Must-Know Yoga Poses for Beginners

As a beginning yoga student, you might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of poses and their odd-sounding names. Relax—your yoga practice is a lifelong pursuit, giving you plenty of time to learn scores of postures.

As you progress, you can take on more challenging poses but it's a good idea to keep things simple when you're just starting out. The basic poses outlined here are valuable enough to keep you occupied for a long time.

7:00

Watch Now: 10 Poses to Know for Your First Yoga Class

Types of Poses

  • Standing Poses: Standing poses are usually the most strenuous for beginners. They are often done first in a yoga class to "build heat" and get you warmed up. In vinyasa/flow style yoga, standing poses are strung together to form long sequences. In hatha classes, the standing poses may be worked on individually with rest between each pose.
  • Balancing Poses: Beginners' balances are an important way to build the core strength necessary for many of yoga's more advanced postures. Though balances may seem difficult at first, you will find that you can improve markedly with regular practice.
  • Backbends: Backbends are sometimes uncomfortable for beginners, so instructors typically start with gentle flexion and extension of the spine as an introduction. Since you rarely move like this in daily life, backbends are essential for spinal health and longevity.
  • Seated Poses: Seated stretches, which often focus on stretching the hips and hamstrings are usually done toward the end of a yoga class after the body is warm. Placing a folded blanket or a block under your butt is a good way to make yourself more comfortable in these postures.
  • Resting or Supine Poses: It's important to get to know your resting poses, especially child's pose, which you are encouraged to do whenever you need a break during a yoga session. These resting poses continue the hip and hamstring work of the seated poses, as well as providing gentle back bending, twisting, and inversion.
1

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukah Svanasana)

woman doing downward dog pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Melissa Castro Schmidt

Pose type: Standing

The name downward facing dog goes hand in hand with yoga, but just because you've heard of this pose doesn't mean it's easy to do.

Beginners often lean too far forward in this posture, making it more like a plank. Instead, remember to keep your weight mostly in your legs and reach your hips high, with your heels stretching toward the floor. Bend your knees a little to facilitate the move if you have tight hamstrings.

2

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

woman doing mountain pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

Mountain pose may not be as famous as downward facing dog, but it is every bit as important. This is a good time to talk about alignment, which is the way that your body parts are ideally arranged in each pose. The alignment in mountain pose draws a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels, with the shoulders and pelvis stacked along the line.

A good yoga teacher will talk you through this in class, reminding you to slide your shoulders down your back and keep weight on your heels.

3

Warrior I (Virbhadrasana I)

Warrior One

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

The important thing to remember in Warrior I is that the hips face forward. Think of your hip points as headlights—they should be roughly parallel with the front of your mat. This may require you to take a wider stance.

4

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

Warrior 2

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

Unlike Warrior I, in Warrior II the hips face the side of the mat. When moving from Warrior I to Warrior II, the hips and shoulders both open to the side. You'll also rotate your back foot, so your toes are angled out at about 45-degrees. In both warrior poses, bend your front knee and sink low to get your front thigh parallel to the floor.

5

Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parvakonasana)

Extended side angle

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

The accepted modification of extended side angle pose is to bring your forearm to your thigh instead of placing your hand on the floor. This enables you to keep your shoulders open.

If you reach toward the floor before you're ready, you may compromise the position of the torso, turning your chest toward the floor instead of toward the ceiling.

6

Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)

Triangle pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

The triangle may cause the same issues as extended side angle, so use a yoga block for your bottom hand if you aren't comfortable reaching your arm all the way to the floor. You can also rest your hand higher up on your leg—on your shin or your thigh—but avoid putting it directly on your knee.

Don't hesitate to "microbend" both knees if the pose feels uncomfortable. This won't look or feel like a pronounced bend, but rather, just enough of a movement to "unlock" your knees and ease tension in your hamstrings.

7

Cat-Cow Stretch (Chakravakasana)

woman doing cat cow stretch yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Emily O'Connell

Pose type: Backbend

It's the best of both worlds: spinal extension followed by spinal flexion. Moving back and forth ​awakens and warms the back, improves body awareness, and is a basic introduction to how to do a vinyasa sequence by coordinating your movements to your breath.

