How to Do the 12 Basic Hatha Yoga Poses With Perfect Form

woman performing the cobra yoga pose at home on a mat
Listening to your body is an important part of Hatha yoga. No two people move in the exact same way.
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Head into a yoga class or follow along at home, and you're guaranteed to do at least a few of the base Hatha yoga poses.

After all, Hatha yoga is ​any​ yoga practice that involves moving through poses (aka asanas), says California-based certified yoga instructor Kells McPhillips. Everything in Hatha centers around 12 basic postures — and they're the foundation for about 84 different body-bending, muscle-strengthening asanas.

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So it doesn't matter if you're into Bikram or Yin, it helps to know and practice these Hatha yoga poses.

What Are the 12 Basic Hatha Yoga Postures?

  1. Headstand (Sirsasana)
  2. Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana)
  3. Plough (Halasana)
  4. Fish (Matsyasana)
  5. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
  6. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
  7. Locust (Shalabhasana)
  8. Bow (Dhanurasana)
  9. Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
  10. Crow (Kakasana)
  11. Standing Forward Bend (Pada Hasthasana)
  12. Triangle (Trikonasana)

Even though these 12 poses make up the foundation of Hatha, they do vary in difficulty. (So instead of thinking of them as "basic," it can help to think of them as "original.")

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Some asanas, like cobra, triangle and seated forward bend, are nice and easy. Others like crow pose are intermediate. And the headstand? That's an advanced asana that will take a lot of practice to master.

To help you figure out where to get started in your journey, each of the below asanas has its skill level (all levels, intermediate or advanced) listed right along with its picture and form instructions. Choose the ones that fit your body and needs.

Over time with regular practice, you'll build the strength, flexibility and balance to explore new, challenging postures.

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Move 1: Headstand

(Sirsasana)

(Sirsasana)
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Skill Level Advanced
  1. Kneel on the floor and grab your elbows with your opposite hands.
  2. Place your forearms on the floor. Rest the back of your head in between your hands. Your hands should form a crown around your head.
  3. Keeping the balls of your feet on the floor, straighten your knees to raise them off of the floor.
  4. Brace your core and walk your feet toward your elbows.
  5. Slowly extend one leg toward the ceiling.
  6. Squeeze your core to pull the other up toward the ceiling.
  7. Tense your glutes, core and shoulders to keep your body in a straight line. Point your toes.
  8. Hold, then lower one leg at a time to lower back to the starting position.

Tip

Resist the urge to kick your feet up into the headstand position, McPhillips says. If you can't get up into the pose with proper form, try raising just one leg.

Move 2: Shoulderstand

(Sarvangasana)

(Sarvangasana)
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Skill Level Intermediate
  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor about a foot away from your hips.
  2. Press through your feet to raise your hips.
  3. With your forearms on the floor, place your palms on the small of your back.
  4. Using your forearms for support, shift your weight into your shoulders and shoulder blades.
  5. Slowly raise one leg toward the ceiling.
  6. Squeeze your core to pull the other leg up toward the ceiling.
  7. Tense your glutes, core, shoulders to keep your body in a straight line. Point your toes.
  8. Hold, then lower one leg at a time to lower back to the starting position.

Move 3: Plough

(Halasana)

(Halasana)
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Skill Level Intermediate
  1. Lie on the floor with your arms at your sides.
  2. Clasp your hands together behind your back.
  3. Using your arms and upper body for balance, raise one leg up toward the ceiling. Repeat with the other leg.
  4. Slowly lower one leg behind your head to rest your toes on the floor. Repeat with the other leg. Keep your legs as straight as comfortable.
  5. Hold, then slowly reverse the movements to return to the starting position.

Move 4: Fish

(Matsyasana)

(Matsyasana)
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Skill Level All Levels
  1. Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you and pressed together.
  2. Place your hands underneath your hips, palms against the floor.
  3. Lean back until your forearms are resting on the floor.
  4. Let the top of your head fall back and gently arch your upper back.
  5. Hold, then slowly straighten your back and sit up to return to the starting position.

