Team Byrdie can't say enough good things about yoga. I even monitored my heart rate during a recent session to prove that it's much more than stretching and breathing—yoga gets your heart pumping. Working on your practice also helps you sleep better and prepares you for stressful situations (read: no more tense shoulders and clenched jaw). If you stick to it, you'll experience improved joint mobility, boosted metabolism, and a body that's stronger than 99% of your peers. See? Yoga is no joke. And the best part is that you don't need to sign up for ClassPass to reap its benefits—you can do it right in your living room (with Netflix paused, of course).
But what if you have no idea where to start? Each and every one of us has been an amateur yogi at some point—it's all about understanding the basics. Hence, we tapped Jenny Chen, a certified yogi, for the must-know yoga poses for beginners. She did us one better and created an entire sequence that will take you from position to position so you can flow through an entire sequence on your own. Below, take a look at her step-by-step guide.
Start in Child's pose, either with your feet together and legs apart to let your stomach hang between your legs or with your feet together and legs together. Take a couple of breaths into your lower back here. (You can also lay your arms out in front of you, palms on the ground for an even greater stretch).
On your next inhale, straighten your legs, and bring your backside up so you are in downward-facing dog. You can alternate between bending and stretching your legs, or come onto the balls of your feet and pedal. This means while you're in the pose, you will take turns on each leg softly extending the stretch by going up on your toes on one foot, and then the other. This will help your muscles warm up.
After you take a couple of breaths in downward-facing dog, come to the top of your toes, and either step or jump both feet to the front of your mat. You will want your feet to be right behind your hands—like you're touching your toes.
Inhale to rise, and stand tall for Mountain pose. You want to think of rolling your back up one vertebra at a time as you rise. When you're standing upright again, see if you can evenly distribute your weight throughout your feet. When it feels right, raise your arms above your head. In the image below, she has gone past this point and is accelerating the pose by arching her back and looking upward. It's important to keep in mind not to hyperextend your muscles if you're going to attempt to arch backward.
Always move slowly when escalating any of the poses—it's good to try to push yourself, but stop if something doesn't feel right.
Let your arms lower to the ground in front of you (where they had been when you were in downward-facing dog). When you feel your hands are planted evenly, then you can step or jump your feet back into a plank position, as shown below.
From being in the plank, you want to slowly lower your chest, and bend your elbows until you're all the way against the ground.
Take a deep breath, and during that inhale, keep your hands planted on the ground, and lift your chest for a Cobra pose. See below for example.
When you let that breath out and exhale, sit your butt back against your calves, and outstretch your arms forward so you return to Child's pose. From here, repeat the steps from before to go into downward-facing dog.
This sequence (surya namaskar, or sun salutation A) can be repeated. This cycle begins with Child's pose into Mountain pose, and it finishes with Cobra. You can repeat this a couple of times before moving on if you'd like to.
After you finish the cycle (as many times as you want), you should be in a downward-facing dog. From here, you want to inhale and reach your right leg up. Try to aim for your foot to come in between your hands. See below for example.
As you exhale, ground your left heel so that you feel stable, and rise up to Warrior 1. Your right leg should be bent at a 90-degree angle, and your left leg should be straight behind you. Your back foot will be turned perpendicularly from your front foot. Reach your arms up when you feel steady. In the example below, the woman is stretching back and leading with her arms for a deeper stretch. Again, only try to accelerate poses when you feel very secure in your ability, and always go slowly, being careful not to hyperextend your muscles.
Lower your arms to be in line with your shoulders. Keeping your feet in the same position, open the arms to Warrior 2. Look out at and past the tips of your fingers. Stretch your arms slightly further as you hold. See below for example.
Take a deep inhale, as you straighten the right leg, and then go on to reach your right arm over and down to grab the right shin. See the example below. When you feel balanced, lift your left arm, and have it reach up with your palm facing the same direction as your chest. This is Trikonasana (Triangle pose).
Bring your arms down in front of you, under your shoulders, before stepping your foot back and returning to the plank position.
Lower all the way down again. Inhale to Cobra, and exhale to downward-facing dog. This should be slow. Keep your breathing consistent.
Repeat the last sequence of moves (beginning with Warrior 1) on the opposite side.
From downward-facing dog, step or jump into a Forward Fold. This means you should let your head drop as you reach to touch your toes. If you can't reach your toes, let yourself find the stretch as far as you can, and relax your neck as you reach.
When you're ready, come up to Mountain pose. On your inhale, reach your leg up to place your foot either on your shin, calf or upper thigh (make sure you're not placing your foot on your knee!). When you find your balance, bring your hands in front of your heart, with your palms together. If you feel steady, reach the arms up, keeping your pinky fingers in.
Place your left foot on the inside of your right leg. Bring both arms up, and touch your palms together while holding this pose. Repeat with the opposite foot.
Lower your body down into a seated position. Bend your right leg into a 90-degree angle, and swing your left leg over so that your left foot is resting against the outside of your right knee. Hold onto your left foot with your right hand, and twist over your left shoulder. Hold for a few counts.
When you're done, switch sides, and hold. Then, take the leg that is crossed over your knee, and extend it backward for pigeon pose (see below). Hold for a few counts while taking deep breaths.
If you have knee problems, you can also flip onto your back, keeping the leg positioning the same (this move is called a figure four) so you are not putting weight on your knee.
If you re first starting out, and your hips are tight, put a blanket under them to add support and comfort.
Move to a downward-facing dog again before stepping or jumping to the front of your mat to repeat on the other side.
Let yourself go into a Forward Fold, hanging your head, and reaching for your toes. From this position, slowly sit, and then lay on your back. Keep the bend in your knees so that your fingertips are grazing the backs of your heels.
Inhale to reach your pelvis up toward the sky for Bridge pose. You want to feel your butt come off the ground. See below for example. Press your shoulder blades closer together so that your hands can clasp each other if you feel comfortable.
Placing a block under your sacrum (Aka your tailbone) to give additional support to your lower back.
Slowly lower down one vertebra at a time, beginning with your tailbone, followed by your middle back and shoulders. Next, you can windshield wipe your knees over to each side of the mat. Keep the knees together as you do this. You want to lightly rotate your hips to let your knees touch the ground next to you without moving your shoulders. As they move from side to side, they should look like the windshield wipers on a car.
Repeat one more time.
Give your body one final, big stretch, and then settle into savasana (see below).
This final pose is meant to let your body relax after your workout. Lay with your arms in front of you (or you can bend them if it's more comfortable like in the picture above), allow your head to rest, and turn to the side with your legs outstretched behind you. Focus on your breathing, and clear your mind. Rise whenever you're ready.
Now that you've got the basics, read about the yoga poses that help to alleviate back pain.