Yoga Pose Basics
You can use yoga poses to learn your body. This is as opposed to just doing yoga poses. Find out how in Using yoga poses to learn your body.
For a slightly philosophical approach to doing yoga poses, daoist Five Element Theory offers some useful tools. In this case the five elements offer a 5 part list of qualities you can check for in your yoga poses.
Look after your hips!
As you get more involved in your yoga practice, one area that you should take care of is your hips.
To take care of your hips learn to feel them and adjust them, particulary while doing standing yoga poses. Here's some suggestions for adjusting your hips and keeping them safe: Basic hip adjustments for standing yoga poses
A related idea is that of grounding. Here's a overview: Grounding your yoga pose. And if you are wondering, grounding and creating stability are almost the same thing. You can read about stability in stability in yoga poses.
Stability and grounding are both important when doing yoga. However, in terms of feeling your body, there is one other thing that you can focus on to make feeling your body easier. It's covered in Improving proprioception and control.
How do you warm up for a yoga practice?
One practice consideration when doing yoga poses is warming up. One way is with sun salutations. Another idea is discussed in Yoga pose warm ups.
If you are designing your own yoga pose routine, something to be aware of is how to balance actions. For more details check out counterposes.
How should you sequence yoga poses?
For suggestions for sequencing yoga poses take a look at sequencing yoga poses and sequencing yoga poses 2.
And for a simple overview of different types of poses that you can include in a yoga practice check out hatha yoga poses.
How do you modify yoga poses?
Another important idea is learning how to modify yoga poses. That can be as simple as using a wall, yoga blocks, a chair or yoga strap for support. More detailed suggestions are covered in modifying yoga poses.
Something that you can do in nearly any yoga poses to make it easier to connect to your body is to add bigness. The simple reason is that it creates space in your body and that in turn adds tension to connective tissue which in turn makes it easier to feel your body.
You can read more about adding bigness in Adding bigness to your yoga poses.
You can read another take on this same idea in Making your Yoga Pose Sensational.
How important is alignment when doing yoga poses?
Some yoga teachers like to focus on alignment. Others like to focus on breathing. Some like to focus on a little bit of both.
I think proper yoga alignment isn't so much about aligning one part of your body with another, though that can be a good starting point. Instead, it is learning to feel when you are aligned. That means tuning in to tension and muscle activation sensation.
Joint Safety: How do I keep my joints safe?
A big concern when doing yoga (or anything for that matter) is keeping your joints safe. Here's a look at how you can keep your SI joints (and knee joints) safe in asymmetrical seated poses like marichyasana. The ideas discussed can be applied to any asymmetrical pose, and you don't even have to be binding. Read more in SI Joint Stability in Marichyasana
How do you keep your hips safe when doing yoga poses, particularly standing poses where they are bearing weight? Activate them! But there are different ways to activate the hips. Hip Joint Stability looks at one useful method for stabilizing the hips.
A key point for any muscular activation technique is not to overdo it. Otherwise you'll only be fixing one problem by creating another.
Yoga for Beginners
If you are just beginning a yoga practice, a good place to start would be with Beginners Yoga Routine.
For a beginners routine that is a little more challenging, take a look at Beginners Yoga.
Standing Yoga Poses tend to be grouped according to whether the reference leg is turned out relative to the pelvis or facing forwards. They could also be grouped according to whether one or both knees is bent or straight. Bent knee poses tend to used to strengthen the thighs. That being said, straight knee standing poses can also be used to strengthen your legs if you make an effort to activate your leg muscles.
Why are standing yoga poses important?
Standing yoga poses can be used to warm up the body. In particular, bent knee standing poses (either one or both knees bent) can be used to warm up the body, particularly if held for long periods of time. These bent knee standing poses can also be used to strengthen the thighs.
Standing poses that are done on one leg can be used to practice balance.
Standing poses that also involve binding can be used to strengthen arms or legs. Where a foot is grabbed by a hand, the muscles of the leg and arm can be used against each other for a strengthening affect. If using leg against leg (as in tree pose or eagle pose) the leg muscles can be strengthened.
For more reasons to do standing yoga poses you can read
8 Reasons to do Standing Yoga Poses.
For an overview of balance the best place to start is with Learning how to balance
You can practice (or improve) balance while standing (or in one case above, while kneeling).
With these 11 Basic Balance Poses , to improve balance you can focus on lifting your forefeet or heels while on both feet. You can also practice balancing on one foot, either with your weight towards your forefoot (easier) or towards your heel (more difficult).
Balancing on one shin, you could make balancing easier by pressing your toes into the floor. However, if you balance on the knee with foot lifted, you can move your arms or lifted leg to help stay balanced.
