The 7 Best Ashtanga Yoga Poses for Beginners
Before I reveal to you the best Ashtanga Yoga poses for beginners, let’s talk objectively about why these are the best. Of course, doing yoga for beginners should not be intimidating. I want you to continue yoga, not run away from it. Therefore, you can be assured that these will be easier to learn, and more or less easy to perform, based on your current physical and mental abilities.
What made me choose the particular seven that you will be learning below, however, are based on a couple of factors. I wanted to choose poses that yogis often enjoy doing. I also pondered what poses were practiced frequently in public yoga classes.
Lastly, I made sure that each of these poses differ in benefits and shape, so you can experience different positions, as well as gain as many benefits as you can in these seven poses. If this list sounds like what you’re looking for, let’s move on to what you’ll need to practice these poses.
What You Need for Your Yoga Session
Before you even start practicing, you’ll want a couple of things. The two most mandatory of items of them all is a yoga mat and an appropriate outfit. In regards to the yoga mat, you do not need to spend a lot of money when you’re just starting. If you can handle the mat slipping around once in a while, you can find a mat for less than $9 online. However, for a more sturdy, beginner mat, I’d suggest looking for one around $30.
You’ve probably seen yoga clothing all over the place, but I still want to give you a basic idea of what to look for and explain the reasoning behind it, so you don’t make any shopping mistakes.
First off, you’ll want a shirt or tank top that is fitted, yet not tight. This will prevent the top from rising when you’re in an inverted pose, and it will give you the ability to twist your body and move your arms comfortably.
Second, you want pants or leggings that are fitted and stretchy or loose, and easy to move in. Same reasoning as the top, except it’s fine to wear loose pants because it won’t really be bothersome in an inverted position. If you’re taking Ashtanga yoga classes, be sure to wear shoes that are easy to remove.
Yogis often practice barefoot. You could wear grip socks if you wanted to, but it’s rare people wear them, and non-grip socks would be slippery on the mat.
While those are the most important items, I also advise buying two yoga blocks and one yoga strap if practicing Ashtanga yoga at home. You most likely wouldn’t need yoga blocks for any of the poses listed below, but there are many Ashtanga yoga poses where a block or two could be proved very useful.
Straps are great for stretching the legs, the shoulders, and going into backbends. Don’t worry too much about the details, but just be sure to make a small investment in those props sooner than later. After you have all these things, you’re ready to practice!
How Often You Should Practice Ashtanga
Now that you’re committed to practicing, you may be wondering how often you should practice to feel results and how frequently you can practice while staying safe. At a minimum, I advise that you practice at least 3 times a week. If you can’t afford three yoga classes a week, try to at least attend once a week and practice what you’ve learned at home twice a week.
Ideally, a yogi practices six times a week. Yes, I said, “Six times a week”. This may sound excessive, however there is a method called Mysore Style, which in short, is practicing Ashtanga yoga six times a week, and adjusting the amount of physical energy you put into the practice, based on how your body is feeling.
Therefore, if you feel energized, go deeply into the poses, and use a lot of strength. If you are feeling tired, or unhappy, do the same poses as everyone else in the class, or your usual pose sequence at home, but with a softer energy. This is the most effective method of practicing Ashtanga yoga to reaching your goals quickly and consistently.
The 7 Best Beginner Ashtanga Poses
Below, I will describe each yoga pose in depth, step by step. Reread each description as much as you need to to understand the pose, and ensure you absorb all of the steps and alignment cues.
- Cat and Cow Pose
Each pose is given a different name, however, cat pose and cow pose are always practiced together, so I will be describing them as a set of movements.
Start off on the floor, in an all fours position. Make sure that your knees are in alignment with your hands. Fingers should be spread wide and hands should be rooted into the ground.
Next, breathe in and tip your head back, arching your back by bringing your stomach down and pushing your hips forward. This is considered “cow pose”.
On an exhale, tuck the stomach in and look down between your hands, like a cat stretching when it awakens from a nap. This is considered “cat pose”.
Repeat this movement at least 5 times, inhaling during cow pose. And exhaling during cat to stretch the spine.
- Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog is often used as a pose to help transition the practitioner from one pose to another. However, practiced alone, it also works wonders to loosen the muscles of the shoulders, legs, and stretch the spine.
From all fours, bring your knees up, so that you are in a plank position.
Next, push your hips back and heels back as much as you can, so your body looks like an upside down letter, “V”.
