Are you new to yoga? Do you want to learn what the most common standing yoga poses are and how to do them correctly?
In this post I share with you my list of the 10 Standing Yoga Poses for Beginners which I think you are most likely to encounter in a typical yoga class.
I also share with you what is considered proper alignment in each + the common tendencies you should avoid.
This is important because when you know how to do these poses correctly, you begin to establish healthy habits in your practice. This will ensure your yoga journey is sustainable in the long run and won’t lead to any pain or injury in the future.
I hope that this post, together with the free 30min yoga class I’ve created, provides you with a solid foundation in the classic standing yoga poses and gives you a bit more confidence to step on your mat and practice.
1. DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Sanskrit Name: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward Facing Dog is probably the most common and well-known yoga pose, and for a good reason. If you had time for only one pose in any given day, I think it should be Downward Facing Dog.
Down Dog stretches the back line of the body – your hamstrings and calves, as well as your shoulders and back, while strengthening the upper body and legs.
As a beginner doing this pose, you might feel a lot of pressure in your wrists at first, and your shoulders might get tired quite quickly. Don’t worry – this is normal and with time you’ll build the strength necessary to hold the pose and eventually you’ll even be resting in Down Dog (yes, resting!).
Don’t let your back round! This pose is all about finding a straight, long, neutral spine.
If you feel your back rounding, bend your knees a lot and then move your hips back and up until you find a straight line from your hands to your tailbone. Then slowly begin to straighten your legs and let your heels move down towards the earth, but only so far as you can still maintain that long neutral spine.
Lastly, keep in mind that your heels don’t have to touch the floor – this is just the direction they’re going into.
DOWNWARD FACING DOG – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do bend your knees and send your hips back and up.
- do spread your fingers (like a high-5) and root the whole palm of your hand into the earth with the index finger pointing forward.
- do find length in your spine from the crown of the head all the way to the tailbone
- do move your shoulders away from your ears while simultaneously pressing the ground away and allowing the head to hang in between the arms.
- do rotate the upper arm so the biceps turn out and your armpits face each other.
- don’t worry about your legs being straight or your heels touching the ground.
- don’t let your index and middle finger knuckles lift off the ground.
- don’t let your spine round (to prevent this – bend your knees and move your hips back and up as you press into the ground).
- don’t let your shoulders creep up towards your ears.
- don’t let the upper arm turn inwards (biceps and armpits face down); instead, externally rotate the upper arms to create space and integrity in the shoulders.
2. WARRIOR 1
Sanskrit Name: Virabhadrasana I
In yoga there are three different Warrior poses – Warrior One, Warrior Two and Warrior Three.
In my opinion, even though Warrior 1 is the “first” warrior, that doesn’t mean it’s the easiest. In fact, there are quite a few subtleties when it comes to the alignment of this pose.
In Warrior 1 you want your hips to be squared to the front of the mat as much as possible. In order to do that, your feet should be placed about hips-width apart – as if you were stepping on two train tracks.
While your front leg is bent with the knee aligned above (or slightly behind) the front ankle, your back heel and outer edge of the foot are pressing down into the ground. Make sure the front knee is tracking in line with the toes, and the inner arches of both feet are lifted.
As all of these actions are taking place with the legs and feet, your arms are reaching up so you can find length in the side body and open up the chest.
Warrior 1 builds strength in the legs (bent leg), the back and the arms, while also stretching the legs (straight leg), the hip flexors, the abdominals and the chest.
WARRIOR 1 – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do place your feet hips-width apart, as if you were stepping on two train tracks.
- do keep the bent knee tracking over the second toe.
- do make sure that when you look down you can see your big toe.
- do press down through the outer edge of the back foot, keeping the inner arch of the foot lifting.
- do try your best to square the hips forward towards the front edge of the mat (doesn’t have to be perfect).
- don’t place your feet in one line or narrower, as then you can’t square your hips.
- don’t let the bent knee buckle inwards.
- don’t let the inner arch of the front foot collapse.
- don’t let the heel of the back foot lift off the mat & don’t let the inner arch of that back foot collapse.
- don’t let your hips open out to the side (keep them squaring forward as much as you can).
3. WARRIOR 2
Sanskrit Name: Virabhadrasana II
Warrior Two is a very common yoga pose and one you’re likely to come across in so many classes. In my opinion, it’s the easiest one out of the three warrior poses.
In Warrior 2, unlike in Warrior 1, you want your hips to be open out to the side, towards the long edge of your mat (not squaring to the front like in Warrior 1).
