Yoga Teachings:

A Beginner's Practice


Yoga is a 5000-year old method for unifying the mind, body and spirit.  Modern science confirms that a yoga practice offers physical, psychological and biochemical benefits.  When attention is focused on the body and the breath during practice, yoga is a moving meditation, helping one to strengthen mindfulness and reconnect with the body.

Yoga is best learned under the guidance of a qualified teacher.  Below is a sequence of asanas that may be used to supplement yoga classes.  As with other forms of exercise, please consult with your physician before attempting these movements.

Begin your yoga practice on an empty stomach wearing non-restrictive clothing.  Listen to your body and avoid pushing beyond your limits or forcing yourself into postures.  Be mindful of the body and breath as you practice.  Enjoy!

1.     Easy Pose - Sukhasana: Sit with legs crossed, hands on knees.  If knees are above hips, sit on a cushion or blanket. Lift the chest and connect the sitz bones with the floor. Bring attention to the breath and take several slow, deep inhalations and complete exhalation. Then, on an inhale, raise your arms out to the sides and up over head, bringing palms together.  Exhale and slowly bring your palms down to the heart center. Repeat the arm movements 5-7 times. 

2.     Cat/cow:  Come onto hands and knees, hands on floor in front of the shoulders, and knees hip width apart.  Inhale, lift the tailbone and head up, letting your spine bow downward. On the exhale, drop the tailbone, pull the belly in (arching the back) and look between legs.  Feel that the movement is being initiated by the breath.  Repeat 5-7 times. (Increases spinal flexibility.)

3.     Mountain Pose – Tadasana:  Stand with feet hip width apart, arms at the sides, gaze forward. Raise toes, fan them open and beginning with the little toe,  place them back down on the mat. Press the four corners of the feet into the mat.  Avoid locking the knees back. Tuck the tailbone slightly, draw in the abdominal muscles, and lift the sternum. Lengthen the neck by lifting the base of the skull toward the ceiling. Draw the pinky and index fingers on each hand downward. Press feet into the mat while letting the head rise up towards the ceiling. Imagine inhaling from the floor through your legs and torso into the top of your head.  On the exhale, feel like the breath is descending from your head down to your feet.  Continue for 5-7 breaths.  (Improves posture and balance.)

On the next inhale, raise arms overhead into prayer position and hold for several breaths. Exhale, lower hands down to heart center.  Synchronize the raising and lowering of your arms with your breath - raise, inhale; lower, exhale. Repeat 5 -7 times.

4.     Crescent Moon - Chandrasana variation:  From Mountain Pose slowly raise your right arm up until fingertips point towards the ceiling. Reach hand overhead to the left, letting your left hand slide down the left leg.  Hold, feeling a stretch along the right side of the body. Slowly lower your right arm back down to the side. Repeat with left arm. 



5.     Forward Bend – Uttanasana:  From Mountain Pose, inhale and raise the arms overhead. Exhale, fold at the hips, keeping back flat, while bringing the arms forward and then down towards the floor, keeping knees slightly bent.  Grasp ankles or big toes.  Hinge back up and repeat the movement 3-5 times. On the last forward bend, hold the position for 5 or 10 breaths. To come out of the pose, curl up one vertebrae at a time, stacking one on top of another, and with the head last to come up. 

Foreward Bend Variations

A.   Fold forward and hook each index finger around each big toe.  Inhale, lift head up keeping your index fingers locked onto your big toes. Exhale, fold back down. Hold for several breaths.  Repeat 5 -7 times

 B.   Inhale and raise head, again keeping hands on the floor. Then slide your hands under your feet so that the tips of your toes touch heel of your hands. Hold for several breaths.

 C.   Bend forward, fold your arms and hang for as long as is comfortable. Then curl upward one vertebrae at a time, stacking one on top of another, with the head last to come up.  (Stretches the legs and spine, rests the heart and neck, and relaxes mind and body.)

6.     Triangle – Trikonasana:  Spread legs 3-4 feet apart, feet parallel. Turn left foot 90 degrees to the left and right foot in 45 degrees. Inhale and raise both arms so they're parallel with the floor. Exhale, turn your head to the left and look down your left arm toward your outstretched fingers. Check that your left knee is aligned with your left ankle. Take a deep breath and stretch outward to the left, tilting the left hip down and the right hip up. When you've stretched as far as you can, pivot your arms, letting your left hand reach down and come to rest against the inside of your calf, while your right arms points straight up. Look up at your right hand. Breathe deeply for several breaths. Inhale, and straighten up. Exhale, lower your arms. Put your hands on your hips and pivot on your heels, bringing your feet to face front. Repeat the posture on the other side. Stretches the spine, opens the torso, improves balance and concentration.

