Yoga pose categories, and the basics for doing any yoga pose safely and effectively
Published: 2019 12 03
Updated: 2020 05 23
This page is divided into two main sections. For the basics on doing yoga poses, including: why do yoga, learning your body, doing poses safely, creating your own routines, warming up, keeping your joints safe, see the yoga basics section.
For poses divided into different categories such as: back bending, twisting, arm supported, arm balancing etc, see the yoga pose categories section.
For quick links to all pages connected to from this page check out Quick links
Yoga Pose Basics Index
Yoga pose basics | Yoga pose categories
For some simple video routines on youtube to help you connect to your body check out Yoga routine and mini-routine videos. These videos are all presented by me (i.e. I do and teach all of the exercises) and they are all designed to help you better feel and control your body while doing yoga. If you like the way I present these videos, but dislike the ads, then do check out the videos I have available here on the smart yogi store page.
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 more on learning your body while getting into the flow at the same time check out Yoga pose brush strokes.
For some reasons on why you should do yoga (or for some of the benefits) check out Why do yoga?.
Creating stability and grounding
Perhaps one of the most basic actions you can do in any yoga pose is to create stability. A related idea is that of grounding. Here's a overview of grounding: Grounding your yoga pose.
You can read about stability in stability in 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.
When you work at making your body big, expansive, stability can happen as a by-product.
You can read more about adding bigness in Adding bigness to your yoga poses.
While stability and grounding are both important when doing yoga, 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.
You can read another take on this same idea, influenced by lessons from partner dancing, in Making your Yoga Pose Sensational.
And for a look at how tensegrity relates to proprioception, check out Creating tensegrity in yoga poses.
As a side note, tensegrity stands for "tension integration". It refers to any system that is held together by tension elements. A quality of tensegrity systems is that they are instantaneously responsive. That means that they sense forces as soon as they are experienced, the way a guitar string will respond, immediately, when strummed or plucked.
Creating tensegrity in yoga poses is akin to tuning the connective tissue elements of the body so that we can sense the moment there is a change in forces acting on it and so that we can respond the moment that change is detected.
One practice consideration when doing yoga poses is warming up, how do you warm up?
One way to warm up is to begin your yoga pose practice with sun salutations. These are short sequence of breath linked movements that you can repeat three or more times.
I first learned sun salutations while learning ashtanga yoga.
Here's a breakdown of the parts of surya namaskar a: surya namaskar A
An alternative to using sun salutations to warm up
Another way to warm up for a yoga practice is discussed in Yoga pose warm ups.
For suggestions for sequencing yoga poses take a look at sequencing yoga poses and sequencing yoga poses 2.
And for an overview of different types of poses that you can include in a yoga practice check out hatha yoga poses.
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.
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.
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.
How do you prevent injury while doing your yoga practice? There are a few simple reasons that people injure themselves while doing yoga, particularly when just beginning. Those reasons and what you can do to lessen the chance of injury are covered in preventing injury when starting yoga.
Preventing injury can be more difficult in a class setting. And so one of the ways that you can prevent injury is to get a better feel for your body outside of class. The smart yogi proprioceptive elements program includes simple exercises to get a feel for your body that you can practice anywhere. It makes it easy to learn your body by breaking it down into easy-to-learn elements.
Find out more about smart yogi proprioceptive elements.
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.
Yoga Pose Categories Index
Yoga pose basics | yoga pose categories.
For a list of alphabetical yoga poses, visit this page: Alphabetical Yoga Poses
For some random notes on yoga poses check out Yoga notes
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.
For a selection of standing yoga poses for dealing with low back pain check out standing exercises for low back pain.
Standing Side bend
Standing Forward bend
Wide leg forward bend
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.
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).
Balance on forefeet
Balance on heels
Front bend on forefeet
Front bend on heels
Balancing on one heel
Balancing on one forefoot
Front bend on one foot
Half moon hand lift
Bow pose on one foot
Balancing on one knee
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.
For an overview of balance the best place to start is with Learning how to balance
You can practice (or improve) balance while standing and even while kneeling.
In the Spinal Back Bending Yoga Poses shown below, the focus is on bending the spine backwards. These types of poses can also include a backbend for the hips.
Standing back bend
Lunge with back bend 1
Lunge with back bend 2
Lunge with back bend 3
Lune with back bend 4
Camel pose hands lifted
Camel pose, hands on heels
Puppy dog chest stretch
Cobra pose back bend
Upward dog back bend
Upright pigeon back bend 1
Upright pigeon back bend 2
Bridge pose back bend
Wheel pose back bend
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.
This can be more challenging when your hands and/or feet are on the floor. In these cases, the tendency is to use gravity to drive the back bend. The key is to also use your abs so that your spinal erectors have a force against which to activate.
Activating your spinal erectors (and when needed, your abs) not only helps to keep your spine safe, it also gives you the ability to feel your spine. When you can feel your spinal erectors activating, you can use the sensitivity and control that the provide to adjust your back bending yoga poses.
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 Yoga forward bends shown below 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.
