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3 Things You Need to Be Successful in Beginner Yoga

3 Things You Need to Be Successful in Beginner Yoga

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Plus a Free Beginner Yoga Sequence!

3 tings missing from beginner yoga routinesDisclaimer: In the name of full transparency, please be aware that this blog post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you).

Your friends have been telling you for years that yoga “has transformed their lives”. All their problems magically disappeared when they came to their mat. So, they encouraged you to try it too.

They touted all the benefits of yoga like: it’ll help you stay young, or age more gracefully. Or told you stories about people who used yoga as a panacea for a myriad of health issues like high blood pressure.

Yeah, all that is great, but you don’t think yoga is for you because:

But one day, something happened. Maybe it was a knee injury that stopped you from being able to do your favorite Plyo class. Or maybe your previously sedentary life led you to gain weight and now have some of those health issues that supposedly yoga is good for.

So, you decided maybe you should start doing yoga.

You could try a yoga studio, but truth be told, all those Lululemon-wearing yogis can be intimidating. So, you decide to do it on your own and google “beginner yoga routines.”

All the routines (also known as sequences) on the internet claim that they will make you stronger and more flexible. That makes it hard to pick just one. So, you pick one at random.

You roll out your mat from Target and load that yoga sequence on your smartphone.

The routine starts with Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or maybe Cat/Cow. Not so bad, maybe easy. You think, “Ok, maybe this yoga thing isn’t too hard.”

Then you progress onto Downward Facing Dog. Here it starts to get a little harder. The woman in the picture has her heels all the way to the ground. And her knees are straight. Her arms are perfectly aligned by her ears. Her shoulders are extended all the way.

You look at that picture and look at yourself and say, maybe yoga isn’t for me.

I feel you.

The 3 Things That are Missing from Beginner Yoga Routines

The problem with so-called Beginner Yoga Routines is that they assume 2 key things:

  • You have some kind of idea what you are doing
  • You have a requisite level of flexibility and strength to begin with

But if you are a true beginner, even that is too much to assume. Someone who’s never done much (or any) exercise at all isn’t going to just lift up into downward dog the first time.

And even if you are a gym-a-holic, it could be that you’ve never stretched out before. At least, not in the ways that yoga asks you to.

All those yoga sequences use “beginner” poses. In actuality, they are just “base poses.” Meaning that those are the poses that a beginner is working to attain. Not that a beginner should just be able to do them.

Your body needs to be prepared, first.

When you search the internet for how to do more advanced poses, you’ll likely find a pretty little graphic of the final pose surrounded by preparatory poses that work you up the final iteration. But where are those for the beginner??

Looking at those beginner sequences, there is something MISSING. Actually there are a few things missing.

1. Modifications

The first thing that is missing from yoga sequences for beginners are modifications. Modifications are ways that you can change a pose which will allow you to get the full benefit of the pose. As in, even if you do not have the flexibility or strength to do the pose as you see it in those photos.

An example of a modification is using blocks to help your hands reach the floor in forward fold. Another way to modify the same pose without a prop is to bend your knees. Each is a way to make the pose accessible to less flexible yogis.

2. Cues

The second thing that is missing from most of those sequences is “cues.”

Cues are the instructions of how to get into a pose and transition the next pose.

Having a picture of how the pose is supposed to look is helpful. However without cues, you might not get the most benefit out of the pose.

3. Body Awareness

The first pose you must learn is not really a pose at all. First, you must learn awareness.  Yet, this is one things that most online sequences miss completely. Regardless of who they are written for.

The whole point of yoga is to be aware of your body.  It’s easier to do yoga safely if you are aware of your body in space. It’s great to be able to do Chaturanga. Nevertheless, without body awareness, it’s hard to transfer that skill to other poses, and ultimately to other parts of your life.

Mindfulness. It’s that buzz word going around lately.  It is a practice that keeps you in the here and now. it allows you to be in tune with your body and mind. 

The Body Scan

To achieve the goal of awareness, I am including something special in this true Yoga Sequence for Beginners. A body scan. Don’t worry, a body scan is not a high-tech medical test. It is simply asking yourself “What does this post feel like in my neck, in my arms, in my chest, my back, my abs,” et cetera. Doing this awareness exercise will help you realize where your tensions are, the nature of your balance or imbalance. Over time, these poses will slowly build strength and flexibility.

Remember: small changes over a long period of time will stick more than large forceful ones in a short period. Not to mention, you’ll be at less risk for injury.

Doing this awareness exercise will also bring relaxation to your body and mind (double bonus!).