7.     Warrior II – Virabhadrasana II:  Begin in mountain pose. Step feet 4-5 feet apart. Turn your right foot about 45 degrees to the left. Turn your left foot 90 degrees to the left so that it points straight out to the side.  Bend the left knee until the thigh is parallel with the floor, but keep the knee either behind or directly over your ankle. Raise your arms over head. Then slowly lower them until your left arm is pointing straight ahead and your right arm is pointing back. Concentrate on a spot in front of you and breathe. Remain in the pose for 4 or 5 deep breaths, lower your arms, and bring your legs together. Repeat on the other side.  (Strengthens legs and arms; improves balance and concentration.)

8.     Cobra – Bhujangasana: Lie on your stomach with legs together and arms at the sides close to your body, and hands on the floor by your chest. Inhaling, slowly raise your head and chest as high as they will go, keeping your head up and chest and heart out. Breathe several times and then come down. Repeat several times. Then, lift up as you had before and gently straighten your arms, stretching the spine more. Backbend only as much as is comfortable, keeping your pelvis on the floor. Breathe several times and come down. (Stretches the spine, strengthens the back and arms, opens the chest and heart.)

9.     Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana:  Begin on hands and knees, knees about hip width apart and arms shoulder width apart. Your middle fingers should be parallel and pointing straight ahead. Externally rotate your arms so that the inner elbow is facing forward. Inhale and curl your toes under. Exhale, straighten your legs; push up and back with your arms. Lengthen the spine and pedal the feet, bringing one heel to the floor than the other.  Relax your shoulders down. Your weight should be evenly distributed between your hands and feet. Hold this position for a few breaths. Come down on an exhale. Repeat several times, synchronizing the movement with the breath: up on the exhale and down on the inhale. (Builds strength and flexibility, stretches the spine and hamstrings.)

10.    Head to Knee – Janu Shirshasana:  Sit on a blanket or cushion with legs extended. Bend one leg, bringing the heel of the foot as close to the groin as possible and dropping the knee out to the floor.  Ground your sitz bones firmly into the floor and keep your spine straight. Turn your body slightly so you face over the extended leg.  Inhale and raise your arms over head. Exhale and hinge at the waist, moving forward slowly and keeping the back as flat as possible. Focus on lifting the tailbone and rolling forward on your sitz bones.  Inhale, lengthen and straighten the spine: exhale and roll forward. To get a bit more forward movement, engage your quadriceps (thigh muscles) as you move forward. This releases the hamstrings, allowing you a bit more flexibility. When you've moved as far forward as you can without rounding the back, lower the arms and grasp your foot, ankle or calf. Hold the position for a moment and breathe.  On an exhale gently pull yourself forward.  Go slowly, keeping the back straight.  Repeat on other side.  (Stretches and opens back and hamstrings, and improves flexibility.)

 11.    Bridge – Setu Bandha:  Lie on your back with knees bent and arms by your side. Your feet should be near the buttocks, about six inches apart. Gently lift and lower your tailbone. Then, slowly, raise the tailbone and continue lifting the spine, one vertebra at a time, until your entire back is arched upward. Push your feet firmly into the ground. Keep your knees pointed towards the ceiling and hip width apart. Breathe deeply into your chest. Clasp your hands under your back and push hands against the floor. Release hands and come down. Repeat 5 – 7 times. Then hold the position, taking five slow, deep breaths. (Increases flexibility and suppleness; strengthens the lower back and abdominal muscles; opens the chest.)

12.    Corpse – Savasana:   Lie on your back, feet slightly apart with arms at sides and palms facing up. Close your eyes and take several slow, deep breaths. Allow your body to sink into the ground. Focus on a specific part of your body and allow it to relax. For instance, start with your feet, imagine the muscles and skin relaxing, letting go and slowly melting into the floor. Feel your heels, arches, toes, etc. From your feet, move up to your calves, thighs and so on, up to your face and head. Then simply breathe and relax. Stay in the pose for at least 5-10 minutes. (Relaxes and refreshes the body and mind, relieves stress and anxiety, quiets the mind.)

Article: Lori Volpe; Model: Laura Yu; Photographer: Nancy Craft. Resource: The Yoga Site.

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