Five Foundational Yoga Poses Everyone Should Know

There are thousands of yoga postures described by the ancient yoga tradition, but only a large handful of them are practiced today. And for good reason — who has time in today's fast-paced world?

But most of us can find at least 10 minutes a day in a quiet place to practice a few asana (yoga postures). Even a quick but consistent practice can help you reap the benefits of yoga, including increased energy, strength, and flexibility; improved cardiorespiratory health; better sports performance and injury prevention; and lower stress levels. 

But which poses should you do? If you're new to yoga, start with the basics. Even if you're not new to yoga, sometimes going back to the basics can be a good refresher — you know, "beginner's mind" and all.

Here are five basic but essential yoga postures you should be practicing wherever you are in your yoga journey.

Garland Pose (Malasana)

Tight hips are pervasive in our society, where most people spend all day sitting at a desk. Garland pose is one of the best for helping to open your hips and inner thigh muscles and elongate the spine. It also strengthens the lower body.

How to do it:

1. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your toes turned outward slightly. 

2. Maintain a straight spine and a forward gaze as you push your hips back and lower down as if you were going to sit down into a chair. 

3. Lower the hips as deep as you can without your back starting to round. You can place a rolled up towel under your heels to make it a little easier to get depth. 

4. Bring your palms together in the center of your chest and press your elbows against your inner knees to open your hips a little more. 

Downward Dog (Adho mukha svanasana)

Most people don't know this, but downward dog is actually an inversion pose. If you can't do a headstand yet, don't worry. Just do downward dog and get all the benefits of going upside down. You'll also get a good stretch for your back body and shoulders. 

How to do it:

1. Being in tabletop, with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees. More advanced practitioners can transition to downdog from plank. 

2. Tuck your toes and raise your hips up toward the ceiling. 

3. Keep your spine straight and elongated, and only straighten the knees as far as your hamstrings will comfortably allow. Lower your heels down toward the mat as far as your calf muscles will allow. 

4. Rotate your upper arms inward and pull your shoulders away from your ears. 

Plank Pose

Plank is the ultimate core strengthener, but it doesn't stop there. As you hold the pose it works all the little stabilizer muscles in your shoulders, arms, wrists and hands, and it works your leg muscles as well!

How to do it:

1. From downward dog, roll forward and drop your hips down toward the ground.

2. Stop when your hips are in line with your head and heels. 

3. Make sure your shoulders are aligned over your wrists. 

4. Contract your core muscles and the quadriceps on the fronts of the thighs.

5. Puff up slightly between the shoulder blades, and don't allow your hips to sag or pike up. 

Seated Spinal Twist

Rotation is one of the main movements of the human body, along with the hip hinge, push, pull, squat and lunge. Maintaining strength and flexibility through your torso ensures good posture and spinal health and protects you from back pain. 

How to do it:

1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended and your spine erect. 

2. Bend your right knee and place your foot flat on the floor. Then cross the foot over your left leg and place it on the floor just outside your right thigh. 

3. Place your right palm on the floor just behind your right buttock. Wrap your left arm around your right knee as you rotate your torso to the right. 

4. Maintain a straight spine and reach the top of your head toward the ceiling. 

5. To go deeper, place the left elbow outside the right knee and press against it to increase the rotation of the spine. 

6. Switch sides and repeat. 

Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

Backbends are crucial for counteracting the damage that sitting all day can do to our bodies. Backbending not only lengthens the front body, but it also strengthens all the muscles of the back body and builds flexibility in the shoulders.

Backbends are challenging, and camel pose is no exception. You need to work into this pose gently and progress slowly. 

How to do it:

1. Kneel on a soft surface with your knees hip-width apart. 

2. Place your palms on your lower back with your fingers pointing down and draw your elbows closer to one another behind you. 

3. Keep your hips pressing forward as you slowly begin to bend your upper body backwards. Allow your head to drop back as far as is comfortable. 

4. More advanced yogis can reach their hands back for their heels. 

5. When you're ready, slowly reverse back up to your starting position and have a seat on your heels. 

Which poses do you already practice and which ones do you plan to try? Leave us a note in the comments!


This article was written by health and fitness expert and PIXIBU founder Jody Braverman, PN1, NASM-CPT, NASM-FNS, RYT 200.

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