For many of us, joining a yoga class or walking into a yoga studio can be very intimidating. Between the quiet environment, the spiritual music, the essential oils, and the foreign language (that’s Sanskrit, by the way), it’s very easy for newcomers to yoga to be overwhelmed.
Master the following five aspects of yoga and you’ll be more than ready to enter your first beginner’s yoga class!
Breathing may not sound like a yoga move, but it’s much more involved than we think it is. The “everyday” breath we walk around with is something we don’t typically pay attention to. As a result, it tends to be shallow and quick (especially when we are tense, frustrated, stressed, or anxious). Learning how to slow down the breath, take full breaths in and out that completely expand the lungs, and how we can control our breathing is the foundation of yoga. Mastering the breath in yoga can also lead to benefits off of the mat (such as lower stress levels, being less reactive, and improved running performance).
A chaturanga describes the push-up motion from high plank (top of a push-up) to low plank. It is part of a vinyasa, which also includes upward facing dog and downward facing dog. Chaturanga should be performed on the exhale, with hands directly under the shoulders in high plank. As you lower with elbows glued to your ribcage, first shift forward 2-3 inches so that your elbows line up directly over your wrists in low plank. The body from the shoulders to hips to heels should remain in one straight line.
3. Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog is a pose you will encounter in almost every yoga class. It is a great stretch for the hamstrings, calves, and low back as well as a shoulder strengthener. However, there are a few misconceptions about down dog. The main two are that your knees should be straight and your heels should be touching the ground. For many people, this position is not possible. It’s much more beneficial (and is proper alignment) to keep a bend in the knees in order to find length in the low back and the proper amount of stretching through the hamstrings. The heels should disappear from view behind the feet/ankles, but it is okay if they never make it to the ground.
4. Warrior 2
The stance for warrior 2 is very similar to many other yoga poses. If you can master proper alignment in the legs and trunk for this pose, you can maintain proper alignment in a variety of other postures (reverse warrior, side angle, triangle, reverse triangle, etc.) with minimal adjustments needed. In warrior 2, the stance should be long with the front foot facing towards the front of the mat and the back foot at 90 degrees, the outside edge of the back foot parallel with the back of the mat. The front heel should line up with the back arch and you should be pressing down through the entire front foot and through the outside edge of the back foot, maintaining the arch in the back foot. The front knee is in a lunge, the thigh working towards parallel with the ground and the knee stacked directly over the ankle. The back leg is straight and strong. The hips and shoulders are stacked and open towards the side of the mat. Arms are parallel to the ground, in line with the shoulders, pointing towards the front and back of the room. Head is turned towards the front of the mat with the gaze resting lightly over the front middle finger. With proper alignment, warrior 2 is an excellent lower body strengthener.
Savasana literally translates to “corpse pose” and it is exactly what it sounds like. It is typically the last posture of class and involves laying on the back, arms to the side with palms facing up, legs straight, and all muscles relaxed. For being one of the more simple yoga postures to physically achieve, it’s one of the most difficult for people to fully maintain presence. The goal of savasana is to allow the benefits of the full physical practice to seep into the body, to allow the mind to enter a state of meditation, and to allow full relaxation. It is a resting posture and is not one you should discount the benefits of, or worse, skip.