Cat-cow may be the most important pose you learn when starting yoga, especially if you have back pain. Even if you never make it to more than a few yoga classes, continue doing this stretch on your own for your spinal health.

8

Staff Pose (Dandasana)

woman doing staff pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Seated

Staff pose is the seated equivalent of mountain pose (above), in that it offers alignment guidelines for a host of other seated poses.

You can (and should) sit on a folded blanket or two if you have trouble sitting up straight with your butt flat on the floor. In a typical yoga practice, this pose leads into a forward bend.

9

Cobbler's Pose (Baddha Konasana)

woman doing cobbler's pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Seated

Let gravity work on stretching your inner thighs in cobbler's pose. If you find this position difficult, props can make a big difference. Sitting on something like a block or blanket raises your hips so your knees can open more naturally. If your knees are really high, it takes a lot of effort to hold them up, and your legs need to be relaxed to enjoy the benefits of the stretch. The solution is to place a block (or something else supportive) under each knee to give them something to rest upon.

Since it's ​unusual to sit this way in everyday life, this pose stretches neglected areas of the body, particularly the adductor groups of the groin.

10

Child's Pose (Balasana)

Child's pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Resting

Child's pose is really important because it's the position you assume whenever you need a break during a yoga class. If you ever feel light-headed or overly fatigued, you don't have to wait for the teacher to call for a break. Just move into child's pose and rejoin the class when you're ready.

Taking child's pose is really up to your discretion, which happens to introduce one of yoga's best lessons: being attuned to the signals your body is giving and respecting them above any external directions.

11

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

bridge

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Backbend

Bridge pose is a gentle way to start exploring spine extension, also known as a backbend. It's a good idea to start incorporating this type of movement because it improves the mobility of your spine and counters the effects of too much sitting. If bridge seems too intense, try a ​supported bridge with a block.

12

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

cobra

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Backbend

Cobra is done multiple times per class in flow yoga as part of the vinyasa sequence of poses. While a full cobra with straight arms offers a deeper backbend, you'll build more back strength by doing low cobras in which you lift your chest without pressing into your hands. It's also key to anchor your pelvis to the floor before you lift up. 

13

Corpse Pose (Savasana)

woman doing corpse pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Ana Alarcon

Pose type: Resting/Supine

Every yoga session ends lying flat on your back in corpse pose. It's an important transition between the end of your yoga practice and the rest of your day. Bringing the body to stillness challenges the mind to maintain its calm. It's difficult at first but gets easier with practice.

14

Downward Facing Dog Split

down dog split

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing/Balancing

The introduction of appropriate balancing postures helps build core strength. In downdog split, it's not about how high you can lift your leg. Instead, focus on making sure that the position of your hips doesn't change even when you pick one foot up off the floor.

15

Easy Pose (Sukhasana)

easy pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Seated

The fear of sitting cross-legged keeps quite a few people from trying yoga. But it doesn't have to be a scary position. The judicious use of props can transform an uncomfortable position into one of ease so you can begin to reverse the effects to too much chair sitting. For solutions, learn how to get comfortable sitting cross-legged.

16

Garland Pose (Malasana)

garland

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

Squatting isn't something familiar to most 21st century humans. However, it's an excellent stretch for the muscles around the pelvis, making it what is often called a "hip opener" in yoga. Perhaps surprisingly, it's also good for your feet, which are often neglected. If squatting is very difficult for you, props can help.

17

Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)

forward bend

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

This flat back forward bend is most often done as part of the sun salutation sequence. As such, it's often rushed, but it's worth it to take the time to work on it independently. Figuring out when your back is actually flat is part of developing body awareness.

At first, it's helpful to glance in the mirror. You may find you need to let your hands come off the ground and onto your legs as high as is necessary to keep the back really flat.

