Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yoga-nese: Learning the Basic Moves

Last week, we talked about the popular types of yoga and how they are different from each other. This week, let’s talk more about the basic moves you need to learn to get into yoga. Let me preface this post by saying that contrary to what you might have seen when you peek into a yoga class, not every consistent yoga student can lift their legs above their heads and twist their bodies like a pretzel. The more you do yoga, the more flexible you should become, but about 40% of our flexibility is based on our bone structure so some people might go to yoga classes every day and not be as flexible as you think they should be. How much you get out of a class should not be based on how far you were able to bend compared to the next person. It should be based on how far you body allowed you to bend.

That said, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try hard. Don’t force your body till you feel intense pain, but push yourself as you try these poses. You body is probably capable of more than you think. Remember, keep your stomach and bum tight and your posture right, and you’ll be good :)

Mountain pose (a.k.a. Tadasana): This is usually around the beginning of any standing yoga series. It is meant to help to fix the posture and clear the mind. Here’s how you do it. Stand tall with your chest out, shoulders down, and arms to the side. Keep your neck and chin level by looking straight ahead (not down or up). Place your feet either with your big toes touching, or with your feet about hip width apart. If you can’t figure out how wide your hips are, you can put two fists between your feet to gauge the distance. Here is a picture of how it should look below. However, remember that everyone’s body is different, and because yours doesn’t look exact does not mean it is wrong.

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The mountain pose is the basic beginning to standing poses like the tree pose, extended mountain pose, (see image above) eagle pose, and chair pose.

Downward facing dog: When you watch movies, there is never a mention of yoga without the downward facing dog. This is because this is such a great pose for your arms, legs, shoulder, core, and back. However, it is hard to hold for an extended period of time, especially if you don’t have much upper body strength. Here’s how you do it. Start on the floor on your palms and knees. Lift your knees off the floor so your bum is pushed upward, and you’re left just on your palms and feet. Make sure your fingers are spread out, and your bum is pushing upwards. Now, even though your bum is pushing up, make sure your stomach is not sticking out so you don’t hurt your lower back. Your palms should be about shoulder width apart, and your feet should be about hip width apart. Try to bring your heels toward the floor (emphasis on “try to”. They don’t have to touch the floor).

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Variations of poses that you can learn from perfecting the downward facing dog: upper pushup position (or plank), lower pushup position, dolphin pose, up and down cat poses, and much more.

Upward facing dog: Isn’t it funny how a lot of yoga poses come from animal stretches. Makes you wonder… Anyway, the upward facing dog is a really good pose for your lower back, arms, stomach, and bum. Start by lying on your stomach with your toes pointing back. Place your palms right under your shoulders and roll your torso up resting on just your palms. Some teachers say to leave your legs on the floor, and other say to take your legs just a couple of inches off the floor. I don’t believe it matters too much either way. Push your chest out and drop your head back so you feel the stretch right from your shoulders down. Try not to strain your neck by pushing too far back though.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the upward facing dog: cobra, crane, bow.

The Warrior poses: There are three warrior poses Warrior I, II, and III), but I’ll talk about the two major ones you’ll find in every yoga class. Warrior I starts with standing in the mountain pose, and then stepping one foot back. The front leg should be bent at about a 90 degree angle and the back leg should be straight. Turn the back foot somewhere between a 30 and 60 degree angle so that your heel touches the floor, and your hips are comfortable in the position without your front knee bending to the side. Lift your arms up straightening your torso. Your arms should come straight over your head as you lean your body back from your waist (so your legs shouldn’t move back).

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For the Warrior II, stay in the same position, but bring your arms down to shoulder level. The arm on the same side as the front leg should be stretched forward, while the other arm should be stretched back in a straight line. Look over your front arm, but don’t lean forward.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the warrior poses: triangle, inverted warrior.

Child’s pose (a.k.a. Balasana): If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, this is always the pose people assume when they need a minute to rest or give their muscles time to breathe. It’s sort of like a bowing pose. Start by kneeling on the floor with your knees and toes about hip width apart. Sit back with your bum on your heels and extend your toes towards the back of the mat. Now, extend your torso into a bow position with your arms stretched out in front of you and your forehead on the floor. Arms extended might be uncomfortable for some people, so you can also have your hands extended back beside your body. See an example below.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the child’s pose: camel, and cow.

Corpse pose (a.k.a. Savasana): I hear you go “What the … ?” Yes, there is a pose called the corpse pose. It’s the relaxation pose at the end of most yoga classes. Now, you might think it is easy to be in a state of total relaxation, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. Lie flat on your back with your arms beside your body. Now, neutralize every muscle you can feel. Seriously. Try to clear your thoughts completely. Relax your feet and they’ll drop slightly to the side, relax your shoulders and they’ll fall back, relax your stomach, your arms, and even your face. Relaxing your face is kind of difficult because our faces are usually a reflection of what is going on in our heads. Relax your jaw muscles, your eyes, your tongue (yes, I just said relax your tongue). Make sure you lie for about 5 minutes at the end of every class to give your muscles time to recover. If you have lower back problems, or if it is uncomfortable to lie on the hard floor on your back, you can do this position with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. This puts less pressure on your back.

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More intense poses that you can learn from perfecting the corpse pose: fish, happy baby, and bridge.

Phew! I had thought this was going to turn out so long that it won’t fit in one post. There are so many more yoga poses, but these are the basics I think you should know. Don’t hesitate to ask me questions!

Cheers Eights & Weights!


  1. I started doing yoga last year when I got the wii fit! I am now semi-addicted(real yoga)! its part of my Saturday routine!


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