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Key Poses to Start Your Yoga Practice

If you haven't been to a yoga class yet, that's ok. You probably have many questions about the type of yoga postures you will practice while in a class. To help you get ready for your first yoga lesson, let's take a look at some typical postures to help get you started.

These are some yoga poses you'll perform in a class, but you can also practice them at home so you become a bit more familiar with them. Also, you'll see some of the fundamentals of yoga postures that will be important to know when you go into a yoga class for the first time.

Mountain Pose 

Mountain Pose

This is a standing posture which is often done right at the beginning of most yoga classes. Here is a break-down of the pose along with the alignment and breath cues to gain the most out of performing this fundamental yoga pose.

First, stand nice and tall at the top of your yoga mat. Align your feet so that they are about hip distance apart with your toes pointing directly forward. This creates very good alignment in your legs and hips. Feel a lengthening in your spine as you stand up straight. Look forward with your arms down by your side. Allow your shoulders to roll back so that you have good posture throughout your body.

Breathing is a key element while practicing yoga. While standing in Mountain Pose, simply breathe in deeply; fill up your lungs. Then slowly breathe out. Focusing on your breath helps you to stay focused on the posture, your movement, and generally keeps your mind from wandering.

Standing Forward Fold

Standing Forward Fold

Many people state that they have very tight hamstrings and it is hard for them to bend over and touch their toes. Are you one of those people? This movement from Mountain Pose to Standing Forward Fold will teach you how you can begin the process of loosening up those tight hamstrings.

While standing tall in Mountain Pose, inhale, and extend your arms into the air. When you raise your arms, move with effort. You want to feel like you are reaching up to touch the ceiling. Exhale and draw your navel inward toward your spine. This braces your body before you put your body into motion. Place a slight bend in your knees, extend your arms out to the side, and slowly fold forward. Now, you do not need to touch your toes at the end of the posture. Instead, especially if you're a little tight in your legs, you can partially fold and let your hands rest on your shins or knees. You can also use props to help you into a pose like this. If your hands don't reach the floor, you can place them on a couple of stacked yoga blocks. You can get these wonderfully helpful yoga props from majisports.com. Feel free to hold this posture for up to ten breaths. Holding the posture while continuing to breathe will start the lengthening in your legs to help open them up. (The posture will also help to loosen up your back.)

To stand up safely, shift your weight back toward your heels, bend your knees, drop your hips, look forward, and extend your arms out to the side. This creates length in the spine before fully rising to a standing position; you will use your strong legs rather than potentially straining your back to stand up. Inhale to lengthen your legs and stand up. Finish your inhale by extending your arms into the air. Exhale, and return your arms down to your side.

This flow of the body is a very typical way of moving in a yoga class. The breath, along with well structured alignment, will support your body in motion from pose to pose.

Upward Facing Dog & Downward Facing Dog

Two very common yoga poses are Upward Facing and Downward Facing Dog. The first is a backbend while the other is a forward fold. Both require good awareness and careful movement to be safe and effective when flowing through these postures.

Upward Facing Dog

 Upward Facing Dog

You can start this pose by lying on your stomach with your legs stretched out behind you. Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Your elbows will be bent. To begin the movement into Upward Facing Dog, you may need to slide your hands back a bit so that your bent elbows are aligned over your wrists. This creates a right angle which is essential for proper leverage to move into the posture. Inhale, to lengthen your legs and spine. As you exhale, press your hands into the mat in order to lift your chest and hips off the floor. (It's ok to keep your knees on the ground.) As you rise, you will create a backbend in your body. Keep your focus forward.

Downward Facing DogDownward Facing Dog

While still holding Upward Facing Dog, take another full breath in to fill up your lungs. Then, as you exhale, step onto your tip toes, bend your knees, and push your hands into the mat to lift your hips up into the air toward the wall behind you. You will create an inverted V-shape with your body. (It's alright to maintain a slight bend in your knees in this pose. Your heels don't need to touch the mat. Be sure your arms are straight and strong while your hands push firmly into the earth.) Hold for five breaths.

These are just some poses you will encounter in a basic yoga class. You will see that these postures rely on your breath and the engagement of your whole body. Practicing yoga takes much effort and attention. Whether its moving through a series of poses or holding one or two postures, it requires full awareness and focus. That, essentially, is the intention of any yoga practice: to become more mindful, connected, and deeply aware of yourself.

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