If you're a beginner, your first yoga class can be intimidating. Your teacher may use the Sanskrit names for the asanas, or poses, which will probably be unfamiliar to you. But never fear; you can develop a consistent yoga practice with a little dedication and study. By learning a few of the basic asanas and their Sanskrit and English names, you'll be on your way to the flexibility and mind-body connection yogis around the world enjoy.
The Sun Salutation series, known in Sanskrit as Surya Namaskar, is a basic component of yoga practice that is accessible to beginners. The series starts in Mountain pose, in which you stand at the front of the mat with your hands in prayer position. From this pose, you lift your hands over your head and lean your upper body back slightly, then come forward into a deep bend in which your forehead ideally touches your knees. You then move into a lunge position with your hands on the mat. Plank and Chaturanga come next. Plank is the beginning of a Pushup pose, with your arms extended; Chaturanga is the same pose but with the elbows bent and your body hovering slightly above the mat. From Chaturanga, you push into Upward-Facing Dog, with the tops of your feet on the mat, your arms extended and your upper body bent back so you look at the ceiling. The series ends with Downward-Facing Dog, in which your hands and feet touch the floor, your head hangs down and your hips raise up toward the ceiling.
The mind-body connection fostered in a yoga practice is dependent on proper breathing techniques. Breathing deeply and steadily, inhaling and exhaling at your instructor's command, will help you through difficult poses. "Pranayama" is the Sanskrit word for breath control. Ujjayi breathing is the style you'll use during your asana practice. In ujjayi breathing, you breathe in and out through your nose but draw your breath from your throat, with your glottis open. Your breath should make enough of a sound that the person beside you can hear it.
Beginner Yoga Poses
If you're new to yoga, learning the Sun Salutation series is a good place to start. With the exception of Chaturanga, these poses are accessible to most beginners. To modify Chaturanga for a beginning practice, lower your knees, chest and chin to the floor instead of lowering yourself into a low pushup. Seated forward bends, in which your legs extend in front of you and you lower your upper body to your knees, are useful for stretching sore backs.
Advanced Yoga Poses
More advanced practitioners can do poses that may seem completely inaccessible to you at first, but with time, you'll be able to do them, too. These include pushing up to a backbend, which is called Wheel pose, and inversions such as headstands, handstands and forearm stands. Arm-balancing poses such as Crow, in which you place your hands on the floor, tuck your knees against your triceps and lift your feet off the floor, will become possible as you increase your balance and upper-body strength.
Neville Smithson did his undergraduate work at Hampshire College and earned an MFA in creative writing at the University of Cincinnati. Having had a change of heart about his passions, Smithson is now back in Massachusetts, where he enrolled in a combined MA/PhD physical therapy program.