By Paula Mitten, owner of Durga Yoga Ireland
Yoga offers many benefits for beginners who want to improve their physical and mental well-being. One of the most notable advantages is improved strength and flexibility in the body through various asana or poses. As a beginner you will start to notice improved posture, balance, and coordination. Today we will look at 5 essential yoga poses for beginners.
1. Cat Cow Pose (Marjaryasana)
The spine plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being. It is therefore very important to take care of the spine to help improve flexibility and strengthen the surrounding muscles as well as reducing the likelihood of back pain and injuries . In Cat Cow pose we are bringing the spine through flexion and extension, working with the joints of the spine and helping to release any tightness held in the upper body. If coming onto the hands and knees isn't possible you can adapt the pose by doing the same movement from sitting or standing.
Come onto hands and knees, stacking the wrists beneath the shoulders and the knees beneath the hips. On an exhalation start to round your spine by tucking your tail bone (the base of the spine) between your legs, drawing navel to spine, pressing the ground away with your palms and tucking your chin to your chest. On an inhalation reverse the action by lifting your tailbone towards the ceiling, letting your belly lower, drawing your chest forwards and lifting your head to look up. Continue for a few rounds moving back and forth through these two actions combining your breath and the movement.
2. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Weight-bearing exercises are of extremely importance for women as we age due to the numerous benefits they offer to bone health. Placing stress on the bones stimulates them to become stronger and denser. It helps to maintain bone mass, reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporotic-related injuries, and contributes to better muscle strength, balance, and coordination. Downward Facing Dog Pose not only helps to stress the bones, and build upper body strength, it also stretches out the muscles of the back and releases tightness in the back of the legs.
Come onto hands and knees and ground your fingers and the palms of your hands firmly into the floor. Curl your toes under, and on an exhalation lift your knees away from the mat and draw your hips up and back. Lengthen your spine as much as possible and start to straighten your legs (Your knees do not have to straighten fully in this pose). Hold for a few breaths and then lower back down to hands and knees.
3. Warrior 1 Pose (Virabhadrasana I)
Not only is Warrior 1 a great pose for strengthening your legs, it also helps to stretch your hip muscles and improve your balance. Warrior 1 opens up the chest and shoulders, counteracting the effects of poor posture and desk work. Overall, Warrior 1 is a versatile and dynamic pose that brings strength, flexibility, and a sense of grounding to the body and mind, making it a valuable addition to any yoga practice.
Stand at the top of your yoga mat with your feet about hip width apart. Step your left leg back about 3-4 feet and place the back foot flat to the floor (both feet should be facing towards the front of the mat as much as possible). Bend your front knee until it is stacked directly above your heel. On an inhalation reach your arms up over your head until they are in line with the sides of your ears. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and your lower back neutral. Hold the pose for a few breaths before releasing your arms and stepping back to the top of your mat. Repeat on the other side.
4. Tree Pose (Vriksasana)
Balance is a fundamental aspect of functional movement, and it plays a crucial role in daily activities, sports performance, and injury prevention. By practicing balancing exercises regularly, you can enhance your proprioception (awareness of body position in space), improve coordination, and strengthen stabilizing muscles throughout the body. Tree Pose is a great way to work on your balance. You can start with a simpler variation and work up to the version in the picture above.
Standing at the top of your yoga mat, shift the weight into your right foot and place the sole of your left foot against the inner right leg at the calf muscle. Keep your gaze fixed on a still point and work to find balance. Bring the palms of your hands together in prayer in front of the chest and if you are steady here try raising the arms over head. Hold the pose for a few breaths before releasing and switching sides. As you find the pose becoming easier, try bringing the left foot higher up to the inner right thigh.
5. Relaxation (Savasana)
Taking time to relax and activate the parasympathetic nervous system is essential for maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle. In our fast-paced and often stress-filled modern world, it's crucial to carve out moments for relaxation to counteract the constant stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body's “fight or flight” response. Relaxation or Savasana is an opportunity to lie down, switch off and simply “be” in your body, without the need for doing anything. Relaxation induces a state of calm, slowing down our heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and promoting better digestion and immune function. Practicing relaxation regularly not only helps us recover from daily stressors but also supports improved sleep, mental clarity, and emotional well-being.
Lie on your back, stretch out your arms and legs and close down your eyes. Let your whole body sink down into the ground. Give yourself time to slow down the mind and observe your body in the present moment. Let go of all other thoughts and stay connected to your body for a few minutes. When you are finished stretch your arms over your head, take a deep breath in and slowly start to wake up.
About Paula Mitten
Paula Mitten is the creator of Durga Yoga Online, an online yoga platform for busy women who want to fit in short effective yoga classes into their day. Paula has been teaching yoga for nearly 20 years and understands which yoga poses are essential for beginners. If you would like to sample Paula's teaching for free check out her YouTube channel where you will get 5-10 minute classes in asana, meditation and relaxation. You can also follow Paula on Facebook and Instagram