The poses are organized into two basic categories:
- Grounded Postures – In these asanas, the majority of the body is in touch with or “grounded” to the floor. They’re perfect for warming up, cooling down, or gentle floor sequences.
- Standing Postures – In these asanas, relatively little of the body is in touch with the floor, typically only the hands and/or feet. They’re excellent for building strength, toning the body, stimulating the internal organs, and improving balance, coordination, and focus.
For the first five grounded postures (Easy Pose, Child’s Pose, Cat-Cow Sequence, Cobra Pose, and Bound Angle Pose), visit this article.
As a reminder:
- In either category, the poses can be practiced statically, in which they are held for a longer duration of time, or dynamically, in which you flow through the poses with the rhythm of the breath. Additionally, each pose can be practiced alone or linked with others to create a basic flow.
- As you try each pose, remember to practice on both sides to maintain balance in the body. When you switch sides, notice any differences you might feel in the openness of the shoulders, hips, and other parts of your body. Because we tend to favor one arm or leg over the other, it’s common for one side to be tighter than the other. Just take notice, without judgement or any intention to change what you are experiencing.
- The most important thing is that you listen to the wisdom of your own body. The cueing I give you in the descriptions and videos is to help you find the proper alignment to practice yoga safely. However, keep in mind that we are all built differently, and that regardless of our levels of fitness or flexibility, we are not going to look exactly the same in these poses.
So, please, do not try to push your body further than it wants to go. Respect your personal anatomy and boundaries, and you will reap the rewards of yoga. Push yourself too far, and you risk injury. (I’ve been there, and it’s no fun!)
Just listen to your body and enjoy the process!
21 Basic Poses for Setting a Strong Foundation : Grounded Postures (Part 2)
6. Bridge Pose
Setu Bandhasana (SET-too Bahn-DAHS-anna)
- Begin lying flat on your back.
- Plant the feet hips-width apart on the floor about six inches in front of your tailbone.
- Extend the arms down by your sides with palms flat on the floor.
- Press down through the feet and arms and engage the inner thigh muscles.
- Inhale as you lift the hips up off of the floor.
- Extend the knees forward while keeping the inner feet parallel with the thighs.
- Slightly tuck the chin and draw your heart towards it to open the chest.
- Essentially, your knees and chest extend slightly in opposite directions…knees pointing forward, chest lifting up and back.
- To take the pose a little bit deeper, slightly draw the shoulders underneath you, interlace the hands, and extend the arms towards your heels.
- You are now balancing on the shoulders.
- In either variation, breathe slowly and deeply through the nose for a few breaths.
- To exit the pose, unclasp the hands to come back to the original position.
- Slowly lower to the floor, allowing the spine to roll one vertebrae at a time.
Good to Know
Unlike the exercise versions of this pose, such as the hip-lift, the buttocks should not be squeezed during Bridge Pose. Instead, engage the thighs to lift the hips, and strive to release as much tension as possible in your bum.
- A folded blanket can be placed under the shoulders to protect the neck.
- If you are experiencing difficulty lifting the pelvis, or to create a more restorative pose, place either the hands, a block, or a bolster under the sacrum.
Bridge pose is considered a gentle inversion, which means it can help calm the mind and relieve stress. It’s also great for increasing circulation to the internal organs, balancing the endocrine system, and regulating hormonal balance. It stretches the chest, shoulders, neck, and spine.
It’s best to avoid this pose if you are experiencing serious neck pain or have a neck injury.
My Two Cents
Like many people, I tend to carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. I especially love practicing this pose, as it helps to relieve some of that tension. It’s also great preparation for really fun and opening poses, like Full Wheel Pose.
7. Head to Knee Pose
Janu Sirsasana (JAW-new shear-SHAHS-anna)
- Begin seated with the legs extended in front of you.
- Allow the left toes to roll outward, opening up the hip, then bend the knee and pull the left heel towards the pelvis.
- Grab the ankle to draw the heel further towards the body, bringing the left sole to rest on the inner right thigh.
- Draw the fleshier parts of your bum away from your sit bones.
- Press the palms into the floor on either side of the extended leg, and ground down through the sit bones and as you extend up through the spine.
- Inhale the arms overhead and turn the chest slightly towards the extended leg.
- Exhale as you hinge forward from the hips, extending the torso over the straight leg.
- With both hands, grasp either the shin, ankle or foot, depending on your flexibility.
- Inhale to extend the spine once more, and as you exhale, slowly allow the spine to round from tailbone to crown.
- Continue to breath slowly and deeply through the nose for several breaths, or as long as it is comfortable.
- To exit the pose, ground down and back through the sit bones.
- Inhale as you extend the chest forward and draw the torso upright.
Good to Know
To get the most out of the pose, bend the elbows outward and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Slightly tuck the chin as the crown of the head extends forward. Point the toes and knee of the extended leg up towards the sky. Strive to keep the shoulders even, rather than allowing the shoulder of the extended leg to dip lower than the other.
- If you experience any pain in the knees, you can elevate the bent knee onto a blanket or block, or simply adjust it to an angle that feels better.