Here your feet should be in one line – so that the front heel aligns with the heel or inner arch of the back foot. This will make opening the hips out to the side more accessible.
It’s important to check what your front knee is doing – if it’s collapsing towards the big-toe-side edge of the front foot (meaning you can’t see your big toe if you look down), then you need to press that knee out to the side, towards the pinkie-toe-side edge of the foot. You should be able to see your big toe when you look down.
Open your arms out to the side, parallel to the ground. Move your shoulders down away from your ears and gaze forward over the middle finger of your right hand.
Warrior 2 builds strength in the legs and arms, while also stretching the legs, inner thighs, groin and chest.
WARRIOR 2 – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do place your feet in one line (unlike in Warrior 1), making sure the front heel is in one line with the inner arch of the back foot or with the back heel.
- do make sure your front knee is aligned over or behind the front ankle.
- do make sure you can see the big toe of your front foot. If you can’t, move the front knee out towards the pinkie-toe-side edge of the foot.
- do open your hips out to the side and find a neutral pelvis.
- do keep the arms parallel to the mat and the shoulders away from the ears.
- don’t place your feet at a width that’s too narrow (for example if the heel of the front foot is in line with the back toes), or too wide apart (on train tracks or wider).
- don’t let the front knee move too far forward past the front toes.
- don’t let your front knee collapse inwards. If it is, move it out towards the knife-edge of the front foot.
- don’t over-arch the pelvis or tuck the tailbone.
- don’t let your shoulders creep up towards your ears; instead, relax them down.
4. WARRIOR 3
Sanskrit Name: Virabhadrasana III
Warrior Three is, in my opinion, the most challenging Warrior pose out of the three, as it requires strength, flexibility and balance at the same time.
Even though I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a true Beginner pose (purely because it’s quite challenging), I still wanted to include it in this list of 10 as I believe it’s important to learn it alongside the other two warrior poses.
Here you are working on finding balance on the standing leg, while lifting the back leg up.
When you’re first starting out, don’t worry about how high the leg is lifted. Just get it up off the ground, even if it’s just a few centimetres/inches. This way you’re starting to build strength and work on your balance. Also, it’s ok to hold on to the wall or a piece of furniture if you need help with finding your balance.
When you’ve lifted the back leg up, flex your foot, engage your leg and have your toes pointing down. This will square your hips to the ground.
Work towards finding a straight line from the back heel reaching back to the crown of your head reaching forward.
Warrior Three strengthens the legs (hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads), the back and the shoulders (if you reach your arms forward – even more challenging). It also stretches the hamstrings of the standing leg.
WARRIOR 3 – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do micro-bend the standing leg for more stability.
- do try and keep your hips squared down towards the mat.
- do keep the toes of the back foot pointing down towards the earth.
- do activate the back leg and press back energetically through the back heel.
- do find the long line of energy and the opposing actions of the back heel pressing back as the crown of your head reaches forward.
- don’t hyper-extend the standing leg and lock the knee joint.
- don’t let your hips open out to the side.
- don’t let the toes of the back leg open out to the side.
- don’t allow the back leg to sag and hang lifelessly in the air.
- don’t worry about how high the back leg is lifted or about losing your balance; if you do, simply take your time to come back into the pose and breathe.
Sanskrit Name: Utkatasana
5. CHAIR POSE
Chair pose is probably one of the least-loved yoga poses, and not just for beginners. The reason for that is because it’s quite a challenging pose to hold for a long period of time.
In this pose, much like the name suggests, you are bending your knees and sitting your hips down, as if you were about to sit on a chair. As you do that, shift your weight back into your heels – so much so that the toes almost lift off the mat.
At the same time, reach your arms up and engage your back muscles to keep your chest lifted. Do your best to keep your arms straight and your spine long.
You can practice Chair pose with your feet together, or hips-width apart. If your feet are hips-width, make sure they are parallel and your knees are tracking in line with your toes and are not buckling in towards each other.
This pose builds a lot of strength in the legs (the thighs and ankles) as well as in the back, shoulders and arms. It also stretches the shoulders and chest.
Holding this pose is a quick and sure way to build lots of heat in the body and, if you do multiple repetitions, work up a sweat!
CHAIR POSE – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do place your feet either together or hips-width apart and parallel, making sure your toes are spread and the inner arches are lifting.
- do keep the weight moving back into the heels as you sit the hips down.
- do find a neutral pelvic tilt.
- do find a long spine as you reach up through the fingertips and lift your chin.
- do find a long line of energy as the tailbone moves down and the crown of the head reaches up.
