During one of the first Vinyasa yoga classes I attended, I almost walked out of the room. I wasn't familiar with half of the poses, so I looked at the other students in the class for guidance and hoped that my confusion wasn't on full display.
I tried to walk quietly out of the room, but the instructor came over to ask if everything was OK. I explained how bewildered I was about what was going on around me.
"Return to Child's pose," she said. But I was confused (yet again) so I asked her what she meant. "Anytime you get lost or need a break, return to Child's pose to gather your thoughts and return to your breath," she explained. "When you come back up from Child's pose, your mind will be a bit calmer and your focus will be better."
So I went into Child's pose for a few moments, focused on my breathing and finished the class.
While that quick tip from the instructor helped me get through the rest of class (and ultimately got me hooked on Vinyasa yoga), I wish I had more guidance on the best beginner yoga poses.
Now that I'm a yoga teacher, I want to help new yogis start their practice. Here, I break down the 10 best yoga poses for beginners and offer modifications for poses that might be difficult to get into at first.
Move 1: Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Lift your right toes off the ground, spread them wide, then set them back down. Repeat with your left toes.
- Engage your quadriceps and draw your navel in.
- Internally rotate your upper thighs slightly, lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and lift your pubic bone toward your navel.
- Lift your breastbone while softening your lower ribs.
- Then, rotate your hands so your palms face forward and lift your arms overhead.
- Bring your hands together in a prayer pose and lower them by your chest, then down by your sides.
- Tuck your chin in slightly and lift the crown of your head up.
Mountain pose serves as a great foundation for many yoga poses and stretches your entire body from head to toe. While this pose seems simple, it's important to rotate your thighs inward and engage your quads, drawing them upward.
If you need help engaging your thighs, grab a yoga block and place it vertically between your thighs. Gently squeeze the block. Using the block also allows you to improve your body's alignment.
Move 2: Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
- Start in Mountain pose.
- Shift your weight onto your right leg. Bend your left knee and place your foot on your upper right thigh with your toes pointing down.
- Square your hips by lengthening your tailbone toward the ground and drawing your pubic bone up toward your navel. Imagine drawing a line between your two frontal hip points.
- Place your hands on your hips, bring your palms together at your heart center or reach your arms overhead.
If placing the sole of your foot on the inside of your thigh is too challenging, try placing it on the inside of your calf, or gently slide the top of your toes down to meet your mat. Avoid placing the sole of your foot on your knee as this can cause potential knee issues.
When doing Tree pose correctly, you should feel the stretch in your shoulders, chest, thighs and hips. It also strengthens your arches, ankles, calves and thighs.
Move 3: Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
- Start in Mountain pose.
- As you exhale, fold forward, hinging at your hips.
- Place your hands on the floor beside your feet or on a yoga block.
- Keep a slight bend in your knees and stack your hips over your knees and your knees over your ankles.
- Then, stand back up in Mountain pose.
If your fingers don't touch your mat or your toes, grab a yoga block and place it in front of your toes. You can adjust the height of the block until you find the height that provides you with the right amount of support and challenge.
Place your hands on the block and allow the crown of your head to fall toward the block as you inhale and exhale. As you increase the height in the block, you'll find it easier to get into this pose.
While in a Forward Fold, you should feel the stretch in your hamstrings and calves. It also strengthens your feet, knees and thighs.
Move 4: Yogi Squat (Malasana)
- Start in Mountain pose with your knees hip-distance apart and your feet turned slightly out.
- Lift your arms overhead, then bring your palms together. As you lower your hands, bend your knees and send your hips back and down until your thighs are below parallel to the ground.
- Maintain the length in your spine as you lift your sternum, open your chest and relax your shoulders away from your ears.
- With your hands into a prayer pose, gently press your elbows against your inner thighs.
- Hold the bottom of your squat for a couple of breaths, then place your hands on the ground in front of you and straighten your legs to stand back up.
If you're finding it difficult to balance in this pose, grab a block and gently place it underneath your glutes to provide support. Don't own a block? Roll up your yoga mat and place it under your heels. Adding a block can provide balance support in this pose and greatly reduces the demand on your muscles to maintain the pose. It may also help increase your range of motion in the squat.
This stretch helps open up your hips and strengthens your ankles while lengthening your groin and inner thighs and decompressing your lower back.
Move 5: Cat-Cow Pose (Marjaiasana Bitilasana)
- Start on all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders.
- Draw your navel in toward your spine and arch your back like a cat.
