Whether you’ve been attending yoga classes regularly for years or you’re just thinking of stepping into your first class, there are some poses you’re going to encounter over and over. This is true no matter what type of yoga you practice – vinyasa, ashtanga, kundalini, Iyengar, hot yoga or something else. There are some essential yoga poses you just need to know. Here are just a few you’ll see time and time again.
Essential yoga poses
Downward facing dog
In nearly every flow-based yoga class, you’re going to find yourself in downward facing dog multiple times. For this inverted V shape, you want to make sure you’re grounding down through the base of your fingers and pressing strongly through the shoulders. In addition, think about pulling your hips up toward the ceiling and back at the same time. Lastly, drive the heels toward the ground. If your heels don’t quite reach the ground, no worries. The goal of this pose is to lengthen the upper body (shoulders and spine) at the same time as you’re lengthening the lower body (backs of the legs).
Plank is a very common pose – not only in yoga, but in many other fitness classes as well. It’s no wonder, considering it’s a great move to work the abs, shoulders and legs. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most common poses students have trouble with as well.
When you’re in plank, you want your shoulders, hip bones, knees and ankles all in one line. In order to do this, keep the legs straight and squeeze the inner thighs together. At the same time, engage the glutes (that’s the butt) and abs. Proper form in plank means the shoulders are lined up directly on top of the wrists. When form starts to fail, the hands move in front of the shoulders, which puts a lot of strain on the shoulders. To offset this, think about moving your weight forward. Additionally, keep your neck in neutral spine (which generally means looking about 12 inches in front of your hands).
Four-limbed staff (chaturanga dandasana)
Of all the essential yoga poses that people get wrong, it’s chaturanga. Similar to plank, in this pose, you want to keep your shoulders, hip bones, knees and ankles in one line. In order to do this, the shoulders should not ever fall lower than the elbows. In other words: Your upper arms (biceps/triceps) should be parallel with the ground, and your chest should not be touching the floor. If you go too low in chaturanga, you’re risking the health of your shoulders and rotator cuff. (Not good!)
As you lower down, think about keeping your body in that strong plank position. The only difference is that your elbows will begin to bend. When your elbows bend toward 90 degrees, be sure you can feel them right up against your ribcage. You should be able to really feel your elbows brushing against the sides of your body.
Cobra/Upward facing dog
There are multiple variations of cobra, depending on your back flexibility. What you want to continually think about in both cobra and upward facing dog is that the backbend happens in the upper back, not the lower back. If you feel crunching in the lower back, you need to back off. Pull the shoulder blades down the back, and lift your chest forward and up. Gaze forward and slightly upward. Keep your legs straight, with the tops of your feet on the floor.
In cobra, you can keep your arms bent or straighten them out (the straighter the arms, the more intense the stretch). Also, in cobra your knees and thighs will stay on the ground. When you begin to move into upward facing dog, the arms straighten out, and your knees and thighs come off the ground.
Standing up tall may seem simple, but there’s a lot going on in mountain pose. You want to ground down evenly through your feet with your toes facing forward. Try to move your knees so they’re tracking over the second toes. Keep your legs firm and straight without locking out the knees. Additionally, pull your shoulder blades down your back while engaging your abs.
Practice, practice, practice
While these essential yoga poses are all too common in yoga classes, it’s important to continue to work on proper alignment. Sometimes (especially in flow classes), we are so focused on moving from one pose to the next that we to ensure we have good form. But it’s better to have good form over a faster speed. The more you practice, the more the movements will become second nature.
Standing up tall