Move 5: Seated Forward Bend

(Paschimothanasana)

(Paschimothanasana)
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Skill Level All Levels
  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Keep a small bend in your knees.
  2. Gently fold your torso forward. Leading with your chest, reach your hands toward your feet.
  3. If comfortable, you can rest your forehead on your legs.

Tip

If you can't comfortably reach your feet, bend your knees more or rest your hands on your shins. Don't push to the point of pain, McPhillips says.

Move 6: Cobra

(Bhujangasana)

(Bhujangasana)
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Skill Level Intermediate
  1. Lie face-down on the floor and place your palms on the floor in line with your shoulders. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes.
  2. Press into your palms to raise your torso toward the ceiling and arch your back.
  3. Hold, then slowly bend your arms to lower back to the starting position.

Tip

Try to make your torso as tall as possible. Don't let yourself dump your weight into your lower back.

Move 7: Locust

(Shalabhasana)

(Shalabhasana)
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Skill Level Intermediate
  1. Lie face-down on the floor with your arms at your sides and your legs straight behind you. Brace your core.
  2. Squeeze your glutes to lift your legs just off of the floor.
  3. At the same time, press your hands back toward your feet and squeeze through your back to raise your chest up off the ground.
  4. Pull your shoulders back to open your chest.
  5. Hold, then slowly relax your glutes and back to lower back to the starting position.

Tip

Only come up as high as feels comfortable. To make this move easier, keep your legs on the floor.

Move 8: Bow

(Dhanurasana)

(Dhanurasana)
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Skill Level Intermediate
  1. Lie face-down with your arms at your sides and legs straight behind you.
  2. Bend your knees and point your toes up toward the ceiling.
  3. Reach around the outside of your legs and grab the tops of your feet.
  4. Slowly raise your chest so that your body is resting on your pelvis.
  5. Still holding onto your feet, pull your shoulders back away from the ears.
  6. Hold, then lower your chest and let go of your legs to return to the starting position.

Move 9: Half Spinal Twist

(Ardha Matsyendrasana)

(Ardha Matsyendrasana)
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Skill Level All Levels
  1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and arms at your sides.
  2. Cross your left leg over your right. Bend your knee and place your foot flat on the floor.
  3. Bend your right knee to position your heel next to your left hip.
  4. Place your right elbow on the outside of your left knee.
  5. Twist to the left and reach your left palm to the floor behind you.
  6. Hold, then slowly reverse the twist to return to the starting position.
  7. Switch sides.

Tip

Keep your torso as tall as possible during this Hatha yoga pose.

Move 10: Crow

(Kakasana)

(Kakasana)
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Skill Level Intermediate
  1. Get on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Focus your eyes on the floor just front of your hands.
  3. Raise one knee and place it on that side's arm.
  4. Keeping your weight balanced in your arms, raise your other knee and place it on that side's arm.
  5. Point your toes and keep your eyes fixed on the floor for balance.
  6. Hold, then reach your feet to the floor to return to the starting position.

Tip

This is a challenging pose, McPhillips says. Practice your balance by raising just one leg and holding that position. When you feel comfortable, you can try raising both legs.

Move 11: Standing Forward Bend

(Pada Hasthasana)

(Pada Hasthasana)
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Skill Level All Levels
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides.
  2. With a small bend in your knees, fold your torso forward over your legs. Let your arms hang toward the floor.
  3. If comfortable, slowly straighten your legs.
  4. Hold, then slowly raise your lower back, then shoulders and then head to return to the starting position.

Move 12: Triangle

(Trikonasana)

(Trikonasana)
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Skill Level All Levels
  1. Stand with your feet just farther than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Extend your arms straight out to your sides in line with your shoulders.
  3. Pivot your right foot to face the right
  4. Bend your torso to the right and place your right hand on your shin, ankle or the floor.
  5. Raise your left arm up toward the ceiling as far as comfortable. Look up at your hand.
  6. Hold, then lower your arm and slowly raise your torso to return to the starting position.
  7. Switch sides.

Tip

If looking up is uncomfortable on your neck, look straight in front of you.

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