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We get it. Yoga can seem daunting. Seeing somebody gracefully hold their fully outstretched leg behind their head in Compass Pose tends to feel more aspirational than practical. But the history and heart of yoga is geared toward beginners. Straightforward poses practiced mindfully give your body the stretch and strength that you seek while still requiring your mind to turn quiet and focus.
For yogis who are just starting their journey, establishing a strong foundation in “easy” yoga poses for beginners will help you find the balance and body positioning you need to grow your practice. Many poses build off one another, so knowing how to keep your breath steady and your body in alignment in a foundational pose will soon transition you into more involved postures.
The poses for beginners described here are the building blocks for your asana practice. They’re less involved than more traditional yoga poses, but still act as an introduction to heart openers, back bends, standing balances, and more so you can learn the fundamentals in an approachable way. Seriously, you don’t need to hold a Handstand for 5 minutes to be completely in your body—you just need to move, tune in, and connect with your breath.
Want to learn more? Read the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Yoga
8 easy yoga poses for beginners
Many pranayama (breathwork) and meditation practices occur in this seated posture. It’s a pose that enables you to focus on extending your spine and looking inward. You’ll find it at the beginning or end of a practice to bring you back to your breath.
How to: Sit on the floor in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with your legs extended out in front of you, knees slightly bent, and your fingertips on the floor by your sides. Then, cross your shins to bend and widen your knees, bringing each foot beneath the opposite knee. Allow your feet to relax, rolling them onto their edges, allowing their inner arches to rest below the knees. There should be a comfortable gap between your feet and your pelvis, creating a triangle shape with your pelvis, knees, and calves. Place your hands wherever feels comfortable. That could be palms facing up or down on your knees, palms facing up or down on your thighs, hands resting on your pelvis, or in a prayer position in front of your chest. Draw your shoulder blades back to widen your chest, and lengthen your spine by lifting through the crown of your head. Hold this position for one to five minutes, and release by unwinding your shins and returning to Staff Pose.
Modification: Sit on a blanket to cushion your seat and slightly raise your hips. You could also sit against a wall to assist with keeping your back straight.
While standing at the front of your mat might not feel like much, Tadasana is a powerful heart opener that encourages you to root down through your feet and feel grounded in your body. Think of it like a home base. Working on your posture here will lend itself to your posture in other standing poses. Mountain Pose is used widely in practices before forward folds and standing balances.
How to: Stand with your feet parallel with each other, toes close to touching and heels slightly apart. Gently rock side to side by lifting one heel and shifting your weight onto the flat foot, then repeat on the other side, until you feel firmly planted in one spot, weight distributed evenly between both feet. Then, lightly roll your pelvis forward as you lift your sternum toward the ceiling, drawing your shoulder blades back to form an upright and expansive torso. Allow your arms to rest by your sides, palms facing forward. Lift through the crown of your head. Hold for one minute, breathing comfortably throughout.
Modification: Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart.
This pose might be the first one that comes to mind when you think of stretching. When you go to touch your toes, you feel the stretch down the entire back of your legs and notice the release in your lower back. But as a yoga pose, it’s a staple in Surya Namaskar A and an important transition in many vinyasa, or flow-based, practices. How you enter and exit this posture will stick with you throughout your entire journey in yoga.
How to: Begin in Tadasana. On an exhalation, bend your knees slightly and hinge at your hips, lowering your torso over top of your legs. Place your hands by the sides of your feet. Inhale to widen your chest and lengthen your spine. On an exhalation, bring your torso down a little deeper, still folding from the hips. Keep your spine straight, do not round your back. Gently press into your feet to extend your knees, straightening your legs, for a deeper stretch through the hamstrings. Stay long throughout your neck. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. To exit, on an inhalation, slowly draw your shoulders back and rise up vertebrae by vertebrae, being careful to bring your head above your waist too quickly.
Modification: Maintain a deeper bend in your knees throughout or begin with your feet hip-width distance apart.
This pose, found in Surya Namaskar B, builds heat in the body and can act as an introduction to feeling comfortable amid discomfort. Your quadriceps are firing, you’ll feel tension in your shoulders and upper back, and you need to focus on your breath to find stillness. For beginners, it’s a beneficial starting point for standing balances because it provides a stable base and places an emphasis on quieting your mind.