- don’t let your knees buckle in towards each other if your feet are hips-width apart.
- don’t let your weight move forward into your toes; toes should almost be lifting off the mat.
- don’t tuck the tailbone or over-arch the spine.
- don’t round your spine, backbend or crank the neck by tilting the head too far back.
- don’t be afraid of the burn – stay strong and sit a little bit deeper! 🙂
6. EXTENDED SIDE ANGLE POSE
Sanskrit Name: Utthita Parsvakonasana
Extended Side Angle pose is almost a progression pose from Warrior 2. The position of the feet is the same, but this time you lean over the bent leg and place either your forearm on the thigh, or your hand on a block/the floor, depending on your flexibility.
It’s important to stay active in the legs and press down though the forearm/hand to lift up off of that support by using your side body. Don’t let your chest collapse/round or your bottom shoulder creep up towards the ear.
Just like in Warrior 2, guide the front knee out (towards the pinkie-toe-side edge of the foot); don’t let it buckle in.
Another thing to watch out for is the hip of the bent leg. Make sure you’re not sticking your hips back, but rather send your tailbone towards the back heel.
As you tuck the bent-leg hip underneath you, revolve the chest open to the side and shine your heart up as you reach up and overhead with the top arm.
Extended Side Angle pose strengthens the legs, side body and arms, and stretches the inner thighs, groin, side body, back and shoulders.
EXTENDED SIDE ANGLE – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do align the front heel with the inner arch or heel of the back foot.
- do turn your back foot slightly inwards and press through the outer edge.
- do make sure your bent knee is tracking over the toes, aligned with second toe.
- do have your bent knee aligned over the front ankle or behind it.
- do engage the legs and find the long line of energy from the outer edge of the back foot pressing down to the fingers of the top hand reaching up and over.
- don’t place your feet too wide (train tracks) or too narrow (heel in line with toes).
- don’t let the outer edge of the back foot lift off and the inner arch collapse.
- don’t let your bent knee buckle in; press it out towards the pinkie-toe-side edge.
- don’t let the front knee move too far forward past the front toes.
- don’t collapse over the support of the forearm; press the forearm down to draw the shoulder away from the ear and engage your side body for stability.
7. TRIANGLE POSE
Sanskrit Name: Utthita Trikonasana
Triangle pose is another classic yoga posture which is great for building strength and improving flexibility at the same time.
The placement of the feet is the same as Warrior 2, although you might want to shorten the distance between the feet a little bit.
It’s important to press down firmly through the whole sole of the front foot, including the big toe, as you lift the inner arch up. The same goes for the back foot – press down firmly through the outer edge of the foot and lift up through the inner arch.
Keep a micro-bend in the knees as you lean the torso over the front leg, maintaining the length in your side body. Your bottom arm can lower down either on your shin, or on a block/the ground in front of the ankle. If you want to challenge yourself, you can keep the bottom hand hovering just above the ground.
Whichever option you choose, make sure you are using your side body to lift and reach up through the top hand. Just like in Extended Side Angle – make sure you’re not dumping all the weight in the bottom hand and your shoulder is not creeping up towards the ear.
Triangle pose strengthens the legs, side body, back and arms, and stretches the inner thighs, hamstrings, groin, side body, back and shoulders.
TRIANGLE POSE – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do align the heel of the front foot with the heel or inner arch of the back foot.
- do turn the back foot in to about 45 degrees and press through the outer edge.
- do make sure the front knee is not collapsing in, press it out towards the pinkie-toe-side edge of the foot (externally rotate the leg from the hip).
- do engage the side body to lift up in the pose as you reach up through the fingers.
- do broaden across the collarbones and lean the chest back as you reach up, imagining your body is pressing against a wall.
- don’t place your feet too wide (train tracks) or too narrow (heel in line with toes).
- don’t let the back foot turn out (toes pointing back) or the inner arch collapse.
- don’t allow the front knee to collapse inwards and the hips to stick out behind you.
- don’t dump the weight of the upper body into the support of the bottom hand.
- don’t round your back forward and stick the hips back; instead, try to lean the chest back and open up the heart space as your hips move forward.
8. STANDING WIDE-LEGGED FORWARD FOLD
Sanskrit Name: Prasarita Padottanasana
Wide-Legged Forward Fold is a fantastic pose to practice daily – I find it great for relieving stress and calming the mind, as well as for stretching the inner thighs and the whole back chain of the body.
How wide apart you place your feet will depend on your flexibility. Contrary to what you might think, the more flexible you are, the closer together you’ll want to place your feet. This will make it harder for the crown of the head to touch the floor.
