If you’re just getting started with a yoga practice, you may be tempted to stand on your head or fold yourself into an Instagram-worthy position. But instructors stress that the best place to start is with those most basic, beginner yoga poses. The basics are not only meant to help you get in touch with your mind and body as you get stronger and more flexible, but they also form the foundation for the rest of your yoga journey.
Though plenty of people got well acquainted with at-home workouts in the last year, many missed having instructors to guide their down-dogs into proper form: 74% of respondents to a June 2021 ClassPass survey said that’s why they were excited to start working out in IRL studios again. Still, as Aditi Shah, a Peloton yoga and meditation instructor, tells Bustle, beginner yoga poses are all about finding what works for your body — even if your instructor isn’t physically in the room with you.
“We all live in different bodies and therefore each pose will look and feel different for each of us,” she says. “Yoga is really a philosophy and the physical practice gives us the opportunity to explore how we embody these postures and how we can take what we learn into real life.” If you feel stiff, topple over, or have to make a few modifications as you get more into yoga, that’s all part of the process.
This is particularly important to keep in mind if you’re stepping onto the mat for the very first time and find yourself getting frustrated. “It takes time to learn anything and you are worth the work,” Shah says. “Do not compare yourself — your journey is yours alone.” It is called a yoga practice, after all.
With that in mind, here are nine beginner yoga poses to try, as explained by Peloton trainers.
1. Mountain Pose
Think of mountain pose, or tadasana, as your foundational pose. You’ll likely start here (or in a seated, crossed-legged position) in Vinyasa-style yoga, which is the type where you flow from one posture to the next.
Mountain pose can teach you a lot about yourself, the other postures — and yoga in general — by helping you focus on alignment, stability, and awareness. As Anna Greenberg, a Peloton yoga and meditation instructor says, “It is quite incredible to feel how different standing in mountain pose is to just standing.”
- To start, stand with your feet hip distance apart with feet pointing straight ahead (not turned out or in). Lift up your toes up and press into the mat through the balls and heels of your feet. Lift your inner arches and inner ankles. The goal is to keep activity in your feet and relax your toes, Greenberg says.
- Try to balance the center of your pelvis over the center of your feet, keeping your tailbone in and down, and lifting your spine up tall. Let your forearms and hands release down while keeping your upper arms drawn slightly into your shoulders, broadening and lifting your chest.
- Keep the back of your neck long and hover the crown of your head over the center of your pelvis and over the center of your feet. Take a deep breath and pay attention to how each part of yourself fits together and how you fit into the space around you, Greenberg says.
- From there, you might lift the arms up and bend slightly back, or bend forward to move into other poses.
2. Downward Dog
Otherwise known as adho mukha svanasana, downward facing dog is one of the most easily recognizable yoga poses. And it also feels really good. “Downward dog is a full body pose,” Greenberg says. “It stretches as well as strengthens the spine, arms, legs and shoulders.” Shah says it’s also a great way to relax the neck after holding your head up all day.
- Either bend forward from mountain pose, place hands down, and step feet back. Or, start on your hands and knees, Shah says, with palms under shoulders and knees under hips.
- From there, see that wrists are parallel to the top of the mat, fingers are spread, and your palms are pressing down firmly throughout. Rotate the upper arm so that the bicep faces the front of the mat.
- Keeping palms in place, walk your feet back into a plank position and then pike your hips into the air to create an inverted V shape, keeping feet hip-width apart. Pull the bellybutton in and press the hips up and back, Shah says.
- Don’t hesitate to adjust into the pose. Bend your knees and pump your legs. Or lift up your heels, press them down, rock your head gently side to side — whatever feels right.
3. Upward Dog
Also called urdhva mukha svanasana, upward facing dog is a back-bending pose that’s an essential part of any Vinyasa sequence of movements, says Ross Rayburn, the director of Peloton yoga and meditation. There’s also a variation of upward dog called cobra, which isn’t quite as intense.
- Lay stomach-down on the mat, with palms pressed into the mat near your shoulders, and legs extending straight back behind you.
- Pushing into the palms, begin to press the top half of your body up, while legs remain on the mat.
- Keep tops of the feet strong against the floor, Rayburn says, and legs and core muscles strong so there is no compression on your lower back.
- For upward facing dog, press all the way up to create a deep arch in your back. Keep shoulders down. Look ahead or up and feel the stretch in your back and arms.
- For cobra, don’t extend your elbows quite as much. Instead, gently lift your chest a few inches off the mat and look forward.
- Rayburn says both poses are helpful if you sit at a desk all day and have tightness in your back, shoulders, or neck.
