Beginner Yoga Poses
A Starting Point for Learning Yoga Poses and Learning Feel and Control Your Body

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If you are new to yoga, and are limited in flexibility or body awareness, these standing beginner yoga poses can be a good place to start.

Basic Guidelines

Three simple ideas that you can focus on when doing beginning yoga poses is:

  • have a clear reference point
  • create stability
  • create length

Use Clear References

Clear reference points makes it easier to move into most standing yoga poses in a step-by-step (or connect-the-dots) fashion. Take one step and then from there move to the next step.

In all standing poses at least one foot is on the floor and in most cases it is easy to choose one foot as the first reference point for all movements or adjustments within a yoga pose.

Using the right foot as a reference as a start you can adjust the position of the knee relative to the foot. Then adjust the right hip relative to the knee. You could then adjust the left hip relative to the right hip and so on. Then you can adjust position of your ribcage relative to your pelvis, and the position of your head relative to your ribcage and so on through the arms.

Stability and Length

Apart from fine tuning the shape of the yoga pose itself, two basic actions that you can focus on are creating stability and length.

The part that you stabilize in standing beginner yoa poses is the legs.

The part that you can lengthen is the spine and arms.

(Though this can vary.)

Creating Stability

Stability is created by using muscles against each other to make joints they work on stable.

  • As an example, whenever someone tenses a biceps to show of, they are actually tensing their triceps as well. These two work against each other so that that elbow is stabilized, and so that incidentally the biceps bulges.

You can also use muscles against the force of gravity.

  • As an example, if you bend your knees and hold your legs in that position while squatting, your quadriceps (and butt muscles) work against gravity to hold your legs stable.

Creating Space

To create length (or space) focus on drawing adjacent bones away from each other. To create length in the spine, you can draw the side ribs away from the pelvis. This lengthens the waist. You can also create space between the ribs to help open the ribcage and perhaps lengthen the thoracic spine. Then draw the head away from the ribcage or focus on pulling your ears away from your shoulders to lengthen your neck. As a start to lengthening your arms, move your shoulders in the direction that your arms are reaching.

To improve awareness and responsiveness focus on activating and relaxing muscles smoothly and slowly.

Lateral and Longitudinal Standing Beginner Yoga Poses

Standing yoga poses can be divided into two groups, lateral poses and longitudinal poses. In most lateral poses the legs and pelvis are in one flat plane with one foot turned out 90 degrees. The knee of the "reference" foot points to the side. Standing side bend is an exception since the feet are parallel and both knees point forwards.

In longitudinal poses the knee of the reference foot (or in some cases, both knees) point to the front.

Lateral poses can, in general, be used to work on the side of the body and the inner and outer aspects of both legs (the adductors and abductors). Standing side bend also works on the side of the body and so that is why I've included it in this group.

Lateral standing yoga poses include

  • standing side bend,
  • half moon pose.
  • side angle and
  • triangle pose,

Longitudinal standing yoga poses tend to work on the front and back of the body and legs. Longitudinal standing poses include

  • chair pose,
  • wide legged forward bend,
  • triangle forward bend,
  • twisting triangle,
  • warrior 1,
  • warrior 3 and
  • standing forward bend.

You can do the following poses in the order given as a "beginners yoga workout" or you can use it as a reference for the poses given.

Side Bend Standing Yoga Pose

Standing side bend (Sanskrit: Chandrasana) can be used to stretch the side of your hips, the side of your waist, the side of your ribcage (yes, the ribcage can bend sideways) and the shoulders.

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Stand with your feet parallel, hip width or shoulder width apart and with knees straight.

Parallel feet can mean standing with the inside edges of your feet parallel, or the outside edges, or somewhere in between

I tend to look at the front portion of my insteps, from a bone that sticks out just below the medial malleosus (the inner "ankle bone") to the base of the big toe. For myself this is what I look at when making my feet parallel.

  1. To stretch the right side of your hips and legs use your legs to push your pelvis to the right.
  2. Then bend your waist and ribcage to the left so that you are also stretching the right side of your waist and the right side of your ribcage.
  3. Reach your left arm to the left.
  4. Then reach your right arm up and over to the left. If you have trouble straightening the right elbow the lift the hand higher.

Using both feet as your reference, your pelvis pushes to the right. Then your ribs, head and arms reach away from your pelvis to the left. Your body as a whole bends to the left stretching the right side of your body.

You might ask, what about the neck? I prefer to keep both sides of the neck equally long in this pose.

  • As your foundation, think of making your legs strong in this pose. Use them to push your pelvis to one side.
  • Then think of making your upper body long. Reach your ribs away from your pelvis, towards the left. Draw your ears away from your ribcage. Then reach your arms away from your ribcage also.

Because this pose is quite intense, you can do it once to get used to it, then rest then do it again after a brief rest. You may find that after a rest the pose isn't quite so difficult.