Forward neck bend
Pyramid pose with prop
Standing front bend on one leg
Standing knee lift, hip flex
Standing leg lift, hip flex
Standing knee hug
Wide leg front bend
Warrior 3 front bend
Spinal front bend, all fours
Plank w/ Spinal front bend
Front to back splits
Bound angle w/feet forwards
Seated spinal front bend
Dead dog spinal front bend
Seated front bend
Seated wide leg front bend
Half hero front bend
Seated wide leg front bend
Pigeon pose front bend
Seated half bound lotus
Lotus pose knee lift
Hamstring stretches could be considered a sub-set of forward bending yoga poses. These are poses where you bend forwards at the hips with the knees straight in order to stretch the hamstrings. However, they could be considered as a category of poses in their own right.
Because hamstring stretching isn't always easy, hamstring stretching yoga poses includes different suggestions for stretching the hamstrings effectively in the poses shown below.
Note, if you are interested in working towards front to back splits, then check out these hamstring stretches specifically.
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.
Table top yoga pose
Dog pose knee lift
Bird dog bow pose
Side plank holding big toe
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.
Semi-kneeling easy twist
Hurdlers stretch side bend
Semi-kneeling side bend
Half hero front bend
Reclining half hero pose
Seated hero pose
Bent back hero pose
Reclining hero pose
Child's resting pose
Child's pose w/ chin in hands
Balancing on one shin
Balancing on both knees
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 buttocks 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.
A variation of this pose is to knee with one knee. The other can be straight. You can sit upright, bent forwards, or recline. Working towards the reclining version is described here: reclining half hero
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.
Half frog pose
Prone big toe pose
Prone spinal twist
Shoulder stretch and twist
Back of the shoulder stretch
Prone resting pose
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.
Crow pose arm balance
Tittibasana arm balance
Flying splits arm balance prep
Flying splits arm balance
Astavakrasana arm balance
Single leg crow pose 1
Single leg crow pose 2
Flying pigeon arm balance
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.
Bridge prep: lumbar extension
Active hip flexion 1
Half bridge w/ lumbar extension
Active hip flexion 2
Reverse push up
Dead dog reach
Wheel pose push up
Supine side splits
Supine bound angle
Single leg happy baby pose
Reclining big toe pose 1
Reclining big toe pose 2
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.
Easy marichyasana B
Bound side angle pose
Seated half bound lotus
Twisting bound side angle
Compass pose prep
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.
Wide bound angle pose
Wide leg side bend
Wide leg front bend
Janusirsasana side bend 1
Janusirsasana side bend 2
Half hero forward bend
Half hero back bend
Hurdlers stretch 1
Hurdlers stretch 2
Bent back hero pose
Seated front bend
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 leg twist
Cross leg spinal front bend
Cross leg spinal back bend
Cross leg arm reach
Cross leg front bend
Cross leg side bend
Cross leg shoulder stretch
Cross leg prayer twist
Cross leg shoulder lift
Cross leg shoulder depression
Cross legged poses are also seated poses. With legs crossed you can exercise your spine, stretch your shoulders and practice scapular awareness. 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.
Lapasana Shoulder stretch
Side angle prayer twist
Pigeon prayer twist
Easy marichyasana open twist
Marichyasana A open twist
Marichyasana C closed twist
Marichyasana E open twist
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.
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.
I first learned a bit about the bandhas when practicing Ashtanga yoga.
One way to look at the three bandhas is as philosophical constructs. Mula bandha or the root bandha corresponds to the idea of foundation. Uddayana bandha, flying up, corresponds to the idea of creating space, even that of expressing whatever it is that you are doing. Meanwhile, jalandhara bandha is a way of tying the previous two together. You could think of it as the bandha that unifies. (I talk about similiar ideas in my ebook Know to flow which is also linked to at the bottom of this page!)
In more physical terms, mula bandha can correspond to engaging the pelvic floor muscles, and that's how I talk about it in Mula bandha.
Meanwhile, uddiyana bandha can correspond to the activation of the transverse abdominis (at least that's one way of looking at it). Read more in Uddiyana bandha.
You can also read an overview of the three bandhas in Bandhas
Links to poses sorted alphabetically by name are included in the alphabetical yoga poses page.
Below are links to all pages indexed from this page.
Driving Lessons for Your Body
For more on learning to feel your body and control it, Driving Lessons for your Body is a series of online video courses with exercises for improving body awareness (proprioception and kinaesthetic awareness) and muscle control.
Improve spinal posture, breath control, ribcage control, core control and spinal erectors.
Find out more...
Simple hip flexor activation drills so you can stretch them, feel them, use them.
Find out more...
Hamstring anchoring and activation for easier hamstring stretching and strengthening.
Find out more...
Feel and control quads, inner/outer thighs, knees and hips, fine tuning adjustments.
Find out more...
Long thigh muscle control, Shin and knee rotation, hip bone stabilization and control
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Integrated leg, hip joint, hip bone, SI joint, spine, spinal erector and ribcage control.
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Simple gluteus maximus activation, deep hip muscle control, front and side splits.
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Basic shoulder control, pressurized shoulder activation, hand pressure awareness.
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