Yoga Poses 101: Improve With An Expert Teacher’s Tips

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Gemma Clarke

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Have you recently been to your first yoga class and found it incredibly difficult? Or have you been attending classes for a while now but still need help remembering the poses?

Yoga is undoubtedly more challenging than it sounds.

There are many factors in play when it comes to executing the poses correctly. Your breathing pattern, the type of yoga you’re practicing, and even your yoga mat can all affect your experience.

But don’t worry if you find yoga stretches like the bridge backbend challenging or if your hips resist lengthening; I’m here to help.

I’ve been teaching yoga to beginners for over 5 years and have learned from yoga teaching what most people do wrong when they first start out. So, to get the most out of your yoga classes and master the alignment of your favorite asanas, follow these 10 tips.

1. Start with beginner-friendly yoga poses

One common mistake I see among beginner yogis is trying too much too soon. Many people see advanced yogis doing fancy asanas like headstand, crow pose, and chaturanga and want to learn those postures immediately.

Once they realize how challenging these advanced postures are, they feel disheartened, believing they are not good enough to do yoga.

However, it is not so much to do with your ability (although lack of flexibility in the hips or shoulders certainly plays a part). But the main problem is that you’re approaching learning yoga poses in the wrong way.

It isn’t a good idea to start lifting 20kg in your first weight-lifting session, but you shouldn’t start with advanced yoga postures.

Instead, focusing solely on beginner-level asanas will help you gradually build the strength, stability, and flexibility in your hips, arms, and shoulders needed for those standing arm balancing poses and inversions.

So, what yoga stretches should you start with? Mountain pose, Downward Dog, Cat and Cow, and Child’s Pose are great starting points.

  • Mountain Pose: The standing mountain pose teaches you how to ground down through your lower body and improves your posture by promoting a lengthened spine.
  • Downward Dog: Downward dog gives a nice stretch to the entire body, improving flexibility in the hamstrings and spine while strengthening the upper back and arms.
  • Child’s pose: Child’s pose is an excellent pose for learning to connect with your breath. It also helps to release tightness in the hip flexors and spine, improving overall mobility.

2. Attend Iyengar, Hatha, or Ashtanga Yoga Classes

Attend Iyengar, Hatha, or Ashtanga Yoga Classes

The right type of yoga can make a world of difference. While all yoga styles bring wonderful benefits to the mind, body, and soul, I recommend a couple of styles to beginners – Iyengar and Hatha yoga.

Iyengar Yoga

Iyengar yoga is ideal for beginners as it focuses on precision and alignment. It’s all about getting the posture just right so you hold each position for longer than most other styles – typically, 10 breaths or so.

I also recommend Iyengar yoga because it encourages the use of props to help you find the correct positioning while keeping your body safe.

This approach makes Iyengar yoga great for people recovering from injuries or suffering from chronic back pain and is even suitable for older adults. A study by the University of California found that 12 weeks of regular practice of Iyengar yoga improved balance and mobility in the 54 older adults who took part.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is a gentle, slow-paced style that promotes body awareness and breath connection. You typically hold a Hatha posture for 5+ breaths; like Iyengar, it is accessible to all. Most Hatha yoga teachers will provide modifications or alternatives to each pose.

What about Ashtanga Yoga?

If you’re coming from an athletic background, try an Ashtanga yoga class. As this is a demanding style, it is not suitable for beginners who lack strength and stability.

However, what I love about Ashtanga yoga is the structure – in each class, you follow the same routine, so you learn to master the primary series before moving on to more challenging poses.

3. Invest in a high-quality yoga mat

Invest in a high-quality yoga mat

You can practice yoga anywhere, anytime, with nothing but a yoga mat required.

However, the quality of your yoga mat matters A LOT. A good quality mat is the foundation of a beneficial and effective yoga practice.

Like Lululemon’s renowned “The Mat,” a good mat provides grip, preventing your hands from slipping in downward dog and improving balance in standing postures. In the lunge pose, it also provides comfort and support for your joints, such as your knees.

Therefore, one important tip I give all my beginner students is to NOT skimp on this essential tool. Investing in a high-quality mat is investing in your practice.

Choosing the Right Mat

So, how do you find the right mat for you? There are several factors to consider, including:

  1. Thickness: A thicker mat offers more cushioning but may be harder to balance on. Thick mats are best for restorative and yin yoga, while average-thickness (5mm) mats are better suited for other styles. Learn more about the importance of mat thickness in this guide!
  2. Material: Natural rubber mats offer excellent grip. Cork is a fab, eco-friendly material that is great at keeping foul odors at bay. However, you should avoid certain materials, such as PVC, that can contain toxic chemicals. We’ve created a guide to non-toxic yoga mats to help you choose the right one.
  3. Texture: Some yogis prefer a smooth surface like rubber, while others like a texture (such as cork) for extra grip. This is entirely down to personal preference.

4. Use props for support and alignment

Use props for support and alignment

When you’re learning the yoga poses, props are your best friend, so rather than dismissing them, embrace them! Here are the props I recommend having on hand and how they can help you.

Yoga Blocks for Better Balance

Have you ever tried to do the Triangle Pose but couldn’t reach the ground? That’s where yoga blocks come in handy. They help you maintain balance without straining your muscles.

