Yoga poses can look like almost anything. That’s why there is such a range of posture names, with different poses being named after trees, animals, famous practitioners, and even mountains! Sometimes it can be hard knowing how to get into postures from the names, or even from seeing their final forms. So here is a step by step guide to setting up your beginner Yoga poses :
Start from the ground.
Whether you’re simply standing in Mountain Pose, or whether you’re balancing only on your hands in Crow, your alignment starts at your connection to the floor. If this foundation isn’t stable, then nothing else can stand on it. If the feet contact the floor, it is almost always best to focus on where you put pressure. If the foot is ‘square on the floor’ such as the front leg in Warrior 1, then the weight should be evenly distributed across the foot. If the foot is angled, such as the back foot in the same pose, it is usually best to press through the heel and outside edge of the foot to ground it. In backward bends, the weight is usually in the heels and for forward bends towards the front of the foot.
In the event it is the hands on the floor, it is generally best to spread the fingers and bear weight into the first two fingers and the center of the palm. Whether the hands or feet are on the floor, it is usually best to distribute the weight evenly where possible.
Set your torso position.
Once the feet are set, the position of the hips and torso is next. Generally speaking, the shoulders and hips should be aligned (except in twisting postures). Make sure either the chest is open (more common) or the back is deliberately rounded (less common), depending on the posture. If the posture is a twist, make sure the rotation is coming from the thoracic spine, not the lumbar, as twisting in the low back is rarely healthy. In general, the lumbar spine should be straight unless in a backward bend.
Where are you looking?
Drishti or focus is an important aspect of many styles. If your eyes are wandering it negatively affects your concentration. In poses where the hands are raised, it is normally best to follow the ‘lead’ hand with the eyes, or to look between the hands. With forward bends one often looks at the feet and with backward bends and twists, it is best to look in the direction you are ‘aiming’ towards. With balances, eyeline is especially important as ‘fixing’ the eyes helps to stabilize the posture. As ever, if your instructor recommends a different drishti for a particular pose, try it, there’s probably a reason!
Set up your ‘loose’ limbs
By ‘loose’ I mean whichever limbs are not anchored to the floor, for example the arms in tree. There are many variations for arm positions, but they should always be conscious and energetic, never listless. If the arms are reaching, it is important that they reach and not just hang in place. If the legs are ‘loose’ as in postures such as Shoulder Stand, this is especially important as they are heavy and can exert a lot of pressure on the spine.
Binds, frills and advanced options
Always enter the standard version of a posture before attempting variations unless otherwise instructed. If you cannot get to the next variation safely and correctly, it is always preferable to go back to the basic version. Better to do the basics well than the advanced options badly! With options such as binds, make sure the binding does not affect the core of the pose negatively, for example the spinal alignment. If it does, save it for another day!
And there it is, your basic Yoga poses for beginners set-up from bottom to top! No matter what pose you are attempting, these guidelines can help you achieve it safely and effectively, whether it is a Downward Dog or a Soaring Crane!
Featured image by Matt Madd