We've all been there. Walking in to your first yoga class you have no idea what you are doing or what the teacher is talking about. You look around the room and try to mimic what others are doing and spend the whole class questioning if anything you are doing is correct. Wondering how that lady makes it look so easy. Is it normal to be this shaky?! First, know that is normal and we've all been there at some point! Second, just like anything else, it takes a little time and practice to build your knowledge and confidence.
Usually the hardest part of a yoga class is letting go of expectations and not letting your ego trip you up along the way by thinking that you have to look like the person next to you. The most beautiful part about yoga is that you can make it what you need it to be. On days you need to be a little more gentle, you take it easy, rest, or modify. On days you are feeling like an energetic badass, you flow through extra vinyasas and try more complex variations. All of that and everything in between can be happening within a single yoga class because we all move differently and need different things from our yoga practice. You hold the power to make your yoga class what you need it to be. For YOU and only you.
To kick start your familiarity with asanas, aka yoga poses, here are 5 yoga basics poses you should know before your first yoga class:
Child’s pose is commonly known as a resting pose. This is a great pose to move in to when you are feeling tired, need to reconnect with your breath, or just need to slow down a little. The action of bowing towards the ground has a calming effect on the mind and the body.
Start on your hands and knees. Move your big toes together, your legs will form a V shape.
Gently push your hips back toward your heels and separate your knees slightly wider than your hips.
As you exhale, lay your torso between your thighs, resting your forehead onto the mat, and reach your arms out in front of you.
If that creates too much pressure on your knees, you can place a pillow or bolster between your hips and calves
Benefits of childs pose:
Gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles
Passively stretches the muscles on the back of the body
Relieves stress, fatigue, and anxiety
Improves mental focus
Relieves back and neck pain
This is more than just touching your toes! Remember to let go of your ego and practice a little patience with this one. A bend in the knees will go a long way in helping to ease in to this pose with good and safe alignment. It’s more important to keep length in the spine than to have straight legs or force yourself to touch your toes. If you find you are really rounding in your back or you are hunching your shoulders, keep the knees bent as much as you need! These tips apply whether you are doing a standing forward fold or seated forward fold.
1. From standing, fold forward towards your legs hinging at the hips. Bend the knees enough that your thighs and belly touch and your fingers brush the floor.
2. Gently shake your head side to side then front to back to release excess tension in the neck.
3. Feel the spine stretching in opposite directions as you pull the head down and in towards your knees and try to press the hips up. Work on straightening the legs to deepen the stretch in the backs of the legs.
Benefits of a forward fold:
Calms the brain and helps relieve stress
Stimulates the liver and kidneys
Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips
Strengthens the thighs and knees
Reduces fatigue and anxiety
Relieves headache and insomnia
It’s more important to keep length in the spine than have completely straight legs (that sounds familiar!) so keep a little bend in your knees and ease yourself in to eventually straightening the legs. Also a hot tip; your heels don’t need to touch the floor!
1. Start on hands and knees. Bring your hands slightly forwards of your shoulders, with your middle finger pointing forward, then spread all of your fingers wide.
2. Tuck your toes under, engage your lower belly drawing the navel back to the spine then press through your hands and lift your hips up and back to bring yourself into an upside-down V shape.
3. Keep your knees bent at first as you find length in your spine.
4. Slide your shoulder blades down along the spine, the base of the neck relaxed, and gaze back at your knees.
5. Keeping length in the spine, ‘walk your dog’ by alternately bending and straightening one leg at a time.
6. To come out of the pose, bring your knees back down to the floor and come into childs pose.
Benefits of downward dog:
Strengthens the whole body – upper body, arms, shoulders, abdomen and legs
Stretches the back of the body - ankles, calves, hamstrings, spine
Calms the mind
Stimulates blood circulation
With practice, Downward Dog can eventually become a rest pose to help you reconnect with your breath
Fair warning; Warrior 1 is actually a complex pose and not great for beginners. That being said, we added it here to help you since you will most likely come across it and often yoga teachers are not mindful of beginners attempting to manipulate their bodies in this pose. Give it a try and remember, be gentle on yourself and it will be a work in progress.
Right foot stays forward with toes facing forward. Step your left foot behind you and place the foot flat with the toes facing left, about 45 degrees.
Shift your hips so both hip bones are facing the front of the room. Press evenly through the center of your front heel and the outer edge of your back foot.
Bend into your right knee until your knee id just over the ankle and the top thigh is flat. Make sure that knee does not bend beyond your toes.
Draw your bell back and tuck your tailbone down slightly toward the pelvis. Keep pressing through the outer edge of the left foot and lift your ribcage away from the hips.
Breathe in and reach your arms toward the sky with palms facing each other. Reach through your fingertips and draw the shoulders down away from the ears.
There is a slight rotation of the upper body to guide your shoulders so they also face the front of the room.
Benefits of Warrior 1:
Stretches and opens your chest and lungs to increase capacity and function
Strengthens your shoulders, arms, and back muscles as well as your ankles and thighs
Strength in the legs and feet creates a grounding sensation
Improved oxygen and blood flow
Warrior 2 is a powerful pose! Not only are you going to build strength and stamina, but by focusing your gaze you also increase concentration. This is a hip-opening pose that strengthens the muscles in the entire lower body so ground down in the legs and feet but keep long and light in the upper body. Paying attention to the position of your knees in relation to your feet & ankles is important to keep safe alignment. Also notice here, as opposed to Warrior 1, your hips, body and shoulders are open to the side.
1. Step wide, standing with your feet just wider than hip-distance apart. Open your arms wide spread side to side at shoulder height and keep energetically reaching side to side as if your fingertips were touching wall to wall.
2. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees, so your toes are pointing to the top of the mat.
3. Pivot your left foot slightly inwards. Your back toes should be at a 45-degree angle.
4. Bend your front knee and align your knee directly over the ankle of your front foot.
5. Sink your hips low, eventually bringing your front thigh parallel to the floor. Your front shin should be perpendicular to the floor. Widen your stance as needed to make sure that your knee does not move forward past your ankle so you protect your joints.
6. Keep your torso perpendicular to the floor. Draw your belly in. Turn your gaze towards your front hand.
Benefits of Warrior 2
Strengthens and stretches the legs and ankles
Stretches the groins, inner thighs, chest, lungs, and shoulders
Stimulates abdominal organs
Increases stamina and concentration
If you found this helpful and would like to work breaking down more common yoga poses as well as learn more about safe alignment and modifications for your body, join Ales & Asanas for a 90 minute Yoga Basics workshop. You can find us in person at LauderAle brewery in Ft Lauderdale or you can join us from anywhere via Zoom!
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