Sit in each pose as long as you need to in order to consider each question honestly, but without judgement. First bring your attention to the body part. Then, spend a few moments, just observing, and ask yourself:
    • How does this body part feel?
    • Is there tension here?
    • Is there some way I can find more space for this body part?
      1. The Head
      2. The Neck
      3. The Shoulders
      4. The Upper Arms
      5. The Elbows
      6. The Lower Arms
      7. The Hands
      8. The Wrists
      9. The Fingers
      10. The Chest
      11. The Upper Back
      12. The Lower Back
      13. The Abdomen
      14. The Hips
      15. The Thighs
      16. The Knees
      17. The Calves and shins
      18. The Ankles
      19. The Feet
      20. The Toes
Every time you do a pose, you will find that the answers to these questions are not the same. You will also notice that, over time, the tension in each body part will lessen.  This will allow you to find more space and come closer to the full expression of the pose. As you can see, this will take some time. That is why there are only 6 poses in the sequence.

Forewarning: There are many steps to each pose. This may be the reason that many online sequences do not give cues, so as not to scare newcomers away. However, without these cues, you will not reap the benefits of the poses.

Go slowly, you can do this.

Free Beginner's Routine to
Prepare Your Body for Yoga

General breathing note: The basic yogic breath is in and out through the nose. Slightly adduct the vocal folds (aka vocal cords) so that you can hear the breath.  Because it sounds a little like the ocean sometimes this is referred to as an “ocean breath.”

Props you may need:

  • 2 or 3 blocks
  • a strap
  • a rolled-up towel or blanket

Pose 1- Easy Seat

Easy Seat Pose for Beginners

(Do this pose twice- once for each side, you’ll see what I mean)

Just because it’s called an “easy” seat does not mean that you can breeze right through it. In fact, you should not skip easy pose.

It is important that you know how you feel and learn grounding in that seated position, because it is the foundation for all seated positions.

How to Sit in Easy Seat:

Props: 2 or 3 blocks

  1. Place a block flat in the center of the mat (the lowest setting you can do).
  2. Sit on the block, positioning sitz bones so that your weight is evenly distributed.
  3. Cross your legs:
    1. 1st time through, sit with your right ankle under your left ankle.
    2. 2nd time through, sit with your left ankle under your right.
  4. You may be more comfortable if you place one block under each knee.
  5. Slide the blocks farther under the legs until the weight of your leg rests on the block. (This may mean you don’t slide them at all, and they are right under your knees.)
  6. Ground down through the sitz bones, allow the block to take your weight.
  7. Inhaling, sit up as tall as you can, reaching the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
  8. Exhale, Draw your shoulders back as far as you can without arching your lower back.
  9. Inhale, bringing your head back to a comfortable position over your neck.
    (Your head probably jutted forward when you brought your shoulders back.)
  10. Exhale, engaging your abs helps to protect your lower back.
  11. Inhale, leveling your chin with the floor.
  12. Exhale, bringing your hands to your legs. Slide them down your thighs until they rest at a comfortable position without compromising the position of your spine, head, and shoulders
  13. Palms can be face-down the first time through and face-up the second time through. Notice how this changes how the pose feels.
  14. Do your Body Scan (all body parts).
  15. Repeat with the legs crossed the opposite way and Do the Body Scan again.

 

In Subsequent Practices:

Every time you do this pose, you are working toward the full expression. Each time you do easy seat try to bring yourself just a tiny bit closer by doing the following:

  • Bringing the knees closer to the floor by moving the blocks a tiny bit farther down the leg.
  • Bringing your ears more in line with your shoulders by drawing the head back directly over the neck.
  • Bring your hands to your legs and slide them down to the knees without rounding the shoulders or back.

Pose 2- Tabletop

Table top pose for beginners using blanket

It is important to learn proper grounding of the hands in Tabletop, as it is the foundation for all prone (face-down) poses that are lifted off the floor (i.e. not on your belly).

Proper grounding of the hands helps you avoid wrist strain that so plagues many (even more advanced) yogis in later poses such as plank and downward dog.

