Despite providing an excellent low-impact workout (and some stress relief, to boot), yoga may seem intimidating to rookies. Enter Chrissy Carter. The senior teacher and teacher trainer at YogaWorks in New York City has just released a DVD for this audience. Beginning Yoga eases newbies into their practice with helpful tips and modifications. Here, Chrissy shares five yoga poses for beginners.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
This is the blueprint for all of the other postures in yoga. Practicing mountain pose brings a steadiness to the body and the mind. It also allows students to assess their natural asymmetries in this pose (for example: Is the body weight on one foot more than on the other?). The easiest place for beginners to practice mountain pose is on their backs with the soles of their feet pressed up against a wall, which will make it easier for them to keep their feet together and it gives them something to press into.
Puppy Dog (Down Dog Modification)
This is an amazing way for beginners to learn the actions of down dog without having to wrestle with gravity. To come into puppy dog, place the palms on a wall at the height of the hips. Walk the feet back until they're under the hips, so the body makes an L-shape. Students can work to straighten their arms and create length in their spines without having to bear any weight in their arms.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana) at the wall
Balancing on one foot presents a challenge for most beginners. Practicing this tree pose at the wall gives the student a safe place to work on balance without the fear of falling. Stand with the wall at your side. The leg that's closest to the wall should be the standing leg. The leg in the center of the room is the one you’ll lift up into tree. Take both arms up into a V-shape above the head (walk the arm closest to the wall all the way up the wall and perch yourself onto your fingertips). Beginners can test their balance by lifting the fingertips away from the wall.
Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
Locust pose is a simple backbend, and is extremely useful to beginners because it strengthens the muscles of the upper back and spine. For most of us, our day-to-day posture creates tightness in the chest and weakness in the upper back. This backbend requires you to lift your body away from the force of gravity, and is the perfect antidote to bad posture. Beginners can up the ante by placing a belt (tied in loop at shoulder-width apart) around their wrists, which will facilitate a deeper opening in the chest.
It's easy to take the breath for granted. Simply bringing awareness to the breath can help to calm the body and mind. Lie on your back and place your hands anywhere on lower abdomen. Observe the rise and fall of the body with the breath. Connecting the mind to the breath by using the touch of the hands is an excellent way to bring the mind into a more focused place. (Related: Smart Breathing Strategies)