18

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose - Ardha Matsyendrasana

woman doing half lord of the fishes pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Seated

Twists are an essential part of yoga. They help improve spinal mobility and can even get things moving along your digestive tract (yes, twists can help with constipation). It's fine to extend your bottom leg in this pose if it's uncomfortable to have it bent behind you.

19

Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)

woman doing happy baby pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Supine

Happy baby is a wonderful way to finish a yoga session. It's also a good example of the important interplay between effort and ease in yoga. You want to exert a little pressure on your feet to draw them toward your armpits, but not so much that your tailbone lifts off the floor. You don't want to go to extremes but rather to find the middle ground.

20

Head to Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)

woman doing head to knee pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Seated

Forward bends are hard for anyone with tight hamstrings (i.e., a lot of people) but avoiding them doesn't make them any easier. Janu ​sirsasana is more accessible because you're stretching one leg at a time.​​​​​​​​​​​​​

21

Knees, Chest, and Chin (Ashtanga Namaskara)

woman doing knees, chest, and chin pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Backbend

This was once the posture taught to all beginning yoga students as an alternative to and preparation for chaturanga dandasana. In recent years, it's fallen out of favor. As a result, some students are rushed into chaturanga before they are ready. It really belongs in the sun salutation series for beginners. Plus it's also a great warmup for deeper backbends.

22

Low Lunge Position

lunge

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

The alignment of your lunge is super important. Try to make a right angle with your front leg so that your knee is directly over your ankle and your thigh is parallel to the floor. At the same time, keep your hips level and energize your back leg. A lot of people don't go deep enough into the front leg and then sag in the back leg. Glance in the mirror to make sure you're getting it right.

23

Plank Pose

woman doing plank pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Balancing

It might seem strange to call plank at balancing pose since the danger of falling over is pretty minimal, but it gets to the heart of what this pose is about—core strength. A strong core is essential for so many yoga poses, including standing balances, arm balances, and plank is an excellent way to on work your stability and stamina.

24

Pyramid Pose (Parsvottonasana)

pyramid pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

Standing forward bends like pyramid is a good time to break out your yoga blocks to make the pose more accessible. Place a block on either side of your front foot to "raise the floor" to a level where your hands can comfortably reach. Your hamstrings will still enjoy a nice stretch and they'll thank you for your consideration.

25

Raised Hands Pose (Urdhva Hastasana)

raised arm pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing

Built upon the foundation of mountain pose, urdhva hastasana requires you to continue to root into the ground with your legs while reaching for the sky with your arms. The result is a full body stretch, a great way to usher in the physical part of your yoga session.

26

Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

woman doing seated forward bend pose

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Seated

There are a lot of hamstring stretches in beginning yoga for good reason. The hamstrings tend to get short and tight in people who sit a lot, which can contribute to low back pain. Stretching them, as you do during the seated forward bend, is both a preventative and a treatment.

27

Seated Wide Angle (Upavishta Konasana)

woman doing seated wide angle straddle yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Seated

Opening your legs wide creates a slightly different stretch from pascimottanasana. Though it may look like the mandate is to bring your chest to the floor, it's really not about that, nor is such a deep stretch realistic for most beginners. Rather, concentrate on keeping your back flat, rotating the pelvis forward instead of crunching forward through your spine, and keeping your feet flexed. If you do all three of these things, it really doesn't matter how far forward you lean.

28

Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

woman doing supine spinal twist

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Supine

A passive twist is a classic way to end a yoga session, although there's no hard rule against doing this pose at the beginning of your practice. The position of the legs is up to you. You can bend them both, you can straighten the top leg and hold onto your foot if you have the flexibility, or you can twist the legs around one another (as in eagle pose) to stretch the outer hips.

29

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

woman doing tree pose yoga

Photo: Ben Goldstein

Pose type: Standing/Balancing

Tree pose is a good introduction to balancing postures. It's pretty low stakes; if you feel yourself beginning to topple, you can just step out of it without much risk of falling. Try not to create a counterbalance by jutting your hip out to the side on your standing leg.

Essential Beginner Yoga Tips
Was this page helpful?