For a more comprehensive look at balancing yoga poses, take a look at
Yoga poses to improve balance.
In the Spinal Back Bending Yoga Poses shown above, the focus is on bending the spine backwards. These types of poses can also include a backbend for the hips.
How do you keep your spine safe when doing spinal back bending yoga poses?
When doing back bending yoga poses, it is important to actively bend your spine backwards using your spinal erectors.
In either case, using muscle activation not only helps to keep your spine (and hips) safe, it also gives you the ability to feel your spine (and/or your hips). When you can feel your spinal erectors and hip extensors activating, you can use the sensitivity and control that the provide to adjust your back bending yoga poses.
Note that with some of the back bending poses shown above, the arms help to support the body. For these poses in particular it's very easy to relax your spinal erectors and allow gravity to help you to bend your spine backwards. And so for arm supported poses in particular (but also bow pose, where you are grabbing your ankles, and also puppy dog pose) make sure that you engage or activate your spinal erectors to help keep your spine safe.
How do you keep your hips safe when doing spinal back bending yoga poses?
If a spinal back bending yoga pose also includes a back bend for the hips, then you can help to keep your hips safe by activating your gluteus maximus muscles. Here too, muscle activation helps you to feel your hip joint. With your gluteus maximus (and other hip muscles active) you can adjust the way that you use your hips so that your hip joints feel comfortable.
The above shown Yoga forward bends include various forward bends for the spine and the hips. Some of these, like half bound lotus forward bend, are binding poses. Some, like plough and shoulder stand, are inverted. There's also a mix of standing and seated poses here. But in all of them, there is a forward bending aspect.
Arm supported yoga poses are those where the arms are used to support some portion of the weight of your body. These poses can be used to strengthen the arms and shoulders.
Note that the positions included here include positions with arms in front of the body (Dog, plank, Chaturanga, Bird Dog), behind it (Reverse Plank and Table Top), reaching past the head (Downward Dog and Dolphin) and to the side (Side Plank).
The arm supported poses where one hand is grabbing a foot or big toe could also be considered as binding yoga poses.
How do you prevent wrist pain when doing arm supported yoga poses?
One suggestion for dealing with wrist pain in arm supported yoga poses is to make sure that you are using your shoulders. Generally that means controlling and stabilizing your scapula.
Another simple trick is to focus on spreading and lengthening your fingers. This simple action tends to stiffen the fingers as well as the palm and wrists. The muscle tension thus generated can help support the wrist joint. Note, do this action in combination controlling your shoulder blades.
You can also read some suggestions here in Wrist pain in crow pose.
Kneeling yoga poses are those where one or both shins are on the floor with the knees bent and with some portion of the weight of the body being supported by the shin(s) or knee(s) in question. Kneeling poses also include the "hero" foot position. This is where the foot (and shin) are positioned to the outside of the thigh.
The kneeling or semi-kneeling yoga pose above include twisting yoga poses as well as side bending yoga poses. Forward and backward bends are also included.
Two balancing yoga poses have been included in this section since they are similiar to kneeling poses.
How do you get comfortable kneeling?
A simple way to get comfortable with kneeling is to activate your toes and ankles. Try pressing your toes or tops of your feet into the floor while kneeling.
How do you keep your knees safe in hero pose?
Hero pose (also known as Virasana) is a type of kneeling position where your buttucks sink to the floor between your heels.
In this kneeling yoga pose, you can help keep your knees safe by activating your toes or ankles. You can also help keep them safe by activating your quadriceps and/or hamstrings. You could also experiment with activating your calf muscles.
Belly down or prone yoga poses are those where the body is positioned so that the belly faces downwards. You could be supporting the torso using arms or legs, or the belly can be in direct contact with the floor. Some of the belly down positions can be used as shoulder stretches. In one case, the shoulder stretch starts from a belly down position, but then as you enter the pose, the belly ends up facing the side, or even upwards.
Prone yoga poses (or belly down poses) include some backbending poses as well as poses that could be considered binding poses since hands are used to grab feet or ankles. In general, the prone yoga poses here can be used for stretching and strengthening quads, hip flexors, outer hips, adductors, spinal twists and shoulder stretches. Note that these poses can combine stretching and strengthening when you resist the stretch by activating the muscles you are trying to stretch.
The final poses shown above is a resting pose.
Should you rest in between doing yoga poses?
Resting is generally included at the end of a yoga class. However, it can be a good idea to rest in between poses. This doesn't mean looking at your phone though. It means simply being still whether standing or sitting or as shown above, lying prone on your belly. In this case resting can be a chance to observe the effects of the pose that you've just done. It can also be a chance to think about things you can change if you repeat the pose. Resting between poses can also simply be a chance to realize that the pose actually wasn't that bad.
