Top 7 must-do yoga poses for beginners

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukah Svanasana)

Pose type: Standing

The name downward facing dog goes hand in hand with yoga, but just because you've heard of this pose doesn't mean it's easy to do.

Beginners often lean too far forward in this posture, making it more like a plank. Instead, remember to keep your weight mostly in your legs and reach your hips high, with your heels stretching toward the floor (they do not need to touch the floor). Bend your knees a little to facilitate the move if you have tight hamstrings. Keep feet parallel.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Pose type: Standing

Mountain pose may not be as famous as downward facing dog, but it is every bit as important. This is a good time to talk about alignment, which is the way that your body parts are ideally arranged in each pose. The alignment in mountain pose draws a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels, with the shoulders and pelvis stacked along the line. Every body is different, so focus on rooting down with your feet and lengthening up with your spine.

A yoga teacher can talk you through this in class, reminding you to slide your shoulders down your back and keep weight on your heels.

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

Pose type: Standing

The important thing to remember in Warrior I is that the hips face forward. Think of your hip points as headlights—they should be roughly parallel with the front of your mat. This may require you to take a wider stance.

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

Pose type: Standing

Unlike Warrior I, in Warrior II the hips face the side of the mat. When moving from Warrior I to Warrior II, the hips and shoulders both open to the side. You'll also rotate your back foot, so your toes are angled out at about 45-degrees. In both warrior poses, bend your front knee and sink low to get your front thigh parallel to the floor.

Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parvakonasana)

Pose type: Standing

One modification of extended side angle pose is to bring your forearm to your thigh instead of placing your hand on the floor. It should rest lightly on your thigh, not bear a lot of weight. This modification enables you to keep your shoulders open. You can also place your hand on a block.

If you reach toward the floor before you're ready, you may compromise the position of the torso, turning your chest toward the floor instead of toward the ceiling.

Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)

Pose type: Standing

The triangle can be modified in a manner similar to extended side angle, using a yoga block for your bottom hand if you aren't comfortable reaching your arm all the way to the floor. You can also rest your hand higher up on your leg—on your shin or your thigh—but avoid putting it directly on your knee.

Don't hesitate to microbend both knees if the pose feels uncomfortable. This won't look or feel like a pronounced bend, but rather, just enough of a movement to unlock your knees and ease tension in your hamstrings. Triangle offers many benefits: Strength (in the legs), flexibility (in the the groin, hamstrings, and hips, as well as opening the chest and shoulders) and balance.

Cat-Cow Stretch (Chakravakasana)

Pose type: Backbend

It's the best of both worlds: spinal extension followed by spinal flexion. Moving back and forth ​awakens and warms the back, improves body awareness, and is a basic introduction to how to do a vinyasa sequence by coordinating your movements to your breath.

Cat-cow may be the most important pose you learn when starting yoga, especially if you have back pain. Even if you never make it to more than a few yoga classes, continue doing this stretch on your own.