground. Breathe normally. Draw your attention inward and consciously release every part of your body from the toes to the tip of the head, every organ inside.
  5. Stay in Savasana for at least 5 minutes.
  6. To release, start gently wiggling your toes and fingers. Breathe in and on an exhale, roll onto one side. Take a moment there and slowly press into a seated position.

Modifications:

  • Make yourself comfortable on your mat. Grab a yoga blanket to cover yourself if it’s chilly or put on a pair of yoga socks.
  • Place a small bolster under the knees to release the lower back. Similarly, place a bolster under the neck for support.
  • During the late stages of pregnancy, keep the upper body lifted in supine positions. Grab a firm bolster or a stack of blankets and place them under the chest and upper back.

Contraindications and Precautions:

  • Modification needed in case of back injury or late pregnancy

Benefits:

  • Deep relaxation
  • Helps lower blood pressure
  • Calms the nervous system
  • Combats fatigue
  • Therapeutic for insomnia, stress, anxiety, mild depression

Got any questions or want to share something about the yoga poses in the article?

Let us know in the comments!

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