Half Moon Yoga Pose

Half Moon standing Yoga Pose (Sanskrit: Ardha Chandrasana) is actually a balancing-on-one-foot yoga pose. I've included it here because yoga poses where you balance on one foot are a good way to develop foot and ankle stability. Ideally you use that same stability (and foot awareness) in the standing yoga poses that follow.

In this pose one hand is on the floor making balancing on one foot slightly easier (if you can reach a hand to the floor in the first place.)

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In Half Moon Pose, the standing foot is turned out 90 degrees.

  1. Using the right foot as the reference, turn it out 90 degrees and then shift all of your weight onto your right foot.
  2. You can then lift your left leg. To lift your left leg higher tilt your pelvis to the right.
  3. As your left leg moves up reach your right hand down. You may have to bend your right knee so that your hand can reach the floor.
  4. Rather than reaching your hand far to the right, reach your right hand straight down so that it touches the floor vertically, directly below your shoulder. Position the hand along the same line that your right foot is on, about a foot away from your toes.
  5. You can spread your fingers and just touch finger tips to the floor, or touch the palm down also.

Starting with your foundation, make sure that your foot and ankle are strong. You may find that you can rotate your shin inwards slightly so that that the big toe side of your forefoot presses into the floor. But make sure that the pinky side of your fore foot also presses down.

Since your hand is a part of your foundation see if you can make your fingers strong. It may make balancing easier.

Focusing on the right hip, use the outside of your right hip (the side buttocks or side glutes) to try to roll the left side of your pelvis back. And then use the muscles on the outside of your left hip to lift your left leg higher.

To lengthen in this balancing yoga pose, make your left leg feel long. Make sure the knee is straight. Reach your ribs away from your pelvis and your head away from your ribcage (make both sides of your neck feel long.)

Reach your left arm straight up.

While holding the pose, look straight down, or experiment with looking straight ahead or up towards your hand.

You may find that while holding the pose you shift some of your weight onto your hand. To stand up make sure you shift your weight entirely onto your foot to make standing easier.

Side Angle Pose

In the ashtanga yoga set of standing yoga poses, side angle yoga pose (Sanskrit: Utthitta Parsvokonasana) is done after triangle pose.

However, so that you have one "straight leg" pose before chair pose, I've switched the order to give your legs a rest. So we'll do side angle pose before triangle pose.

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For both Side Angle Pose and Triangle Pose you can line up the heel of the back foot with the heel of the front foot. Or line up the instep of the back foot with the heel of the front foot. Or find a "relative position for the feet which feels comfortable but with the front foot turned out 90 degrees and the back foot turned in.

  1. Step your feet about a leg length apart. (We'll adjust foot distance later.)
  2. Turn the right foot out 90 degrees and then turn the left foot slightly in.
  3. Drop the right hip so that the body leans to the right. Rather than doing this quickly, lower the right hip slowly and focus on feeling your pelvis as you tilt it to the side.
  4. Bend your right knee while keeping the sideways tilt of your pelvis. Bend the knee so that your right shin is just past vertical when viewed from the side. (The front of the knee is just in front of the front of the ankle.)
  5. Then move your left foot closer or further away from your right foot so that your thigh is level. (But while keeping the tilt in your pelvis.)

If you can't get your thigh level, do the best that you can. Work towards it.

  1. Rest your right forearm on your thigh.
  2. Reach your left arm up and over your head so that your left arm and left leg form one straight line.

The legs are the foundation in this standing yoga pose so make them strong. But also since your right arm is resting on your leg, your arm is also part of the foundation. Use your shoulder to push your forearm down so that you push your ribcage up, away from your leg.

For length you can focus on drawing your ribs and left arm away from your pelvis, or you can focus on making the entire left side of your body (left arm, left leg, and the spine) long.

Rather than suddenly reaching, focus on gradually lengthening.

  • First focus on your left leg. Make sure the knee is straight.
  • Then focus on lengthening the left side of your waist and ribcage.
  • Then focus on your shoulder, reach it away from your ribcage.
  • Then focus on your arm. Make sure the elbow is straight.
  • You can even focus on your fingers. Make then feel straight and long also.

Work through each point one at a time like a pilot running through a take-off check list.

Triangle Yoga Pose

In triangle yoga pose (Sanskrit: Utthitta Trikonasana) both knees stay straight. In this standing yoga pose the feet are slightly closer together than in side angle.

  1. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees.
  2. Turn the other foot inwards just a few degrees. Use the same foot alignment as used for side angle pose.
  3. As in side angle pose, tilt your pelvis to the right so that the right hip drops.
  4. Rest a hand on your thigh or shin or on the floor if you can reach.
  5. Reach the other hand straight up.
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With your hand on your leg you can use your hand as part of your stabilizing foundation. However, since your arm is on your leg, your leg should be strong also.