In this pose you don’t want the crown of the head on the floor. You want your upper torso to hang in between your legs.
Keep your neck relaxed and allow the head to hang heavy. Keep your knees micro-bent to keep the engagement in your legs.
Make sure you’re pressing down through the outer edges of the feet and your inner arches are lifting, not collapsing.
Your hands can either be hanging down freely, catching opposite elbows, resting on blocks, or touching the ground. If your back is rounding a lot, I’d recommend using blocks or whatever else you have on hand to bring the ground closer to you and find some more length in your spine.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold builds strength in the legs, calves, ankles and feet, and stretches the inner thighs, groin, hamstrings and back.
STANDING WIDE LEGGED FORWARD FOLD – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do place your feet so that your toes point slightly in and the heels out.
- do press through the outer edges of the feet, keeping the inner arches alive.
- do keep a micro-bend in the knees as you fold forward, staying active in the legs.
- do try and maintain a long spine as you fold; use blocks if the ground is too far away.
- do find the long line of energy from the tailbone moving back and up, to the crown of the head moving forward and down.
- don’t place your feet with your toes pointing out and the heels in.
- don’t let the outer edges of your feet lift off, or the inner arches collapse.
- don’t hyperextend the legs or lock the knee joint as you fold.
- don’t let your back round too much in an attempt to touch the ground; instead, use blocks and work on keeping a long spine as much as possible.
- don’t crank your neck by looking too far forward or down; instead, find length in the back of the neck so that it can be a natural continuation of the spine.
9. PYRAMID POSE
Sanskrit Name: Parsvottanasana
Pyramid pose is a great pose to do if you want to improve your hamstring flexibility and strengthen your legs.
In this pose you want your front toes to be pointing forward and your back foot to be turned in so that the toes point towards the front corner of the mat.
The goal here is to square the hips forward towards the front of the mat, so place your feet hips-width wide (just like in Warrior 1 – imagine you’re stepping on train tracks). This makes squaring the hips easier.
Keep the big toe of the front foot grounded as you press down through the outer edge of the back foot. The inner arches of both feet should be lifted and active.
Keep a micro-bend in the front knee and engage your quad to protect the hamstrings from over-stretching and to make sure your legs are staying active in the pose.
It’s important to keep squaring your hips forward, even when you’re in the pose. To do that, keep sending the hip of your front leg back and the hip of your back leg forward.
Your hands can be either on blocks or on the ground on either side of the front foot. Just like in Wide Legged Forward Fold, try to maintain length in your spine and neck.
Pyramid pose strengthens the feet, calves and quads, and stretches the hamstrings, hips and back.
PYRAMID POSE – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do place your feet hips-width apart, as if you were stepping on two train tracks.
- do have your front toes pointing forward and the back toes turned in a lot, making sure to press down through the outer edge of the back foot.
- do keep a micro-bend in the front knee and engage your leg muscles to support.
- do try and square your hips to the front of the mat, so that the hip of the front leg is moving back as the hip of the back leg is moving forward.
- do find length in your spine as the tailbone moves back and up while the crown of the head moves forward and down.
- don’t have your feet too narrow (ex. front heel in line with back toes or crossing).
- don’t let the inner arch of the back foot collapse or the heel and outer edge lift.
- don’t hyper-extend the front knee or lock the knee joint; don’t hang in your joints.
- don’t let your hips open out to the side too much in an effort to fold deeper; instead, find square hips and fold only as much as you can keep the square hips.
- don’t let your back round too much in an attempt to touch the ground; use blocks and find length in the spine and neck as you send your tailbone back and up.
10. FORWARD FOLD / HALFWAY LIFT
Sanskrit Name: Uttanasana/Ardha Uttanasana
Forward Fold and Halfway-Lift are technically two separate poses, but I decided to consider them as one in this blog post because I think the flow between the two is something that almost all yoga classes feature and it feels great!
The placement of the feet is the same in both poses. You can have them either together or hips-width apart. If you choose hips-width, make sure your knees stay in line with your toes and you keep the feet parallel.
In Forward Fold allow the upper body to hang down freely over the legs. Let your head be heavy and relax the neck. Use gravity to help you fold deeper.
In Halfway-Lift you want to find length in your spine as you lift the upper body “half-way up” – which basically means up to a point where your spine becomes straight. If you are tight in the hamstrings and back body, that will mean you need to lift higher. Feel free to place your hans on your ships as you lift up.