- If it uncomfortable or causes too much strain to reach for the shin, ankle, or foot, you can modify by placing a strap around the sole of the foot and holding either side with arms extended. Resist the temptation to pull yourself forward; rather, slowly walk the hands forward on the strap to a comfortable position while keeping the arms lengthened in front of the torso.
A seated forward bend, this pose lends itself to introspection and calming of the mind. It stretches the shoulders, spine, groin, and hamstrings.
If you have a knee injury, maintain a slight bend in the extended leg. You may also want to support it with a folded blanket.
My Two Cents
It can be all-to-easy to overextend yourself in this pose. Rather than focusing on trying to reach your toes or actually bringing your head to your knees, concentrate on first maintaining length in the spine as you lean forward. You’re still getting the full benefits of the pose, even if you’re only tilted slightly forward.
8. Pigeon Pose (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose)
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (aa-KAH pah-DAH rah-JAH-cop-poh-TAHS-anna)
- Begin on all fours in Table Top position with the knees directly below the hips and palms slightly in front of the shoulders.
- Draw the right knee towards the right wrist and the right heel in front of the left knee to create a diagonal.
- Tuck the left toes under and slide the leg back.
- (Alternatively, begin in downward facing dog pose.
- Inhale as you extend the right leg back and up.
- As you exhale, draw the right knee towards the right elbow.
- Slowly lower the leg to the floor into a comfortable diagonal position.
- With the back toes curled under, slowly lower the hips as you slide the left leg back.)
- Now untuck the toes and look back over the left shoulder to ensure that your leg is extended straight back out of the hip.
- Walk the hands back towards the hips.
- Lengthen the arms, spread the fingers, and press down through the fingertips.
- Square the chest and shoulders forward, keeping the back of the neck long.
- Breathe slowly and deeply for a few breaths as you settle into the hips.
- Keeping the back straight, slowly walk the palms forward, coming down onto both elbows.
- Lightly grasp the elbows and bring the forehead to your forearms for a few breaths.
- Rest here, or extend the arms forward, bringing the forehead to the floor.
- Breath slowly and deeply for several breaths, or several minutes, as long as it’s not painful.
- To come out of the pose: slide the palms back towards the hips.
- Press down through the palms and slowly lift the torso back to upright.
- Continue pressing down through the palms, tuck the back toes under, lift the hips, and step the right leg back into either Table Top or Downward Facing Dog pose.
- Take one or two deep breaths before repeating on the opposite side.
Good to Know
To keep the hips level, roll the left hip slightly forward and down. (So you’re not resting on the right cheek.)
- If you are experiencing discomfort in the front hip (with the bent knee) or find that you cannot comfortably bring the hip to the floor and maintain level hips, you can create better support by placing a thickly folded blanket beneath the hip.
- Also, if you find any pain or discomfort when bringing the head to rest on the forearms, you may modify by bringing the head to rest on a bolster or block. Find a height that allows you to feel a comfortable stretch.
This pose stretches the thighs, hips, gluteals, and groin. It creates opening through the shoulders and chest, and can also relieve lower back pain and stiffness.
If you’ve recently had hip or knee surgery or experience severe knee, hip, or lower back pain, you may want to avoid this pose.
My Two Cents
Depending on how tight you are in the hips, this pose can stir up all kinds of crazy emotions. I’ve been told by many a yoga instructor that we tend to store our negative thoughts and feelings in the hips, and that when we do hip-opening poses such as this one, we are releasing all of that stored up tension and emotion. Whether this is true or it’s just the frustration of experiencing tight hips, this can be a challenging pose for many people, myself included. If it still becomes too much, slowly back out of it, and come into child’s pose. Half of the importance of any pose is knowing when it’s painful rather than merely uncomfortable, and learning to respect your body’s limits.
9. Supine Twist (Belly Turning Pose)
Jathara Parivartanasana (JAH-thah-rah par-ee-vrit-tah-NAHS-anna)
- Begin lying on your back with the knees bent, thighs together, and soles of the feet planted on the floor.
- Pressing down into the feet, lift the hips, shift them a couple of inches to the right and lower them back to the earth.
- Inhale and bring the knees in towards the chest.
- Exhale and slowly lower the bent knees down to the left.
- Extend your arms out to your sides into a “T” position with palms grounded down into the floor.
- Keeping both shoulders grounded, slowly turn the torso to the right, lifting the head slightly and turning the gaze to the right.
- Optionally, you can place the left hand on the knees to provide stabilization as well as to deepen the pose.
- Breath slowly and deeply for several breaths, or as long as it’s comfortable.
- To exit the pose: inhale and and bring your gaze, then your knees and hips, back to center.
- Take one or two deep breaths before repeating on the opposite side.
- When finished with both sides, hug the knees into the chest and take a few deep breaths before returning the legs to the floor.
Good to Know
The focus of this pose is to get a nice stretch through the back muscles and to hydrate the spinal discs–not to get the knees to touch the floor. If you are less flexible through the spine and hips, avoid forcing the knees to the ground; rather, choose an appropriate modification.