Arm balances are yoga poses where the weight of the body is supported by the body. They include yoga poses with names like galavasana, eka pada bakasana and astavakrasana.
Handstand is not included in this group of poses because arm balances tend to have one or both legs in contact with the arms. In this regard, because of the inter-body contact, arm balances could be thought of as being similar to binding yoga poses.
One pose that sort of breaks the rules for arm balancing (in that the waist rests on the arms, not the legs) is mayurasana.
Note that arm balances for the most part could also be thought of as belly down yoga poses since the belly does face downwards in most arm balancing yoga poses.
I can't lift my legs when doing arm balances. What should I do?
One of the most common difficulties with arm balances is lifting the legs or legs. In most, if not all, cases, the solution is simple. Shift your weight forwards! So that you don't crash your face into the floor, shift forwards slowly. Notice when your leg is only "lightly touching the floor". That's a signal that your weight is over your hands and that generally means that you should then be able to lift your leg or legs. Or they might just lift automatically.
Supine yoga poses are poses where the belly faces upwards. As you can see above, that includes poses that are supported by the arms and/or legs as well as others. Supine yoga poses can be used to strengthen the abs (by bending upwards) as well as the spinal erectors (by bending the spine backwards).
Note that there are both bound and unbound variations of some poses. With unbound poses you use muscles intrinsic to the joint. When binding, you use muscles that aren't necessarily intrinsic to the joint being worked on.
Is there an advantage to not binding in poses where you can bind?
If you do a non-binding version of a pose you'll be training muscles that otherwise might not be trained if you only focus on the binding version of the same pose.
Binding yoga poses are those where either one hand grabs the some part of the opposite arm, or it grabs a foot or shin.
In binding poses like the marichyasana series you wrap an arm around a bend leg in the process of grabbing the wrist of the opposite hand.
When doing a binding yoga pose, you can use the muscles of the binding limbs against each other. It's worth noting that because of the way that you connect limbs when binding, the muscular strengthening action when binding is different than when doing a similar shaped pose that isn't bound. For this reason it can be worthwhile to practice both binding poses and poses that are similar in shape but non-binding.
Seated yoga poses are those where one or both buttocks are on the ground and supporting body weight. One exception to this general rule is janusirsasana b where you actually place your perineum atop the heel of one foot. Based on this rule of the buttocks being on the floor, some kneeling poses could also be considered as seated poses.
One way to differentiate seated poses from kneeling poses is that in seated yoga poses where one or both knees are bent, the shin is positioned towards the inside of the thigh as in lotus pose and the janusirsasana c yoga pose.
Cross legged poses are also seated poses. One recommendation for cross legged yoga poses is to practice the position with either leg in front.
If you have limited flexibility, or need an easier way to do yoga poses, one special category of yoga poses is yoga poses using a wall.
Twisting Poses involve a twist of the spine. That means turning one vertebrae relative to another. It also means turning the ribcage relative to the pelvis and the head relative to the ribcage.
One thing to consider when doing twists is to anchor the base of your spine. That can mean stabilizing your legs if standing, or stabilizing your hips while sitting. That being said, you could also work at stabilizing your legs (as well as your hips) while doing seated twists.
If you are twisting while supine or prone, generally your turn your pelvis relative to your ribcage. In this case, you could work at stabilizing your upper body. However, to make your lumbar spine more comfortable you might choose to stabilize your hips and lower back, especially if using the weight of your legs to drive the twist.
While you can use your arms to help drive a twist, particularly while seated, I'd suggest learning to activate your spinal muscles and using them to generate a spinal twist. As mentioned, muscle activation tends to give you sensation. If you activate your spinal muscles while twisting, they'll not only help you twist your spine, but then you can use them to help drive the twist.
Inverted yoga poses are yoga poses where you turn your body upside down. This can include standing on your head in some version of headstand, balancing on your hands in handstand, your forearms in forearm stand or even on the back of your head and shoulders in shoulder stand or plough pose.
To get used to giving your body the support it needs you can use a wall to begin with. Once you are used to being upside down in these poses while supported, then work towards balancing in them.
For a basic sequence of yoga poses, check out Basic Yoga Sequence, Basic Yoga Sequence 2, and Basic Yoga Sequence 3.
Ashtanga yoga is made up of different series of yoga poses. For the primary series, Ashtanga yoga has links to descriptions of most of the poses in this series of poses.
Links to poses sorted alphabetically by name are included in the alphabetical yoga poses page.