No matter the style of yoga you choose -- hatha, vinyasa, or hot yoga -- nearly all of them include a few key moves. To stay safe, your best bet is to work with a trained instructor who can show you the right way to do each position. If you’ve had neck, back, or joint pain or flexibility problems, talk to your doctor before you start a yoga routine. Most of all, don’t push yourself to do anything that hurts. You can tailor most poses to work for your body.
This move seems simple, but doing it right helps with posture and balance. Stand with your big toes touching, heels slightly apart (or wider if that’s more comfortable), arms by your sides. Imagine lifting through your inner feet and ankles. Pull your shoulder blades down, and widen your collarbones. Keep your head in line with your shoulders (not pulled back or forward), your chin parallel to the floor. Your pelvis and lower back should be neutral, not tucked or arched. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Downward Facing Dog
This pose works the upper body and stretches your arms, chest, legs, and back muscles. Get on all fours, toes turned under, knees below hips, and hands a bit in front of your shoulders. Exhale and start to straighten your legs, letting your heels pop up from the floor. Lift your sitting bones to the sky, and push your heels toward the floor. Lightly press your palms into your mat and slowly straighten your arms as you draw your shoulder blades down. Relax your head, and try to keep it between your upper arms. Hold 1-3 minutes.
From downward facing dog, lower your torso forward with straight arms until they are perpendicular to the floor, your palms right under your shoulders. Widen your collarbones, pull your shoulder blades down, and look straight down at the floor. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute. The plank pose will help you build stronger arms, wrists, and core muscles.
Upward Facing Dog
This is a great pose for your upper body. Lie on your stomach, legs straight and the tops of your feet on the floor. Bend your elbows and place your palms on the floor next to your waist. Press from your hands to lift your torso and the top of your legs off the ground. Pull your belly button in toward your spine to tighten your abs. Pull your shoulder blades down your back, and lift your chest softly toward the ceiling without tensing your neck. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
Warrior poses work lower body muscles and build stamina and balance. From mountain pose, spread your legs out 3-4 feet. Lift your arms overhead, palms facing each other. Slide your shoulder blades down your back. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees, and your left foot 45 degrees to the right. Twist your torso right, aiming your pelvis toward the right foot. Bend your right knee -- it should be over your ankle. Gently arch your upper back, but don’t let your head fall back. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch sides.
Like warrior one, spread your legs out 3-4 feet. Raise your arms out to the sides, palms down. Turn your left foot out 90 degrees and your right foot slightly to the right. Bend your left leg 90 degrees, knee over ankle. Press the outside of your right heel to the floor and stretch your arms away, keeping your torso centered. Turn your head to the left and look past your fingers. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch sides.
This classic pose works your legs and feet as you practice your balance. From mountain pose, reach down and catch your right ankle with your right hand. Pull your foot up and place the sole against your left inner thigh near your groin. (Don’t put your foot directly on your knee.) Keep your hips even. Press your palms together in front of your chest. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then switch sides.
Use this move to strengthen your core and lower body while you stretch your upper body. From mountain pose, raise your arms over your head, palms facing each other (or touching). Bend your knees as much as you can and lean your body slightly forward, keeping your knees and ankles together. Pull your shoulder blades down and hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Then bend your knees and pull your heels toward your groin to press the soles of your feet together. Open your knees out to the sides. Reach both hands forward to hold onto your feet, ankles, or shins. Relax your thighs so your knees drop further toward the floor. Hold for 1-2 minutes. You’ll feel a good stretch in your lower back, inner thighs, and hips.
Reclining Spinal Twist
A twist gently stretches your back, hips, and neck. Lie flat with your arms out to the sides so your body forms a T. Bend your right knee, and lightly set the toes of your right foot on your left knee. Keeping your shoulders flat on the floor, drop the right knee over to the left side of your body, twisting at the low back and waist. Turn your head to the right and look down your arm at your fingers. Hold for up to 10 breaths, then switch sides.
This works your lower back, legs, glutes, and core. Lie on your back, arms at your sides, palms down, knees bent, and your heels pulled up close to your rear. Press your hips up until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and bring your hands together beneath you. Think about pushing your knees forward and pulling your pubic bone toward your bellybutton. Lift your chin slightly, slide your shoulder blades down, and widen your collarbones. Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute, then slowly roll your hips back down to the floor.
This is a resting pose that gently stretches the hips, lower back, and neck. Kneel on the floor with your big toes touching. Sit up on your heels, knees about hip-width apart. Lay your torso down between your thighs, and let your arms lie on the floor at your sides, hands next to hips, palms up. Let the back of your skull pull up and away from your neck, and let the weight of your shoulders pull the shoulder blades wide. Hold from 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
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American Council on Exercise: “Does Yoga Really Do the Body Good?”
Kimberly Fowler, author of Flat Belly Yoga and founder of YAS yoga/Spinning studios
Yoga Alliance. “Types of Yoga.”
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Yoga as a Complementary Health Approach.”