- If there is space between the knees causing discomfort, you can place a blanket or pillow between the knees, or under both knees if they do not reach the floor.
- As another option, you can come into Twisted Root pose. Begin the same way, only this time, extend the right leg up, then bend at the knee, and either cross the right ankle over the left knee or completely cross the right thigh over the left thigh. Shift the hips slightly to the right and continue in the same way as described above.
This pose provides a wonderful stretch for the lower back, as well as the side body, and chest. It also massages the abdominal organs. Furthermore, it’s known to be both stress-relieving and energizing.
If you suffer from back pain or disc injuries, practice this pose with caution, or avoid it altogether. The same goes for recent or chronic hip injury.
My Two Cents
I struggled with this pose for some time until my flexibility increased, and until I learned a variation that best worked for me. I suggest trying the variations listed as well as moving your knees and hips as necessary to find what is most comfortable for you (while still providing a good stretch). As always, the most important thing is to respect and work within your own limits and abilities.
10. Corpse Pose
- Begin by lying down on your back with your arms down by your sides, palms face up.
- Stretch down and lengthen through your arms and legs before allowing the ankles to splay outward and the arms to relax at your sides.
- Make any adjustments necessary when it comes to the distance of your arms and legs.
- If your arms come into contact with something, you can bend them at the elbows into “cactus arms.”
- Or if you prefer, you can place the hands on your belly or rest them on the pelvic bones.
- The point is to make yourself as comfortable and relaxed as possible while resting in a neutral position.
- However, while you release tension and effort in the body, the mind remains focused and aware.
- In other words, this pose is about conscious relaxation.
- Begin a body scan by focusing on relaxing each part of the body in turn.
- Allow the feet and legs to become heavy and to sink into the ground.
- Next, your hands and arms become heavy and relaxed.
- Feel the weight of your hips and torso as they melt into the floor.
- As the the back of the head sinks into the floor, relax the muscles of your face, softening the space between the eyebrows, and releasing the jaw.
- Allow the tongue to drop from the roof of your mouth. The lips may part naturally.
- Breathe normally, bringing awareness to your inhalations and exhalations.
- Notice what sensations and thoughts arise, and allow them to pass by so that you may arrive more fully in the present moment.
As yoga teacher and psychotherapist, Michael Stone so eloquently stated, “The aim of yoga practice in daily life is to live vividly from moment to moment without being stuck in thinking or the idea of not-thinking.”
- Rest here for several minutes.
- It is recommended that you lay in savasana for 10 percent of your practice time. So if you practiced for 30 minutes, rest here for at least 3 minutes.
- When you are ready to exit the pose, gradually begin to deepen your breathing once more.
- Bring movement first back into your fingers and toes, then gently rotate the wrists and ankles.
- On an inhalation, stretch your arms overhead and lengthen all the way down through your toes.
- As you exhale, bring the knees into the chest, then gently roll onto your right side.
- In your own time, press yourself back up to a seated position.
Good to Know
At first glance, this may seem like one of the easiest poses as it requires no physical effort. It’s a wonderful way to rest and relax at the conclusion of your practice. However, it’s as much a meditation as it is a relaxation pose, which is where the difficulty arises for most people. In this pose, we strive to find the balance between effort and surrender, between sleep or unconscious daydreaming and conscious awareness.
- If lying flat on the back with legs extended causes pain or discomfort in the low back, you can modify by placing a pillow, bolster, or rolled up blanket underneath the knees.
- If you feel pain or discomfort in the head or neck, place a thin pillow or folded blanket beneath the head, or roll a towel to place under the neck.
- If you will be resting in this pose for several minutes, you can make yourself more comfortable by slipping on socks, covering yourself with a blanket, and/or placing a weighted eye pillow over your eyes.
Savasana is an excellent pose for stress-relief and relaxation. With time and practice, it can help calm the mind and improve concentration.
Do not practice this pose lying flat on your back if you suffer from lower back problems or back injury. (You may want to try the bolster modification.) It’s also not recommend for women in their late second and full third trimesters of pregnancy. (Try a fetal position variation.)
My Two Cents
This is truly one of my favorites poses when practiced in a studio. Nothing feels better at the end of a 60-90 minute practice than allowing myself to let go and sink into my mat. However, it can also be a challenge to maintain focused awareness rather than allowing my mind to wander aimlessly or even to drift into sleep. At home, I find this pose even more challenging, partly because I’m the one that has to bring myself out of it. I have to admit, there’s been more than one occasion that I’ve found myself still lying on the floor 30 or more minutes after I started. Oops! I’ve found the best way to help with that is to set a timer, preferably one with softer, more soothing tones.
The other reason it’s so challenging at home is that I find the immediate need to jump up and start doing other things once I’m done practicing yoga. I must remind myself that this conscious relaxation is just as important and beneficial to my practice as any other posture. Even if it’s for just one minute, we owe our minds a little break from all the work we put them through.
A few final thoughts…
Take your time, play around, and start getting comfortable in each of these poses. Let me know if you have any specific questions.
Keep an eye out for the next Yoga Basics post…we’ll begin exploring the standing poses. Until then, happy practicing!