My Favorite Yoga Poses, Their Benefits, and How to Do Them

Of the six branches of yoga, hatha yoga is one of the most popular and widely known. It focuses on the physical aspect; which includes the asanas (poses). It’s what most people post about, what many focus on in their practice, and is usually what people think of when they think of yoga. With that being said, I decided that my first post on here about yoga would be a detailed list of my favorite poses. So here it is, and there’s a good chance I will update it as my own practice progresses.

***Please do not attempt anything you are not comfortable with. If new to yoga, consult with a physician first to ensure physical capability. The following are only suggestions based on my preferences; most poses have many ways to enter them. Be mindful and listen to your body!***

Yogi Squat (Mālāsana)

Benefits: Grounding; opens hips and shoulders; stretches calves, hamstrings, and quads.

How-To: Begin in mountain pose (tadasana). Heel-toe feet wider than hip-distance apart, with toes facing out. Squat down and try to keep your heels on the ground. Bring hands to prayer position and actively push elbows into inner thighs just above the knee. Lift your chest up and keep back straight instead of letting it round forward. You can either gaze forward or slightly tilt your chin towards your chest. Breathe and hold for at least five breaths.

To come out, place your palms on the ground directly in front of you and lift your hips up into a forward fold OR stand straight up into mountain pose for a more strength-based practice.

Scale Pose (Tolasana)

Benefits: Strengthens arms, shoulders, and abdomen. Stretches and opens hips; and stretches outer thigh.

How-To: Begin in lotus pose. Place your hands on the ground outside of your hips. Engage your core, press into your hands, and lift your legs and hips off of the ground. Hold for 3-4 breaths. Release with control and awareness.

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Bird of Paradise (Svarga Dvijasana)

Benefits: Balance; stretches and strengthens legs; opens chest and hips; and stretches shoulders.

How-To: *Note: There are a few different ways to enter and come out of this pose. The following is my preferred way of doing it, but feel free to experiment and see what works best for you and your practice.* Begin in mountain pose. Start to shift your weight to your right foot as you slowly raise your left foot to the side. Engage your glutes and hamstrings to continue to raise your left leg up and open your hip. You can keep your knee bent for now for leverage. Take your left arm and reach it under your thigh, just above the knee, and press your upper arm into the back of your thigh to bring the leg up farther. Take your right arm behind your back and clasp your hands together, actively bringing them closer to your tailbone/lower back. Inhale to stand up straight and exhale to straighten both legs. Gaze forward or to the right. Hold for 1-2 breaths.

To come out, re-bend the left knee and slowly release your hands as you lower your leg back down with control. Return to mountain pose and repeat on the other side.

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Toe-Stand Squat (Padangusthasana Variation)

Benefits: Strengthens feet, ankles, and abs; stretches quads and feet; improves balance and focus.

How-To: Begin sitting on your heels, with your toes tucked and feet together. Place your hands on the ground in front of you and engage your core as you begin to shift your weight back and lift your knees off of the ground. Continue until shins are parallel with the floor. Bring hands to heart center in prayer and keep awareness in the spine and core to lengthen your back it instead of letting it round. Gaze forward and hold for 3-5 breaths (or longer if you’d like).

To come out, bring your hands back to the ground and lower your knees with control. Untuck your toes and with your feet together and knees wide, lower into child’s pose.

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Half Lotus Tree (Ardha Padmasana Vrksasana)

Benefits: Opens hips; improves balance and concentration; helps bring spine into proper alignment.

How-To: Begin in mountain pose. Shift your weight into your right foot and raise your left foot up, bend the knee, and open your hip. Place the inside of your left foot into the crease of your right hip, opening the left hip forward. Hold your arms at your side with a slight bend in the elbows, mudra optional. Gaze forward, up towards the sky, or close your eyes. Focus on your breath and bring awareness to every inhale and exhale. Hold for 3-5 breaths, or longer.

To come out, open your eyes if closed and lower your foot and arms with awareness and control to return to mountain pose. Repeat on the other side.

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Eagle Pose (Garudasana)

Benefits: Strengthens hamstrings, quads, calves, ankles, shoulders, and abs; opens chest and shoulders; stretches biceps, triceps, shoulders, and torso.

How-To: Get ready to feel the burn! Begin in mountain pose. Begin to lower your hips and come into chair pose with your hips low, chest forward, and arms raised up. Shift your weight into your left foot as you begin to lift your right foot off the ground. Bring your right leg over your left as if you were crossing your legs, and try to tuck your right foot behind your left calf (if not accessible yet, that’s totally okay. Everyone starts somewhere). Keep your hips low. Now take your arms and cross the LEFT arm over the right, above the elbows, and bring either the palms to touch or the back of your hands if the palms are not accessible yet. Keeping the elbows bent, raise your arms up from the elbows and gaze forward. Breathe and keep those hips low and chest forward.

To come out, unwind your arms first and then legs, both with control. Come back to chair pose with your arms raised and hips low. Repeat on the other side. Remember, the opposite leg and arm are on top. So right leg, left arm // left leg, right arm.

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Tree (Vriksasana)

Benefits: Strengthens legs and spine; improves balance and concentration; lengthens hips, torso, hamstrings, and shoulders.

How-To: Begin in mountain pose. Begin to shift your weight to your right foot. Lift your left foot up and rotate your knee outwards to open your hip.  Place your left foot either adjacent to the right ankle with only the toes on the ground, on the inside of your right shin, or on the inside of your right thigh. The placement of your foot depends on your level of ability and each side may be different. Keep your gaze fixed on a point in front of you or, if you want a challenge, look up towards the sky (or ceiling). Place your hands either at your sides with elbows slightly bent, in front of your heart in prayer position, up towards the sky, or in a reverse prayer position behind your back. The placement of your hands is completely up to you and what you prefer and/or are capable of. Find your balance and breathe.

To come out, lower your hands and foot back down with control into mountain pose. Repeat on the other side.

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Wild Thing (Camatkarasana)

Benefits: This is a major heart opener and a good leg, shoulder, and arm strengthener. It’s good for the glutes too if you activate them in the hold.

How-To: *It is quite easy to do this pose incorrectly, which can lead to injury. Pay attention to alignment and listen to your body* Begin in downward dog. Lift your left leg up into a three-legged dog. Bend your left knee and open your hip. Continue to rotate your hip open and reach your left foot/toes towards the ground (as you simultaneously lift your left hand off the ground) until you have completely flipped your dog. Keep your left knee slightly more bent than the right, kind of like a kickstand, and bring your left arm to reach behind you. Inhale to lengthen and exhale to bend further (but not too far. Listen to your body).

To come out, flip your arm and leg back over with control and come back to a three-legged dog with the left leg raised. Lower the left leg back down to come into downward dog. Do this with as much control as possible to avoid injury. Repeat on the other side.

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