12 Essential Yoga Poses - Pro Tips by Experts

One of our teachers, assembled this chart of 12 Essential Poses to build strength, flexibility and body awareness. We have had some students ask how they can get this list so here it is!

12 Essential Yoga Poses for Beginners

    with appreciation from my teachers: Annie Carpenter, Erich Schiffman, and Max Strom

    • Breathe in and out with slow, full, intentional breaths.

    • Build up to 5 – 10 breath cycles in each pose. Repeat all poses that begin on one side on the second side.

    ** These poses should be practiced under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher and then performed on your own. The information presented here is not in lieu of, but rather in conjunction with, professional instruction. The points of the poses presented here are to serve only as reminders. Be safe, enjoy!

    Pose #1 — Abdominal Work

    Purpose: Builds core strength. The core is the front, back, and sides of the torso. The core muscles support the spine and hold the internal organs in place. A strong low belly will support the low back and keep it safe and happy. The muscles of the core are in groups: side waist, front body and back body.

    Points: Lie on your backSide waist: Bicycle one knee to opposite elbow, other leg is straight or bent and lifted 2 feet off the mat.  The neck is soft; the hands support the head. Lift the chin toward the ceiling. The gaze is straight ahead. Alternate elbow to knee.Front body: Knees in the chair position. Lift chest to thighs. Same rules for neck and gaze.Lie on your frontBack body: Locust or sphinx pose. (Refer to points of cobra for details)
    Details that different from Cobra are listed below.
    Locust: Like cobra except the arms reach back and rest by the sides with palms on the mat. Reach the arms up and back, lift the chest forward and up.
    Sphinx: Like cobra except the elbows are placed directly under the shoulders, forearms are on the mat parallel to one another.

    Pose #2A — Twist Twist lying on the back

    Purpose: Provides flexibility and nourishes the spine

    Points: Lie on your back. Bring your knees into your chest. Reach your arms out to the sides with the palms turned up and rest them on the mat. Take your knees to the right and toward the right arm. This will guide the twist into the upper back. More important to you’re your shoulders on the mat than reach your knees to the mat. Support floating knees with props. Gaze is toward arm opposite of knees.

    Pose #2B — Twist Lunge twist

    PurposeProvides flexibility and nourishes the spine

    Points: See Lunge for details. From a lunge 
    Level 1: Back knee on the mat. Inhale to lengthen the spine, exhale to twist. With right knee forward, take straight left arm across and press forearm against the right thigh. Place right palm on the sacrum. Twist upper chest.
    Level 2/3: Bring hands to the heart. Inhale to lengthen the spine, exhale to twist. Cross the elbow over the opposite thigh and press the upper arm into that thigh. Lengthen the spine to remove any curve. Shoulder blades move into the body to lift the chest and support the ribcage. Move shoulder blades move down the back toward the hips. Hips remain square. Chin moves toward the chest. Gaze is toward the ceiling

    Pose #3 — Downward Facing Dog

    Purpose: InversionLengthens the spine stretches the back of the leg: hamstrings, calves, Achilles heelBuilds strength in the shoulder girdle and arms.

    Points: Tight hamstrings or tight low back: Hands-on blocks, feet wider apart and feet closer to hands Tight shoulders: Hands wider Tight wrists: Turn hands out slightly bend the knees, lift the hips up and back, then begin to lengthen the legs. Accommodate tightness in the hamstrings: do not overstretch the legs. Legs are internally rotated, heels move away from one another and reach toward the mat. Begin to press the tops of the thighs back, lengthen and firm the legs. Belly in, low ribs in. Crown of the head reaches toward the thumbs. Firm the arms. Spin the upper outer arm toward the thighs. Shoulder blades move toward hips. Spread the fingers and press each knuckle into the mat, where it meets the palm.  Gaze is toward the feet.

    Pose #4 — Plank

    Purpose: Most dynamic overall body strengthener

    Points: Balls of the feet and palms of the hands with fingers spread press into the mat. Thighs are internally rotated, firm and press toward the ceiling. Tailbone reaches toward the heels. Low belly lifts toward the spine. Ribcage: low ribs into the body, shoulder blades spread to broaden upper back. Arms are firm with a slight bend in the elbows. Heels reach toward the back wall; the crown of the head reaches toward the front wall. Gaze is just forward of the mat.

    Pose #5 — Push Up

    Purpose: Strengthens shoulder girdle, arms, core

    Points: Level 1: From plank, put knees down. Maintain a long spine and strong core. Shift your body forward, elbows touch your ribs as you lower your torso no lower than the height of your elbows. Chest and belly remain in plank position: long and strong. The gaze is just beyond the mat. Recommit to firm hands with fingers spread. Gaze is toward the front of the mat.
    Level 2/3: Knees up move from plank

    Pose #6 — Cobra

    Purpose: Strengthens the back, shoulder girdle, and upper armsLengthens the spine creates a backbend in the upper chestImproves posture by reversing the effects of slumping forward while working on the computer, driving all such activities that encourage the upper body to move forward and downward.

    Points: Lie on the front body, rest forehead on the mat. Legs hip distance and reaching back. All 10 toenails on the mat. Inner arches reach back. Press tops of the feet down, lift the low belly up and direct the tailbone toward the heels. 
    Level 1: Hands in front of shoulders
    Level 2: Hands under shoulders
    Level 3: Hands by low ribs
    Spread fingers and lift elbows up, draw them toward one another and reach the elbow points toward the back wall. Roll the shoulder heads toward the ceiling. Lengthen the spine. Press the hands and move as though you are pulling yourself forward. first, reach the chest forward and then lift the sternum up. Back of the neck is long; do not lift the chin. Gaze toward the lower eyelid. 