How to Do Tabletop:

Props: Blanket or towel for knee comfort

  1. Still sitting in Easy Seat, place your blanket or towel in the middle of the mat in front of your knees.
  2. Remove the blocks under your legs if applicable.
  3. Inhale, come to kneel with your knees on the blanket.
  4. Exhale, bring your hands to the floor.
  5. Inhale, look just beyond your mat, keeping your head in line with your spine.
  6. Exhale, move your hands and /or lean forward, bringing the wrists directly under the shoulders and the knees are directly under the hips.
  7. Inhale, spread your fingers, so that the first finger is pointed directly ahead and the thumb is stretched away but not so far as to make the shape of an “L.”
  8. Exhale, press into your fingertips, gripping the mat.
  9. Inhale, bring the weight to the middle of the hand, drawing the center of the palm upward.
  10. Note that the middle of your hand is actually the first knuckle of the middle finger, not the middle of your palm.
  11. Exhale, rotate the elbows so that the inner elbow is facing straight ahead.
  12. Inhale, press into the hands so that you are not sinking into your shoulders.
  13. Exhale, lightly engage the abs.
  14. Inhale then exhale, tilting the pelvis slightly toward the belly button, beginning to take the arch out of the lower back to come to a flat back.
  15. Do the Body Scan (particularly your back, wrists, shoulders, hips, pelvis, abs, and knees. If you’re short on time, you can omit the other body parts).

 

In Subsequent Practices:

Each time you do this pose:

  • Work on the tilt of the pelvis a little more.
  • It may be that you are able to come to a flat back the first time you do this pose, but perhaps not and you’ll need to work on it.

Pose 3- Modified Forward Fold

Beginner Yoga: Modified Forward Fold Pose

Many people have a rounded spine in forward fold. This is not good for your back and will not increase your flexibility to bring your fingers closer to the floor.

This may be counter to what you have heard in the past, but in order to advance your flexibility, you actually have to bend at the knees to bring your chest to your thighs.

How to Do Modified Forward Fold:

Props: blocks

  1. From tabletop, inhale, tuck your toes.
  2. Exhale, lift your knees off the floor.
  3. Inhale, shift the weight to one knee.
  4. Exhale, bring the other foot forward flat on the floor behind the same-side hand.
  5. Inhale, come up onto your fingertips (or bring them to blocks).
  6. Exhale, walk that foot between the hands so that your thigh is directly underneath you and your toes are pointed straight forward.
  7. Do not allow your hip to stick out to the side.
  8. Inhale, shift the weight to the flat foot.
  9. Exhale, bring the other foot beside it into a crouching position.
  10. Notice that your chest and stomach are on your thighs and your hands are still on the floor (or blocks).
  11. Inhale, slowly straighten the knees until just before your upper body would lift off the thighs.
  12. Exhale, allow the head and arms to hang down.
  13. Do the Full Body Scan.

 

In Subsequent Practices:

Each time you do this pose:

  • Alternate slightly straightening your knees to increase the stretch one side at a time.
  • You should also notice there is a stretch in the outside of the thigh on the straightening leg which will help to release hip tension as well.
  • Then, try slightly straightening both knees at the same time.

Pose 4: Mountain Pose

Beginner Yoga: tadasana or Mountain pose

Tadasana is the foundation for all standing poses. It is necessary to learn to ground down through your feet. You can’t balance on an unstable base. 

You’d be amazed how the practice of grounding your feet can dramatically change the stability of all the joints above them.

How to Do Tadasana:

Props: none

  1. From forward fold, Inhale, lightly engaging the abs as you rise to standing, arms overhead.
  2. Exhale, bringing the arms out to the sides of the body, palms facing forward, reaching out energetically through the fingertips.
    This will allow the chest to open more, as it externally rotates the shoulders.
  3. Inhale, checking that your feet are still in alignment, big toes almost touching (or touching if your mobility allows for it).
    This will spiral the thighs inward.
  4. Exhale, evenly distribute the weight of your body over both feet.
  5. Inhale, ground down through the feet. For each foot, evenly distribute its load over the “4 corners” of the feet: the ball at the base of the big toe, the first knuckle of the pinky toe, the outside edges of the heel.
  6. Exhale, Spreading the toes and grip the mat with them.
  7. Inhale, Pressing  down firmly with the big toe.
  8. Exhale, Drawing the belly-button toward the spine, engaging the abs with the feeling of “zipping up” the center of the body, starting from the feet, though the spiraled thighs up to the rib cage.
    This will help maintain proper curvature of the spine.
  9. Inhale, Lifting the rib cage slightly.
  10. Exhale, Sliding the shoulder blades back and down as your mobility allows, keeping them away from the ears, and avoiding adding curvature to the lower back.
  11. Inhale, repositioning your head over your neck as your mobility allows as the previous action may move your head forward.
  12. Exhale, bringing your chin parallel to the floor, then tuck it in slightly without tilting the whole head toward the floor (this will aid in positioning your head).
  13. Do the Full Body Scan.

