1. Malasana (Garland Pose)
One of my all-time favourite stances is this lovely squat. Malasana expands the hips, relieves the lower back, and transforms the practitioner into a lovely little nugget. Learn how to make this position easier or go deeper by experimenting with different versions and recommendations.
Beginners frequently have difficulty dropping their heels to the ground. Make sure to expand your stance by spinning your heels in and toes out. Sit on one or more blocks if dropping into a complete squat irritates your knees.
Chaturanga is one of the most common postures in Vinyasa yoga—but also one of the most abused. Students tend to rush this pose, cheating its alignment, which with repetition can lead to injury. Check out my pointers below to revisit this foundational posture and begin treating it as its own pose instead of a transition.
Many people don’t have the strength and/or body awareness to perform this posture with good alignment. I recommend most students learn this pose with their knees down. Focus on drawing the lower belly up to prevent dumping in the lower back. Keep your elbows in tight to your ribcage and stacked above your wrists.
Have the eye of the tiger! Gaze forward the entire time to prevent rounding in the upper back (we always want to look down here, look forward!) Draw the shoulder heads back and focus on extending your heart as you lower so the elbows stay over the wrists instead of falling behind the heels of your hands.
Use full breath! People love to fly through this pose. Take a full inhale in Plank and a full exhale to come into Chaturanga. Don’t transition out of it until your exhale is complete. This takes control, awareness, and prevents you from making silly mistakes and moving too quickly.
Beginner students have a tendency to compress their lower body in an attempt to reach the ground with their hand or palm. Place your palm on a block outside of your shin or on your shin below your knee to skip that step. This allows you to balance out your ribs on both sides, resulting in an even length in your trunk.
It’s so easy to get sassy in this pose! Most people stick out their butts (pitch in their lower backs) and puff their ribs. Focus on corseting your ribcage in (wrapping the bones towards your midline) and keeping your lower belly engaged and lifted to create space in your lower back.
The final step is taking both of these tips and looking down. You want to line your torso up with your front leg (most students lean toward the inside). Can you keep both sides of your waist even, ribs in, belly engaged and lower back long as you lean back? Of course, you can! Practice, practice, practice.
4.Lunge in a Crescent
Without this exquisite standing stance, I can’t picture a yoga practise. Crescent Lunge is my go-to move for expanding my hips and psoas, increasing chest space, and feeling strong on my feet.
In this stance, you’ll see newer pupils trying to maintain their balance. This is a simple fix. Take a look down. It’s likely that your feet are too thin. Make sure your front and back feet are separated by at least a hip width. This will help you balance by widening your stance.
In this position, there is a tendency to lean forward, which is commonly caused by lower back pitching or tightness in the psoas muscle that connects to your back leg. Bend your back knee as far as you need to for pelvic mobility.
Try adding the element of a backbend/dropback in your upper body. Follow the rules you’ve read so far and then reach your arms overhead interlacing all the fingers except for your thumb and index. Keep the base of the neck relaxed as you lift your heart up and curl your upper chest. Draw an imaginary line along the ceiling going up and back. Keep the base of your building strong, aka don’t pitch your pelvis.
Chair Stance isn’t the most popular pose in the world, but it’s on the list for a reason. It’s an excellent basic pose for learning how to securely twist. You’ll be safer in more advanced positions if you can master the mechanics of a twist.
Take a look at your knuckles! Your knees are the best indicator of how well your lower back is aligned. You want them to be evenly spaced, so if one pops out, pull it back in! This will protect you by neutralising your lower back.
Make Anjali Mudra with your palms and press them together. If you press hard enough, your torso will spin and your heart will rise to meet your thumbs.
Reach your bottom hand down to the outside of your foot and extend the top arm back up. Combine the work of keeping your knees/hips level and using your outer arm to push into your leg to get the beautiful turn in your chest.
6. Sirsasana II (Salamba Sirsasana II) (Supported Headstand)
Inversions are a powerful set of postures that change our perspective and give us a boost of confidence. Because of the huge foundation, Tripod Headstand is one of the simpler inversions to balance. It’s also useful to know if you want to go to more sophisticated transitions like descending into arm balances.
With your hands shoulder-width apart and elbows stacked on the heels of your hands, place the crown of your head on the ground. To enter a Dolphin Pose, curl your toes under and straighten your legs. To avoid collapsing, hold your elbows in (use your adductors) and lift your shoulders up away from the ground.
Keep the same actions as above, but as you gain flexibility, walk your feet in enough so you can place one knee at a time onto the back of your arms (aim closer to the armpits if possible). Again, keep the elbows in and shoulders up to prevent collapsing your arms from the weight of your legs.
From the knee position draw them up off of your arms and into your chest like a cannon ball. Continue to draw the legs up until they straighten out keeping the legs hugging into the midline the entire time. You can also enter this posture from Dolphin walking your feet in, keeping the legs straight, and entering from a press.
7. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) (Supported Bridge Pose)
This is where I feel at ease. Traditional Bridge Pose, on the other hand, drives me insane. I could sit there for hours with a smile on my face if I added a block under my lower back. This is a terrific Shoulderstand modification and a calming method to relieve the front body and spine.
Begin with a low–medium level block beneath your lower back.
Place the block beneath your lower back in a tall and narrow manner (you might need to press up onto tippy toes to fit the block in). Hug your shoulders in and interlace your fingers in front of the block.
If you follow the procedures above, you should be able to get
8. Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Camel is a love-hate pose for many people. The key is to trigger all of the proper alignment in the body to keep the lower back supported and the neck happy. The beauty lies in the fact that there are so many variations. So here we go!
Stand on your shins with your knees and feet hip-width apart. Wrap your hands around your hips encouraging your tailbone to drop down while your lower belly lifts up to neutralize your pelvis. Keep your hands on your hips and lift your heart up powerfully as you roll your shoulder heads back. Hold here with hands on the hips for about 8 breaths.
Begin the same way as above but curl your toes under. Neutralize your pelvis then draw your hands to your ribcage encouraging them to lift and expand. Roll the shoulders back and keep the arms neutral as you drop your hands down to grab your heels. Keep hips stacking over the knees and the chest lifting.
9. Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
This one may seem random, but I have affection for it going all the way back to my Ashtanga days. This fabulous forward fold releases the calf and hamstring of the straight leg with the added benefit of opening the hip of the bent-knee leg. It also teaches the student to notice the effects of small nuances, such as squaring the chest with the straight-leg knee.
Sit up on a blanket or block. Place a strap over the ball of your straight-leg foot. Hold onto each side of the strap and focus on sitting tall without rounding your spine. Gently pull back on the strap so you feel it pull into your foot encouraging it to stay flexed.
To start, inhale and extend your spine long. As you exhale, pivot your belly button to face your straight-leg knee. Keep the twist and length as you grab either edge of your straight-leg foot.
Follow the steps above, but as your flexibility increases, clasp your outer wrist with your inner hand thumb and middle finger around the ball of your foot. Inhale as you clasp, and keeping your gaze forward, exhale and bend your elbows wide to draw you deeper into the fold.
This is such a glorious pose and great for all levels of students! Leg-Up-the-Wall Pose is the best way to relax after a long day or practice on your feet. It drains the legs and is also a fantastic posture if you struggle with insomnia.
Place a folded blanket or bolster lengthwise along the wall. Sit on it sideways with one hip touching the wall. As you lie down, swivel around and sweep your legs up the wall, keeping your lower back elevated.