- Starting at your tailbone, begin to extend your spine, vertebrae by vertebrae until your back is arched the other way with your belly dipping toward the ground.
- Continue slowly alternating between the two.
If you perform the Cat-cow with your toes tucked under, you'll feel a stretch in your toes, the arches of your feet and calves.
Move 6: Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana)
- Start on all fours.
- Step your feet back and straighten your legs like you're at the top of a push-up.
- Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart with your fingers facing forward. Stay on the balls of your feet and tighten your quads.
- Draw your navel to your spine and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Keep your neck aligned with your spine.
- Hold this position for a few breaths, then bring your knees back down to the ground.
Plank pose is one of the best core exercises for targeting your abdominals, but it also strengthens your arms and shoulders. When practiced regularly, it can be a major key to unlocking a lot of different inversions. If you're just getting started with planks, feel free to lower your knees down to your mat as you work toward strengthening your core.
Move 7: Cobra (Bhujangasana)
- Lie on your stomach with your legs together, the tops of your feet down and your hands under your shoulders.
- On an inhale, peel your chest away from the floor. Roll your shoulders back and down your spine as you straighten your arms as much as your flexibility allows.
- Be careful not to go too far too soon. Breathe deeply and maintain awareness of the feedback your body is providing to avoid stress or strain.
- Lower your chest back down to the floor in the starting position.
If you're experiencing wrist pain, you can modify Cobra pose by placing your forearms on the floor (as shown in the video). When doing this modification, be sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders. This helps take the weight off your hands and wrists and allows you to focus more on stretching your spine and back muscles.
Cobra pose opens up your chest and targets your shoulders, throat, lower back and legs. It also helps improve your spinal flexibility.
Move 8: Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Start in all fours, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up, straightening your legs.
- Draw your shoulders down your spine away from your ears. Elongate your spine and extend the backs of your legs only as far as your hamstrings allow.
- Depending on your flexibility, bring your heels down toward the mat or stay on the balls of your feet with your knees bent.
- After a few breaths, bring your knees back down to the ground in the starting position.
Downward Facing Dog is a foundational pose in many styles of yoga. It stretches your palms, chest, back, hamstrings, calves and feet while strengthening your arms, legs and torso.
Depending on your skill level, you may have to modify this pose. For example, if you're pregnant (especially if acid reflux makes it too uncomfortable to invert yourself) and/or have hand or wrist injuries, use a wall to do Downward Facing Dog.
1. Stand facing a wall with your feet a bit wider than hip-distance apart and place your hands on the wall right in front of your shoulders with your fingers spread apart.
2. Keep your ears aligned with your biceps. On an exhale, walk your feet and hips toward the middle of the room. Hinge at your hips and extend your spine from your hips toward your fingertips.
3. Press your chest gently forward to feel a stretch across the back of your shoulders. Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths.
Move 9: Crescent Pose (Anjaneyasana)
- From Downward Facing Dog, lift your right foot off the floor and raise your leg toward the ceiling. Then, step your right leg forward between your hands.
- Keep a bend in your front leg as you inhale and lift your torso, bringing your arms up by your ears with your palms facing each other.
- Keep a slight bend in your back leg.
- Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor and engage your core. Avoid flaring your ribs forward.
- Push back through your left heel while keeping your hips square.
- Then lower your back knee to the ground and repeat on your left leg.
Crescent pose opens up your chest, and the lunge stretches your hips and shoulders. It also strengthens your thighs, knees, ankles and arches.
If you're new to this pose or have knee issues, lower your opposite knee down to your mat or a blanket for extra support.
Move 10: Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
- Lie on your back.
- Find length through your lower back and relax your pelvis and hips.
- Let your arms rest by your sides with your palms facing up.
- On an inhale, slowly lift your right leg, followed by your left. The soles of your feet should be facing the ceiling.
- Stay here for 5 to 10 minutes, then slowly lower your legs back down to the ground.
What to Look for in Beginner Yoga Poses
Some of the best yoga poses for beginners are ones that allow you to modify and progress to more advanced variations. For example, you can modify a Plank by dropping to your knees. Or do Downward Facing Dog on a wall versus on the ground if you have a wrist injury.
Be mindful of how your body feels throughout your practice. Some poses may feel good while others can be challenging, so if anything hurts, stop what you're doing.
Using your breath while practicing yoga is also important. Focus on your breathing to help you deepen your poses rather than how you look in your poses.
Lastly, always remember that practice makes progress. The more you show up on your mat, the more you increase your body awareness and can get more out of your yoga practice.