 

In Subsequent Practices:

Each time you do this pose, you’ll be able to:

  • Allow more space for the chest by drawing the shoulders back just a little more, while still keeping them down away from the ears
  • Bring the ears more aligned with the center of the shoulders

Pose 5: Modified Low Lunge

(Do this pose twice, once for each side)

This is the strength-building, balance-enhancing pose of the beginner’s sequence. Many standing poses are variations on the lunge, including Warrior 1, 2, and 3. Without the stability that this pose builds, you won’t be successful in those other poses, especially ones in which you only have one foot on the floor.

How to Do Modified Low Lunge:

Props: Blocks
  1. From Tadasana, you have a couple of choices of how to get into low lunge:
    • The first way (only if you have good balance):
      1. Inhale, stepping back with one foot, bending into the opposite knee.
      2. Exhale, bringing the hands to the floor (or to blocks) on either side of the front foot.
    • The second way:
      1. Inhale, Bending both knees.
      2. Exhale, Folding at the waist.
      3. Bring the hands (or the fingers depending on the flexibility of your hips) to the floor (or to blocks), returning to Modified Forward Fold.
      4. Inhale, Stepping one foot back.
  2. Exhale, Walking the back foot farther back until the knee is as straight as you can make it.
  3. Make sure that the weight of the foot is evenly distributed along all the toes
  4. Inhale, drawing the hip of the extended leg forward and the hip of the forward leg back increasing the stability of the hips.
  5. Do the Full Body Scan.
  6. Repeat on the others side and do the Body Scan again


      NOTE: The body scan will take several breaths. There are 2 modifications you may choose to take as the pose becomes more difficult to hold:
      • If this pose becomes too uncomfortable for your toes while you hold it, you may bring the knee to the mat and untuck them to alleviate the tension.
      • If the quad of the front thigh is not strong enough to hold the pose, bring the back knee down when it becomes too much.


In Subsequent Practices:

Each time you do this pose, you’ll be able to:
  • Bend the front knee a little deeper as your hips gain flexibility.
  • Straighten your back knee a little more.
  • Hold the pose without bringing the knee down for a little longer.
  • Begin to lift the fingers off the floor or the blocks.
  • Begin to hover the the torso over the front thigh.

Pose 6: Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Savasana with blanket under the lower back and wrists

Many beginners make the mistake of skipping this pose because they think it’s a waste of time.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This is one of the most important poses in yoga. It is where all the “magic” happens. All the work that your body and mind have done during your practice are integrated while you rest in Savasana.

How to Do Savasana:

Props:

Blanket(s)

How to Get into Savasana

  1. From Low Lunge, bring the back knee down and untuck the toes (if it wasn’t already on the floor).
  2. Come to all 4’s by bringing the front knee to meet the back.
  3. Sit back onto your heels.
  4. Lean on to one hip.
  5. Swing the legs straight out in front of you.
  6. Make sure that there is room behind you on your mat. Walk the hands behind you until your back is flat on the mat.
  7. Walk the heels out to the corners of the mat.
  8. Allow the feet to splay open, relaxing the hips.
  9. Bring the arms out to the sides of the body at a comfortable angle.
    *They do not have to be at your sides on the mat. In fact, it is more comfortable for your shoulders if they are away from the body with hands and even elbows on the floor off the mat.*
  10. You may wish to cover yourself with a blanket as well as this pose can feel vulnerable and/or chilled.
  11. Close your eyes.
  12. Do the Full Body Scan.
  13. Clear your mind and remain in Savasana for a few more minutes.

If thoughts come to you, imagine placing them inside a bubble and letting them “float” away.

To Exit Savasana:

  1. Make small movements with the fingers and toes as you bring awareness back to your body.
  2. Draw the knees into the chest, giving them a tight squeeze.
  3. Releasing the knees, roll onto your right side into “sleeping baby pose.”
  4. Cradle your head in your arms.
  5. Take a deep breath in through your nose.
  6. Open the lips and sigh it out.
  7. Press the left hand into the floor in front of you to help you come up into a seated position.
  8. Blink open your eyes.
  9. This concludes your practice.

Extra modifications:

Savasana variation: constructive resting Pose

If your lower back is tight there are a few extra things you may want to do to help relieve that tension.

  1. For slight low back tension: place the folded blanket on the mat under the area between the shoulders and the hips.
  2. For moderate low back tension: roll up the blanket and place it under your knees.
  1. For intense low tension: use “constructive resting pose.”
    1. Bend your knees.
    2. Bring the soles of your feet to the mat.
    3. Walk the feet out to the edges of the mat.
    4. Allow the knees to fall into one another.
    5. This will allow the low back to be flat on the floor.

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