Try pressing the front of each foot and the heel of each foot with equal pressure. Then make your knees feel strong. Then make your hips feel strong. Then as with standing side bend, reach your ribs (both sides) away from your pelvis and your head away from your ribcage (pull your ears away from your shoulders.)

Reach your top arm straight up and pull the arm away from your ribcage. You could also reach your bottom arm down your leg so that it feels long also, but while supporting some of your body weight at the same time.

To test the foundation of your legs, try relaxing your bottom arm (slowly) and then lift it off of your leg.

As with standing side bend, you can do this pose twice, using the second time to get deeper.

Note when standing up, see if you can stand up slowly. Notice the strength required, especially if you keep your legs straight.

Prior to standing you might find it helps to focus on making your legs stronger. At the same time see if you can keep your spine long also.

Chair Pose

Chair pose (Sanskrit: Utkatasana) is one of my favorites standing yoga poses. It's also the first of the longitudinal yoga poses in this set of beginners standing yoga poses.

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Chair pose is normally taught with feet together, but I like to teach it and do it with feet hip width and parallel.

(You could use the feet hip width option as a warm up, then do chair pose a second time with feet together.)

With feet set up, reach your hips back and bend your knees as if sitting in a chair.

To stay balanced lean your upper body forwards.

See if you can sink your pelvis so that your thighs are level but reach it far enough back that the front of your knees stay behind the fronts of your feet.

(If you know how to activate your feet, ankles and/or hips then you may find that your knees can comfortably go further forwards.)

Try to make your feet strong and press down via the outer and inner portion of the front of your feet. With ankles and knees strong try squeezing your buttocks. Activate them to make the pose slightly easier (or at the very least harder in a different way.)

For length, reach your ribs away from your pelvis and make both sides of your neck feel long. Reach your arms forwards and hold there or reach them forwards first and then up, in line with your spine.

For extra points gradually touch your palms together.

If you want to work on squatting, you could sink your hips down to rest before your second chair pose, and then lift them to do your second chair pose, or you could rest between sets by standing up.

Often times after chair pose I like to do a standing forward fold. However since this set is for beginners, you can do a wide leg standing forward fold. This is generally easier than bending forwards with feet hip width or together and so in this case we can use it as a preparation for the final standing forward bend.

Standing Wide Leg Forward Fold

In the standing yoga pose Wide Leg Forward Bend (Sanskrit: prasaritta padottanasana) there are a number of options for the hands, particularly if you are doing the standing yoga poses from the ashtanga yoga series. In that series you start first with hands on the floor with forearms vertical (as if about to do a tripod headstand). Then you have your hands on your waist. Then hands clasped behind the back and finally first two fingers and thumb grabbing the big toes.

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I'll focus on the first option, since you can modify easily by resting your hands on your legs if you can't reach the floor.

Step your legs wide apart, about the same distance as triangle pose above.

Keep the feet parallel with toes pointing straight ahead. Try pressing back with your inner thighs to help keep your feet parallel

You may find that activating the buttocks is helpful when bending forwards, particularly if your lower back is sore, but also if you have tight hamstrings.

Try activating them for a few breaths and then release them. And then repeat.

If you need to, rest your hands on your legs. Otherwise place them on the floor, shoulder width apart.

Start with elbows straight.

Check that your feet and ankles are active. Then feel your knees and then your hips.

Reach your ribs forwards, away from your pelvis. Draw your ears away from your shoulders. And with hands on the floor use your shoulders to push your ribcage upwards, away from the floor so that your arms feel long.

Keep the length in your spine and slowly bend your elbows. Walk your hands back so that your forearms stay vertical and point your elbows backwards.

You could try using your hands to pull your ribcage towards your thighs. Resist with your legs at the same time.

Some people get dizzy standing up from this pose. You may find it helps if you stand up slowly or if you bend your knees while standing.

With your feet the same distance apart, turn to the right. (Or if you are starting with feet together, step your left foot back and turn it out slightly) for the next pose.

Triangle Forward Bend

In the standing yoga poses Triangle Forward Bend (Sanskrit: parsvottanasana) start with right foot forward and your left foot back. Point your right foot straight ahead. Turn your left foot out but keep the foot on the floor.

For Triangle Forward Bend, Twisting Triangle and Warrior 1 Yoga poses you could position your left heel or instep in line with your right heel. I usually recommend beginners stand with their heels hip width to make balancing easier.

With your pelvis facing the front (same direction as your right foot) tilt your pelvis forwards. Rest your hands on your front leg or on the floor either side of your foot.

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Start with your front leg. Press the front of the foot and heel down with equal pressure. Right knee straight. Adjust your pelvis so that it is level and square to the front. Feel your back knee and back foot. Back heel is on the floor.