How to: Stand in Tadasana, feet close to touching. Inhale and raise your arms perpendicular to the floor, keeping your arms parallel with each other. Exhale and bend your knees, sinking your pelvis straight down as you try to make your thighs as parallel with the floor as possible. The knees will project out over the feet, and the torso will lean slightly forward over the thighs until the front torso forms approximately a right angle with the tops of the thighs. Keep the inner thighs parallel to each other and press the heads of the thigh bones down toward the heels. Firm your shoulder blades against the back. Take your tailbone down toward the floor to keep the lower back long. Stay for 30 seconds to one minute. To come out of this pose straighten your knees with an inhalation, lifting strongly through the arms. Exhale and release your arms to your sides into Tadasana.
Modification: Place your hands on the tops of your thighs and press down into them as you lower your tailbone toward the floor.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose is synonymous with yoga. It’s a recalibration position that helps you come back to your breath in between poses, or acts as a transitional place for many standing poses, as well as Plank Pose, Tabletop, and prone poses. Since Downward-Facing Dog is so widely used in many sequences, it’s important to make sure you’re in proper alignment when practicing it. Flexibility isn’t the key here, focusing on maintaining the pyramid shape provides the correct posture you need to safely flow into the myriad poses that start from here.
How to: Begin on your hands and knees with your hands slightly in front of your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips, tops of your feet on the ground. Spread your palms so that both index fingers are parallel with each other. On an exhalation, lift your knees off the floor, knees slightly bent. Press through your palms as you lift your sitting bones toward the ceiling, maintaining a flat back. Lengthen through the backs of your legs, trying to get your heels to the floor. It’s OK if they can’t reach, don’t force it. Draw your shoulder blades toward your tail bone. Keep your head in between your biceps. Hold for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Release by bending your knees on an exhalation, lowering yourself to the ground.
Modification: Maintain a deeper bend in your knees throughout. If you have tight shoulders, consider placing your hands down slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
This pose is an excellent introduction to backbends. Common backbends such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) may tempt you to over-exert and push too strongly through your arms to reach with your chest and exaggerate the rounding in your spine. Sphinx Pose keeps your forearms rooted and encourages proper alignment of the shoulder blades to find the desired backbend.
How to: Lie on your stomach with your legs outstretched behind you, in line with your hips, forehead on the ground. Place the tops of your feet on the floor. Rotate your thighs inward by rolling your outer thighs down toward the floor. Reach through your toes to lengthen your spine and engage your legs. Place your elbows beneath your shoulders, forearms firmly planted on the floor, parallel with each other. On an inhalation, lift your torso and the crown of your head up toward the ceiling. You can press through your forearms to increase the length of your backbend. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release on an exhalation, slowly lowering your torso back down to the ground.
Think of High Lunge as a building block for Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II). High Lunge is a less-stable standing balance than Chair Pose because your feet are outstretched, shifting your center of gravity. Notice how your front foot might roll from side to side, swaying your hips in the process. But, unlike Warrior Pose II, your hips are square and in line with your torso here, providing a more stable foundation for split-leg poses such as Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) and Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose).
How to: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at the top of your mat. On an exhalation, step your left foot back about four feet, keeping your right foot planted. It’s OK to move your left foot back farther after you complete the initial step-back. You should feel a stretch through your back left leg and a little difficulty in keeping your left heel down on the floor. Once here, hinge forward with your right knee, being careful to not extend your right knee beyond your right toes. Sweep your arms up by your sides, fingertips pointing toward the ceiling. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor as you press down through your left heel. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. On an exhalation, drop your hands back to the floor shoulder-width distance apart, step your right foot back, and return to Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
Modification: Bend your left knee slightly.
Open and stretch your hips while staying in complete control of the intensity. Since you’re lying on your back, you can focus more on keeping your back flat and shoulders on the mat, improving your posture.
How to: Lie on your back. On an exhalation, draw your knees in toward your stomach, bringing your kneecaps toward your armpits. On an inhalation, grab the outsides of your feet with your hands and open your knees wider than your torso. On an exhalation, bring your ankles over top of your knees and lightly draw your elbows down by your sides, bringing your knees down toward the outside of your rib cage. Press your lower back into the mat to flatten it. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute. On an exhalation, release your hands and plant your feet down hip-width apart, knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
Modification: Loop a strap over the balls of both feet and, keeping your elbows tucked in by your sides, gently pull down on the strap to lower your knees toward the ground.