According to Greenberg, the cat/cow, otherwise known as chakravakasana, is a simple stretch, but one that does so much for the body. “It teaches spinal flexion and extension, as well as how to tune into and use the breath while practicing,” she says. “In yoga, we tend to prepare or expand our movements on the inhale and perform the action on the exhale, which is efficient since the deep core is activated at the base of an exhale,” she adds. “That rhythm is set during cat/cow.”
- Start on hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists and knees underneath your hips. Inhale and open your chest while aiming your tailbone back and up, coming into spinal extension.
- Then exhale and press the floor away while rounding your back and letting your head drop down.
- Repeat this movement, expanding on the inhale, contracting on the exhale, all while tuning into your breath as you warm up your spine.
4. Warrior One
Warrior one, aka virabhadrasana, is another classic that not only keeps you centered and balanced, but also helps strengthen the arms, shoulders, and quads.
- Standing on the mat, step one leg forward and twist your torso so that you’re facing forward.
- Bend your front knee and raise arms up so they graze past your ears. You can bring your hands together or keep them hovering apart, palms facing in.
- For traditional warrior, keep your back foot planted flat on the mat. To modify, Rayburn suggests lifting your back heel and doing the pose on the ball of your foot instead.
5. Warrior Two
Warrior two is another great pose for building strength in the legs, Rayburn says.
- From warrior one, sink down further into your front leg. Twist torso so your stomach is angled points to the side, instead of facing front.
- Bring arms down so one extends forward and the other is reaching out behind you. Gaze out over your forward hand.
- “Try keeping the back thigh bone in line with the back heel while lifting from the abs to the crown (typically the hips jut forward),” Rayburn says. “Make sure there is enough distance between the feet that a 90 degree bent front knee is not past the front ankle.”
6. Tree Pose
Tree pose, or vrksasana, is the ideal way to practice balance, Rayburn says. You will, after all, be standing on one leg.
- With one foot firmly plant into mat (remember to spread your toes so you feel stable), lift the opposite foot and place it against the standing shin.
- You can fold your hands in front of your chest or reach arms up overhead. Balance and breath.
- Once you feel comfortable, progress to placing the foot against the standing inner thigh, Rayburn says. Just make sure you don’t press against your knee.
- Hint: When balancing, it always helps to stare at a fixed point, like a spot on the floor or picture on the wall, so that you don’t wobble as much.
7. Bridge Pose
For setu bandha, or bridge pose, you’ll get down onto the mat. (Yay!) You’ll also strengthen your glutes while getting a nice stretch.
- Lie on your back. Bend your knees and place feet hip distance apart.
- Keep arms at your sides.
- Lift your butt off the mat. “Keep the legs toned by ‘dragging’ the feet back isometrically (without moving them),” Rayburn says. “This keeps the hamstrings strong and supportive of the lower back.”
- Bridge pose can improve lower back health and open the upper chest. It might feel difficult, but consider that a sign you’re on the right track. “The trick and the practice, of course, is taking the time to ‘wake up’ and strengthen the myriad underutilized muscles of the body,” Rayburn says.
8. Seated Twist
By doing a seated twist, or ardha matsyendrasana, you’ll release all those tense muscles in your back while also stretching your butt and hamstrings.
- Sit on mat and extend legs out in front of you.
- Bend one leg and place it over the other, with the top knee bent.
- Turn your torso in the direction of the bent knee. Press outside of elbow against knee, twist, and look to the side.
- “Sit up on a folded blanket to make sure the low back isn’t rounded back,” Rayburn says. “Also, keep the legs and core muscles toned so that the twisting feels secure and contained.”
- While you may feel compelled to yank your body or neck around, remember to go slow and gently breathe into the twist.
If you hear the yoga instructor say “chaturanga,” that basically means “do a low plank.” Rayburn says, “Chaturanga is a full body pose but it’s especially good for building strength in the upper body,” mostly because you’re holding yourself up and floating above the mat.
- From a standing position, bend forward and place palms down on mat, then step back. You’ll find yourself in a high plank position.
- Keep your palms far enough back at your sides so the elbows form a right angle as you slowly lower yourself down.
- Hover on your your palms and toes with body lifted and held parallel a few inches above the mat.
- “To modify it, keep your knees on the floor until you have the strength to keep the shoulders level, not lower, than the elbows,” Rayburn says.
Move through these beginner yoga poses as part of a routine, or simply pop into one if a particular muscle feels tight. If you catch yourself getting frustrated, take an (even deeper) breath and remember that yoga is a philosophy, it’s a practice — and each pose will look and feel different for everyone.
Aditi Shah, Peloton Yoga and Meditation Instructor
Anna Greenberg, Peloton Yoga and Meditation Instructor
Ross Rayburn, Director of Peloton Yoga and Meditation