Focus on pressing your heels back more to feel a deeper stretch in the back of your legs, and press your hands into the ground while moving the shoulders back to create resistance in the muscles of the shoulders.
Stay here for at least 5 breaths.
- Warrior 2
One of the five different warrior poses, warrior two pose is a great way to tone the arms, shoulders, legs, and core. However, there are many alignment cues, so read closely!
Start off in mountain pose, or a comfortable, standing position.
Raise your arms up by your ears, fingers of the hands wide, and then step your left foot back about four feet, while bending your right knee at a 90 degree angle.
Next, turn your left foot out 90 degrees, and bring your left arm back horizontal to the shoulder, while bringing your right arm forward horizontal to the shoulder. Your arms should be going straight out in opposite directions, like the arms of the letter, “T”.
Turn your head to the left, so that your looking at the fingertips of your left arm.
Bring the shoulders down, tuck in the pelvis, and stay here for at least 5 breaths before switching sides.
- Tree Pose
Tree pose is an excellent pose for beginners to practice balance, and it is a fairly simple pose once you learn the proper weight distribution. It also strengthens the legs and stretches the arms and spine.
Start off in a standing position and bring your hands together at your heart.
Start to put weight into your left foot, and slowly lift your right foot from the ground.
Place your right foot on the inner part of your left ankle, calf or use your right hand to help place it above your left knee. However, make sure your right foot is not placed directly on the knee, for this can injure your knee or at the very least, throw off your balance.
Next, find an item to look at that is still, and gaze at it while you breathe to keep balance and meditate on that inanimate object.
Once you are in a balanced tree pose, bring your arms up into a “V” shape to act as branches of the the tree, spreading your fingers wide. If you can’t keep balance here, keep practicing or bring your hands back to your heart.
Switch sides after at least 5 breaths.
- Plank Pose
Plank pose, like downward facing dog, can also be a transition between poses, however, when held for a few breaths, it is great to strengthen your core, hands, and shoulders.
Start off on all fours, and then lift your knees from the floor. Make sure the fingers your hands are spread wide.
Next, bring your hands directly beneath your shoulders by rolling onto the toes of your feet.
Stay here for at least 5 breaths and slowly lower your knees.
- Cobra Pose and Upward Dog Pose
Similar to cat and cow pose, cobra and upward dog are often put together in sequences, and are very similar, which is why I’m explaining them together. These poses are very useful in stretching the lower back.
To come into cobra pose, start off lying on your belly with your legs together, head looking straight ahead, and arms by your sides.
Next, bring each hand to the sides of your chest, so that your arms are bent.
Bring the shoulders in towards the middle of your body, and press your feet into the floor.
Begin to lift your torso up slightly, bring the shoulders down to prevent tension in the neck. This is considered “cobra pose”. Take 2 breaths here.
After breathing through cobra pose, straighten your arms, and lift your torso up even more, bending your head back slightly.
Curl the toes of your feet under, and flex the legs, allowing them to come off the mat, or floor. This is considered “upward facing dog pose”. Stay here for at least 5 breaths, and then relax.
- Active Child’s Pose
Child’s pose can be relaxing or active. In a restorative child’s pose, the arms, shoulders and spine are relaxed, while an active child’s pose, the spine is lengthened and the shoulders and arms are being stretched.
Starting on all fours, bring your hands forward a couple of inches. Spread your fingers wide and firmly root your hands into the ground.
Next, let your knees go out slightly, and bring your hips back, so that your bum is close to your feet.
Once there, try to stretch your arms forward even more, keeping the fingers of the hands wide, and grounded. Also, stretch your spine more with each breath by trying to get your bum closet to your feet.
Breathe here at least 5 times before relaxing.
The Best Methods to Practice the Postures
I put these poses in an order that would work well as a sequence, so if you wish, you can practice these poses, add savasana at the end and call it your at-home yoga practice.
That being said, you can also use this article to learn these poses, and then be better equipped to practice them when going to a yoga class. If you go to a traditional Ashtanga yoga class, the sequence and poses will always be the same, and these will be included.
However, if you go to a more modern style class, poses and sequence change, but the poses I explained today are practiced in almost every class I’ve attended as a student since they’re traditional. Therefore, you can take this information as a free yoga sequence, or you can use it to be a student prepared for their first public, Ashtanga class, modern or traditional. It’s completely up to you!
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