It’s important to remember that your legs bon’t have to be straight in either Forward Fold or Halfway-Lift. In fact, keeping a bend in your knees will make the pose more accessible and will give you greater range of motion in these poses. Over time you can work on straightening the legs.
Forward Fold and Halfway-Lift are great poses to lengthen and increase flexibility in the hamstrings, calves, hips and back, and to strengthen the thighs and back.
FORWARD FOLD / HALFWAY LIFT – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do keep your feet either together or hips-width apart and parallel; either way – spread your toes.
- do keep a micro-bend in your knees to keep the legs engaged and active.
- do work on sending the tailbone up towards the sky as you forward fold, or backwards as you halfway-lift.
- do find length in your spine, both in the forward fold and in the halfway-lift positions; use blocks under your hands for support.
- don’t let your inner arches collapse or your knees buckle in (if your feet are hips-width apart).
- don’t hyper-extend the legs and lock the knee joint.
- don’t round your back and tuck your tailbone in the name of keeping your legs straight; instead, bend you knees and work on sending the tailbone back and up.
- don’t tense your neck as you fold or crank it up as you halfway-lift; relax your head as you fold down and let the neck be a natural continuation of the spine.
BONUS: MOUNTAIN POSE
Sanskrit Name: Tadasana
It could be said that Mountain pose is “the mother” of all standing yoga poses. And I would agree with that statement.
The reason why I’ve included it as a “Bonus” pose in this post is because I don’t believe it’s a pose that will get beginners or those brand new to yoga excited about the practice. And, in my personal opinion, it’s important for new practitioners to feel excited/challenged/intrigued because in the beginning that’s what will keep them interested. Until they’re “hooked” on the practice, at which point I believe they’ll want to learn more about the subtler poses that don’t look as fancy from the outside but that are equally valuable, such as Mountain pose.
Mountain pose might seem like you’re just standing there, when in fact there is actually quite a lot going on, but it’s all very subtle.
In Mountain pose we are establishing the foundation for the rest of the standing poses – the feet (the foundation of a pose is the body part that is touching the ground; it is essentially the building blocks of the pose).
Here we want to place our feet with care and attention – either together or hips-width apart and parallel. Actually look down, look at your feet and make sure they are positioned properly. Lift your toes off the mat, spread them as much as you can, and then place them back down trying to maintain the distance between each toe. Imagine your toes are your roots, like the roots of a tree.
Once you have your foundation, move up the body and micro-bend you knees to find more stability through the legs. Then find neutral pelvis and length through your spine.
Stack your shoulders over your hips, over your knees and over your ankles – all in one vertical line. Then align your head on top of this, keeping your chin parallel to the ground.
Broaden across your collarbones and move your shoulders down away from your ears as you turn your palms to face forward.
Draw the belly in slightly and allow your eyes to close, feeling the stability of your stance and the strong sense of rooting down through the feet as the crown of the head reaches up.
This is Mountain pose – it really makes you feel connected to the earth beneath you and gives you a sense of inner strength and ease at the same time.
MOUNTAIN POSE – ALIGNMENT CUES
- do place your feet together or hips-width apart and parallel, spreading your toes.
- do feel your feet rooting down into the earth as you lift your inner arches and distribute your bodyweight evenly across both feet (your foundation).
- do micro-bend your knees for more stability and engagement through the legs.
- do find a neutral pelvis and long spine, stacking your head over your shoulders, over your hips, over your feet.
- do find a long line of energy rising up from the ground through your feet, moving along your whole body and out through the crown of your head.
- don’t place your feet carelessly, look down and check what their position is.
- don’t collapse your inner arches and don’t lean too far forward into your toes or too far back into your heels.
- don’t hyperextend the legs or lock the knee joint.
- don’t tuck your tailbone or over-arch the low back, and don’t puff your belly forward or stick your hips back.
- don’t slouch or let your head stick out or tilt back; instead, draw your shoulders down along your back, broaden across the collarbones and grow tall.
Although there is value in learning about the alignment and intentions in each of these standing poses, what’s more important is just stepping on your mat and practicing them!
Don’t worry about whether you’re doing the pose perfectly or whether your toes are pointing in exactly the right direction. Just get on your mat and practice practice practice!
Pattabhi Jois’s very famous quote “Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory” is 100% true. Remember that whenever you feel overwhelmed with theory and alignment cues.
Yoga is about finding joy in the postures, re-connecting with your body, listening to your breath and having fun in the process.
Enjoy your practice and I hope to see you on the mat soon!
P.S. If you want to practice these postures in a flow, check out this Free 30min Yoga Class.