You can use them under your hands, feet, hips, or shoulders. For example, in a side-angle pose, you can place a dense foam block like this one by lululemon next to your front foot to rest your hand on.

Or, in pigeon pose, you can place one under your hip (filling the space between your body and the floor) to promote better spinal alignment.

Blocks can also encourage muscle engagement. For example, placing a block between the inner thighs in a bridge pose will help you keep your glutes, legs, and back muscles activated.

Check out this article for other ways to use blocks in yoga poses.

Bolsters for Added Comfort

Bolsters give extra cushioning for your hips or knees in seated stretches and support your back in supine poses.

I like to put a bolster on my legs in a seated forward bend and rest my head on it. I also often place one under my spine in a supine butterfly pose to lift my chest and deepen the backbend.

Straps for Extended Reach

Straps serve as an extension of your arms, so if you can’t touch your toes in a seated forward bend, grab a strap! Wrap it around your heel and pull gently to deepen the stretch.

Most yoga straps also allow you to create a secure loop, which you can use in several ways. For example, you can place a looped strap around your hips and heels in reclined Baddha Konasana to support your spine and knees.

Use of the wall

If you don’t have any props on hand, use the wall as support instead. The wall can help you learn inversions, find a deeper forward bend or shoulder stretch, or support you when your balance is off.

If you enjoy doing poses against the wall, you might also like chair yoga! Check out this guide on chair yoga poses for beginners.

5. Study yoga books

Study Yoga Books

Many informative yoga books focus on asana, which can provide insights into the benefits and alignment of the most common yoga poses. They can also help you understand the anatomy of yoga, learning how to stretch your back, leg muscles, and outer hips effectively.

Here are a few yoga books I recommend checking out:

  • Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff – Featuring full-color anatomical illustrations, this eye-opening book shows you exactly what muscles strengthen and stretch in each pose.
  • Light on Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar – This renowned yoga book provides detailed descriptions and illustrations of all the Iyengar yoga poses and breathing exercises.
  • 2,100 Asanas by Daniel Lacerda – This “asana bible” gives detailed cues of each pose and beginner-friendly modifications and tips on how to make the pose work for you.

6. Connect with your breath

Learning how to execute yoga poses correctly is not just about what you do with your body. Breath control is a HUGE part of yoga, as through our breath, we can consciously relax tight muscles and move through tension to go deeper into the stretch.

Cultivating a slow and steady breathing pattern during your yoga session will also prevent fatigue and muscle cramping. Thus, breath connection allows you to develop more upper body and core strength to tackle the more advanced poses.

There are many different breathing techniques in yoga, but I recommend first mastering diaphragmatic breathing. Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can learn the ujjayi breath, which improves the oxygenation of your blood, helps build internal heat, and prevents fatigue.

7. Practice consistently

Practice Consistently

Establishing a consistent routine is vital to really understanding the poses, as it enhances your muscle memory, helps lengthen the time you can hold poses, and speeds up your process.

To make yoga a habit, I recommend scheduling your sessions at the same time each day. I also suggest monitoring your progress by keeping a journal of the poses you practice each day, how they felt in your body, and any breakthroughs you had.

But remember: every yogi’s journey is unique, so don’t compare yourself to others or beat yourself up if you feel like you aren’t making progress, which brings me to my last pro tip…

8. Listen to your body

Yoga is not about if you can touch your toes but about how connected you are to your breath and your body.

The more body awareness you cultivate, the more you can use your body as a guide. By listening to your body’s cues, you’ll know when to challenge yourself and when to pull back.

You should feel a balance between effort and ease in every posture. If a pose feels uncomfortable or causes pain, modify it or choose an alternative. Never stay in a pose if you experience any sharp or stabbing pain.

Final thoughts

Mastering yoga poses takes time, patience, and consistent practice. But there are things you can do to speed up your progress while keeping your body safe, such as exploring different styles, reading yoga books, and embracing props.

However, remember, yoga is about progression, not perfection, so listen to your body, connect with your breath, and enjoy the learning process!

FAQ 1: What are some beginner-friendly yoga poses?

Some beginner-friendly yoga poses include Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Child’s Pose (Balasana), and Warrior I & II (Virabhadrasana I & II).

FAQ 2: Why should I invest in a high-quality yoga mat?

A high-quality mat provides better grip, support, comfort, and durability. It can make your practice safer by preventing slips and falls.

FAQ 3: How can props enhance my yoga practice?

Props like blocks, straps, and bolsters can help with alignment, provide support during challenging poses, and deepen stretches.

FAQ 4: Are there specific books for studying yoga?

Yes! Some recommended titles include Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar and The Yoga Bible by Christina Brown.

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About Gemma Clarke

Gemma Clarke is a certified and experienced yoga & meditation instructor. She has been practicing meditation since 2014 and teaching since 2018. Gemma specializes in yoga and mindfulness for emotional wellbeing, and she has taught in Thailand, Cambodia, and the UK. Gemma is passionate about sharing her expertise and experience with meditation to inspire others to live more mindfully, becoming happier, healthier, and calmer. Follow me: Instagram | LinkedIn

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