There are many great reasons to add yoga to your exercise routine. Yoga improves muscle tone, flexibility, and balance, and it helps you relax and reduce stress, thanks in part to its signature pranayama breathing. Research has also shown that yogic practices also reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain; help you sleep better, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.
Ready to give it a try? Here are eight beginner poses, called “asanas”, recommended by yoga instructors.
- Sukhasana or Early Pose
Sit cross-legged on a yoga mat with your hands on your knees, palms up. Keep your spine as straight as you can. Push the bones you’re sitting on down into the floor — your “sit bones” in yoga-speak. Close your eyes and inhale.
“This is a great pose for beginners to use as an assessment,” says Gwen Lawrence, yoga coach for the New York Knicks and other sports teams, athletes, and celebrities. “Just sitting on the floor gives you a perfect way to see and feel the external rotation on the legs.” This pose also boosts back flexibility and can help relieve stress.
- Cat-Cow to Awaken the Spine and Ease Back Pain
Get on your mat on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Distribute your weight equally between your hands and spread your fingers wide. Inhale and round your back, arching it up as you lower your chin to your chest; feel the stretch from your neck to your tailbone, like a cat. As you exhale, lower your back down all the way to a scoop shape as you lift your head, and tilt it back.
“Cat-Cow stretches and awakens the spine, which helps ease back pain,” says Baptiste Yoga teacher Leah Cullis. “It also opens and increases the flexibility of the whole spine, neck, chest, and shoulders. I recommend repeating 5 to 10 times or more.”
- Tree Pose or Vrksasana to Improve Your Balance
Start by standing straight for this pose. Bring your hands together in the prayer position and lift them over your head. Balance on your right leg. Bend your left knee out to the left side and press your left foot to the inner thigh of your right leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
“This pose helps to stretch the body long, from the heels to the tips of your fingers,” says Shea Vaughn, wellness and fitness expert and author of Breakthrough: The 5 Living Principles to Defeat Stress, Look Great, and Find Total Well-Being (and mom of actor Vince Vaughn). It will also help you improve your balance.
- Downward Facing Dog to Enhance Flexibility
In Downward-Facing Dog, your body forms an inverted V-shape. Start by placing both hands on the mat in front of you, palms down; your hands should be slightly in front of your shoulders. Place your knees on the ground directly under your hips. Exhale as you lift your knees off the ground and lift your buttocks and hips toward the ceiling. Push the top of your thighs back and stretch your heels down toward the floor. Keep your head down between your upper arms and in line with them, not hanging down. If you notice your lower back rounding, try bending your knees to help lengthen your back.