Yoga class seems like such a peaceful way to stretch your limbs, tone your muscles and unwind your mind, doesn't it? That is, unless you're trying it for the first time and have no idea what to expect. Will you be able to keep up with the instructor? Will you recognize the names of the poses? Once anxiety sets in, all hopes of a calm, relaxing session go right out the classroom door.
Take some time to learn the basics now, before you take your mat to the nearest yoga studio. Just click on the videos below to learn a few common yoga moves. Master these and you'll be ready for a full-body workout with strength and confidence.
Here’s where many yoga classes start. Child’s pose is a relaxation pose that also prepares your hips for forward movement. If you arrive a little early, you’ll likely see people already in this position. Join them and enjoy a few calming breaths before class begins.
Tip: Visit child’s pose any time during class, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed either physically or mentally. You never need permission to rest and reset during class.
Cat and cow can be done individually as in the video, or as is the more common practice, linked together by flowing from one to the other with the breath. It’s a great pose to ease back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as to loosen up the spine at the beginning of class.
Tip: Become aware of your breath and learn how it’s linked to movement. Use this sequence to warm up your spine and bring warmth to your practice.
Here’s an opportunity to build your upper body strength while increasing upper back flexibility and overall circulation. Downward dog (aka downward-facing dog) is also wonderful for loosening up the hamstrings.
Tip: The primary goal of this pose is elongation of the spine. Bend your knees if you need to, in order to get a good stretch in the spine.
Yoga is filled with lots of forward movement, so right from the start upward dog (aka upward-facing dog) pose usually feels good. That’s because it opens us up: chest, spine and abdomen. Cobra pose is a gentler variation of upward dog and can always be used as a substitute for those new to yoga or people still working on low back flexibility.
Tip: Relax into these poses. To protect your low back, open more forward than up.
Bow pose works both strength and flexibility of the spine. It will improve posture and massage the abdominal organs… a wonderful twofer.
Tip: While in bow pose, the weight of the body should move onto the abdomen, rather than the hips. In order to achieve this position, try lifting your knees higher by pushing your feet into your hands.
Standing mountain pose might look like nothing, but it is an active pose that promotes posture, balance, and focus. You’ll see it at the start of the standing series and almost always at the beginning of a yoga practice.
Tip: Start from the ground up. Feel your feet rooted in the earth and slowly move your focus up the body until you feel the crown of your head extending upward.
Here’s a pose to work balance and focus. Keep your mind calm and your breath relaxed in order to keep from falling out of this pose. Start with the lifted foot just off the ground and gradually move upward as your balance improves.
Tip: Focus on keeping your standing leg active. Engage your core and try to keep your body stacked. Rely less on your foot and more on body alignment to stay upright.
Use this pose to strengthen and stretch everything from the ankles to the shoulders. It opens the hips to strengthen the thighs and buttocks while increasing concentration and focus.
Tip: Focus on a single point in the distance and remember to keep breathing while holding this pose.
Another hip opener, triangle pose helps alleviate back pain and stimulate the abdominal organs. It helps strengthen the leg, including the knee and ankle joints.
Tip: In order to keep your chest perpendicular to the ground, start by extending your lower hand just to your shin, gradually working your way to the floor.
Corpse pose (Savasana)
While the name might be a little unsettling, the pose is quite the opposite. At the end of your yoga practice you should always find yourself in corpse pose. Here you will be asked to calm your body and mind, relax your central nervous system and bookend your practice. You are usually welcomed to stay here as long as you like before returning to your day.
Tip: Take your time settling into corpse pose by letting your breath slow naturally. When you are done, take your time coming out by wiggling your fingers and toes before integrating more full-body stretches.
Don’t forget to shop around for the style of yoga and instructor that best fits your needs. Click here for help deciding which type of yoga you should try. With these basics under your belt, it’s time to get out there and try some classes.
Laurie Lethert Kocanda is an ACE certified fitness professional, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, and co-author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom.