People who first come to yoga should focus on building a strong base and practicing what I call the foundational actions of yoga.
These are the actions that we will see again and again in a variety of asana (poses). As the practice continues these foundational actions become combined with more subtle and complex movements, but are consistently found throughout asanas.
The standing poses help teach us the actions needed to access more subtle asanas such as the seated, inverted, and the forward, backward and lateral extensions. The standing asana help build strength and muscle endurance and, as you might expect, develop suppleness.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
They train the body and mind to accept the challenge of yoga without using the force of will to chase after the fruits of our actions.
Luckily for yoga newbies, the standing poses, while challenging, are fun and exhilarating to practice. We learn to be quiet and accepting of challenge instead of fearful and agitated at the idea of change or intense effort.
I will introduce five asanas that I have found my beginning class members have enjoyed. It is often in simple poses that we can really explore and feel for ourselves the actions that we’ll need to be quite familiar with when we apply them to more complex asanas.
Tadasana (mountain pose):
This pose is the foundation of all the other standing poses. We learn to stand evenly and well on our feet, and the proper use of our legs. This poses helps us learn to stand up well and have good posture.
The chest is lifted and broad by taking the shoulder blades toward one another and down the back and towards the waist.
Utthita Trikonasana (extended triangle):
Beginners love the challenge yet simplicity of this beautiful asana, so named because of all the triangular shapes made by the body.
The feet are strong as learned in Tadasana. The legs are lifted powerfully up and made strong.
The trunk learns to stay evenly long even as one tips to the side. This pose helps to open the hips and lengthen tight hamstrings.
Even though this poses is taught to beginners, one never stops learning in this asana! There is always more to learn and explore in extended triangle.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (extended lateral stretch, aka extended side angle stretch)
One of my favorites! Although, I can’t think of any asana presented here that I couldn’t say that about! Like Trikonasana, this pose is taught early on in the experience of yoga, generally the first class and we continue to practice it throughout the years.
This pose requires a strong effort, but is simple in form and therefore wonderful at training the body to activate the legs and trunk properly. Because one leg is bent here, the pose teaches proper alignment of the knee.
The back leg is straight and the even grounding of the back foot teaches us to balance our leg engagement as we resist the urge to let our inner leg muscles become loose and inactive.
Like Trikonasana we are learning to keep the sides of the trunk extended evenly, and the chest broad. This is a wonderful pose to build strength, endurance and vitality.
Parsvottansana (intense side stretch):
This pose is lovely. It is a soothing forward extension combined with an intense stretch of the legs and trunk. As with all the standing asana, we are learning to evenly distribute the weight on the feet and keep the legs properly engaged throughout the pose.
We again see the actions of the chest and trunk being kept board, even and symmetrical. This is the first time we are taking the trunk forward, so we learn to lengthen the trunk even as we go forward over the legs versus to round over and “crunch” the spine.
I like to think of keeping space between each vertebrae even as I go forward. I’ve noticed in my years of teaching that many people like to force forward bending movements, but this is counterproductive and could cause an injury.
One should instead focus on the length of the trunk even as one goes forward to create muscle balance and to practice not becoming overly desirous of the “end result”, by taking the head down to the shin before being ready to do so.
Prasarita Padottanasana (spread out feet intense stretch)
We continue our foundational actions with another pose that takes the trunk forward. The feet continue to ground evenly, the legs continue to draw up strongly and evenly as the trunk goes forward evenly.
While many new yoga practitioners are anxious to get the head down, a good first step to place the hands on the floor or blocks in line with the shoulders and practice stretching the trunk evenly on the left and right sides.
In this way, we can practice the actions of the chest mentioned earlier. The shoulders draw in towards one another to encourage the lift and spread of the chest.
It is good to resist the urge to round over, but rather to work on the lengthening of the trunk and keeping that length even when going forward.