    Pose #7 — High Lunge

    Purpose: Strengthens the legs, increases flexibility in the hips, lengthens the spine, opens the chest. This pose also has the element of balance.

    Points: Stand at the front of the mat. Lift the right leg and step it 3 to 4 feet back. Hips and chest face the front of the mat. Front foot points straight ahead. Both legs are internally rotated. Hips and chest remain level and square to the front.

    Come onto the ball of the back foot, the heel is toward the ceiling and reaching toward the back wall. If the balance is a challenge, move the front foot to the left, widening the stance. Bend the front knee. Check to see that the knee is directly over the ankle and pointing toward the second toe. If you want a greater challenge, move the front foot further forward to increase the length of the stance.

    Bring the front thighbone into the pelvis. The back thigh presses toward the ceiling. Lift the front of the hips, move the tailbone toward the mat. Shoulders are over the hips. Low ribs move into the chest, arms reach toward the ceiling and are in external rotation (outer arm spins toward the front wall). The shoulder blades widen, move into the chest and slide down the back toward the hips. 

    Pose #8 — Extended Side Angle

    Purpose: Opens hips, strengthens the legs and core. Twists the spine.

    Points: Facing the long side of the mat step the feet 3-4 feet apart. Hips and chest square to the long side of the mat. Hands on hips.

    From the hip joint, turn the right leg out so the toes point to the front of the mat. Move the left heel back so it is behind the left toes. Bend the front knee. Look to be certain the knee is over the ankle and pointing over the second toe.

    Reach the right arm forward and shift the hips back. Ribs are hover over the front thigh, but not resting on the thigh.

    Level 1: Place the right forearm on the right thigh. Place the left palm on the low back where the waistband of the pants is.
    Level 2: Place the right hand on a block inside or outside the right ankle. Reach the left hand to the ceiling.
    Level 3: Place the right hand on the floor either inside or outside the ankle. Internally rotate the left arm and reach it over the head with the inner upper arm over the ear.
    Draw the front thighbone into the pelvis and roll the front buttock under, toward the wall you are facing. Move the front knee toward the wall behind you so it is over the second toe. Firm the back leg and press the front thigh muscles back, into the hamstrings. Direct the tailbone toward the back heel.
    Lengthen from the outer edge of the back foot through the crown of the head. Roll the chest toward the ceiling, twisting the ribcage.
    Gaze: Traditionally the gaze is toward the ceiling with the chin toward the chest so the back of the neck is long. Find a comfortable place for your neck. If it is better to look straight ahead, do so.

    Pose #9 — Side Plank

    Purpose: Another core builder, like the plank, but adds the element of a balance

    Points: Level 1: Come onto hands and knees. Knees under hips, hip distance apart. Hands under shoulders, shoulder distance apart. Lift the left leg and place the sole of the foot on the floor so that the arch of that foot is outside and in line with the toes of the right foot. Lift the left arm toward the ceiling. A strong core, long spine. Tailbone reaches toward heels. Head in line with the spine. Try to stack the hips and the shoulders. Gaze straight ahead.

    Level 2/3: From plank, roll onto the outer edge of the left foot. Lift the right arm toward the ceiling.  A strong core, long spine. Tailbone reaches toward heels. Head in line with the spine. Try to stack the shoulders and the hips. Gaze straight ahead. 

    Pose #10 — Half Pigeon

    Purpose: Stretches the inner and outer thigh, stretches the outer hip, increases flexibility in the hips.

    Points: Supine half pigeon (face up)If your knees are tender: lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the mat. Cross the right ankle over the left knee. Rest the head on the mat, chin toward chest. Rest the shoulders on the mat.
    Level 1: Stay here. Place the right hand on the right thigh and encourage an opening.
    Level 2: Bring the left knee into the chest, take hold of the back of the left leg by reaching the right arm between the legs and the left arm around the outside of the left thigh.Level 3: Hug the legs into the chest.Prone Half pigeon (face down)
    Sit on the right thigh and bring the back knee forward to create a “Z” like shape. Square the right knee so the shin is parallel with the front of the mat and the thigh parallel with the side of the mat. Flex the foot to stabilize the knee.
    Frame the front leg with your hands, square the chest, and lengthen the spine. Lower the chest over the front shin slowly to maintain the length in the spine. Rest your head and relax your shoulders, face, jaw, tongue. Once you are settled, you can lengthen the left leg any amount that feels safe.

    Pose 11 — Tree Pose

    Purpose: Increases core strength and ability to balance

    Points: Stand in mountain pose: feet hip distance. Transfer the weight into the right foot.
    Level 1: Rest the ball of the left foot at the arch of the right foot and place the left heel at the base of the left shin.
    Level 2: Place the left arch on the right calf.
    Level 3: Place the left sole at the upper inner right thigh. 

    Pose #12 — Savasana Resting Pose

    Purpose: Allows the body to absorb the efforts of the practice.

    Points: You have released tension and created calm in your body. Allow the body to absorb this by resting in the easiest position you can create for yourself. This pose is typically done on the back with arms resting comfortably near, but not touching, the sides with the legs long on the mat. Make some distance between the legs and allow the little toe to fall toward the mat. Lengthen the back of the neck by tipping the chin slightly toward the chest. Move the shoulder blades down the back to open the chest. Allow all the natural curves of the spine to be present. Stay 3 minutes or more.

    Featured Image by lenina11only, Shutterstock

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