9 Essential Yoga Poses

Standing poses on one leg improve strength and balance.
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Establishing a yoga practice can seem daunting until you remember that yoga is all about balance. Learn some of the basic poses used in most yoga sequencing to build a daily routine and prepare yourself for a studio class. Balance standing, relaxing, inverted, and forward- and back-bending poses for a strong stretch and strength-building yoga session. Focus on correct alignment, not speed, as you run through a basic sequence.

Standing Tall

Standing poses make you strong and grounded as you lengthen your spine, improve posture and experience stillness. Mountain pose, Tadasana, tones and strengthens ankles, knees, thighs, abs and glutes. Tree pose, Vrksasana, develops from Mountain pose to increase flexibility in the groin area, inner thighs, chest and shoulders and improve balance as you stand on one leg and reach for the sky. Extended Triangle pose, Utthita Trikonasana, also flows from Mountain pose, providing the benefits of a simple standing pose but adding a stretch for spine, shoulders, chest, hips, groin, hamstrings and calves, stimulation of the abdominal organs and stress reduction. Use the three poses as a quick mini-sequence to restore calm, ground yourself and boost energy.

Forward Bends

Downward-Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana, is a staple in the yoga repertory, found in every Sun Salutation. It is also repeated between poses in Ashtanga and power yoga sequences to create a high-energy, unbroken flow of movement. Down Dog invigorates your entire body, as it stretches your hands, shoulders, hamstrings, calves and arches, strengthens your arms and legs and improves digestion. Downward-Facing Dog can ease back pain and headache, relieve asthma and help to lower high blood pressure. Yoga guru Rodney Yee credits the pose with increasing blood flow to the brain, creating a sense of calm. If your hamstrings are tight, it may take a while to achieve good form in Standing Forward Bend, Uttanasana. But gentle persistence will pay off with flexible hamstrings, calves and hips, stronger knees and thighs, and reduced stress and fatigue.

Plank and Cobra

Yoga asanas can be intense and both Plank and Cobra poses target specific muscles for heavy lifting and a deep stretch. Plank pose tones the core muscles as you strongly engage your abs. Supporting yourself on your arms and not allowing your middle to sag strengthens your arms, wrists and spine. Cobra pose, Bhujangasana, gives a feel-good stretch to your chest, spine, shoulders and abs, as it tones your glutes, strengthens back muscles and drains away tension.

Relax and Restore

Plow pose and Corpse pose take two different approaches to helping you relax. Plow pose, Halasana, is an inversion and best attempted with cushioning support under your shoulders and upper back to alleviate pressure on your neck. Plow pose stretches shoulders and spine, stimulates your thyroid and abdominal organs, reduces stress and relieves backaches, headaches and insomnia. Corpse pose, Savasana, is the deeply relaxing reclining pose typically practiced at the end of a yoga sequence. In Corpse pose, you let go of tension, breathe evenly and slowly, and integrate the good work of your yoga session as you still the mind. Corpse shares many of the benefits of Plow pose but relieves mild depression and lowers blood pressure as well.

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