From there reach your ribs away from your pelvis and reach your head away from your ribcage.

With legs strong, see if you can lift your arms and reach them straight back while inhaling. Rest them on the floor while exhaling.

You can rest by standing or move straight into the next pose, triangle twist.

Twisting Triagle Standing Yoga Pose

For the standing yoga pose Twisting Triangle (Sanskrit: Parivrtta Trikonasana) start in triangle forward bend (the previous pose.)

Keep your left hand on the floor or on your leg. Reach your right hand to the right and then turn your ribcage to the right. Pull your right ribs up, towards the ceiling and your left ribs down, towards the floor.

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Starting with your right foot, scan your body as follows:

  • Right foot presses the floor. Right hip presses back. Right ribs move forwards and up so that waist is long. Right arm reaches up.
  • Left leg presses into the floor. Left hip presses forwards slightly. Left ribs move forwards and down so that waist is long. Reach left arm down.
  • Make both sides of neck long.

Stand up and repeat triangle forward bend and twisting triangle with the other foot forwards.

Warrior 1 Standing Yoga Pose

Warrior 1 (Sanskrit: Virabhadrasana) is another bent knee standing yoga pose.

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  1. Stand with your right leg forwards and your left leg back with both knees straight.
  2. Position your feet slightly further apart (from front to back) than triangle pose but perhaps not quite as wide apart as side angle pose.
  3. Right foot faces straight ahead. Left foot is turned out slightly. (Alignment suggestions for the feet are the same as for triangle forward bend. Have the heels hip width from side to side for easier balance.)
  4. Turn your pelvis square to the front and make it level from left to right. Smoothly bend your right knee so that the shin tips just past vertical (so that the front of the knee just passes the front of the ankle.)

Try to align your right hip directly behind your right knee. Then pull the left hip forwards (or back) so that the pelvis is square to the front and level. You may have to adjust the position of your back foot to accommodate this.

Feel your front foot, your front knee, then check your pelvis is square and level. Feel your back foot and back knee. Make sure the back knee is straight.

Then reach your ribs up. Then reach your arms and shoulders up. Make both your spine and your arms feel long.

If you do this pose twice then for the second time, try to step your back foot back far enough that your right thigh is level. And then work at bringing your hands together over your head while keeping your elbows straight. Keep your arms reaching upwards as you do so.

Warrior 3

The penultimate standing yoga pose for beginners is warrior 3. Like half moon it is a balancing pose. However it is a bit trickier since only one foot is on the floor, the hands are lifted.

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  1. Stand with your weight on both feet and bend your spine backwards.
  2. Tilt your pelvis forwards while keeping the back bend in your spine.
  3. Then shift your weight onto your right foot and reach your left foot straight back. To make the pose easier reach the foot down and back and your spine forwards and up so that your body are at an upwards slanting angle (head higher than the foot).

Try to keep your pelvis level left to right. Point your lifted knee straight down. Reach your ribs and ears forwards. Reach your arms straight back.

Repeat the pose but for the second time tilt your pelvis forwards so that your leg and spine are horizontal. (But try to keep the back bend in the spine). For an extra challenge reach your arms forwards one arm at a time. Then try to touch your palms together.

When scanning, feel your standing foot, knee and hip. These are what you stabilize. Start with the standing knee slightly bent. You can straighten it as you get more comfortable with this standing yoga pose.

To lengthen, make your left leg feel long. Reach your ribs away from your pelvis. Look down and reach your ears away from your shoulders. Whether reaching arms back or forwards, make your arms feel long also. Elbows straight.

After doing both sides, you can bend forwards with feet about hip width apart and rest in a standing forward bend.

Relaxed Standing Forward Bend

This final standing yoga pose in this set can be used as a resting and recovery position or as a stretch for the hamstrings or as both. Since you've possibly been working hard, I'd recommend using it at this stage to rest.

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Stand with feet hip width apart and bend forwards. You can again rest hands on your legs or touch them to the floor. If your hamstrings are tight or if you find that your lower back is sore, work at engaging your butt muscles to see if that helps to alleviate low back ache and/or make it easier to bend forwards.

See if you can relax the back of your spine and neck. Allow your ribcage and head to hang. If you like, grab your elbows and allow your arms to "hang" from the shoulders.

Rest and Recover

To recover from the above sequence of standing yoga poses, sit down and then lay on your back. Reach your feet and arms up in the air and lift pelvis and upper back for dead dog reach.

Stay on your back and with feet on the floor and knees bent, push your pelvis off of the floor for bridge pose. (Press your feet into the floor to lift your hips and press your elbows down to open your chest).

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Afterwards, rest with your legs up and pelvis on the floor. You can place your hands on your heart (instead of reaching them up.)

Then rest with hands on heart, knees bent and feet on the floor.

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