Yoga is an invitation to get inside ourselves and live mindful moments. Known for its restorative and calming effects, yoga is an ancient practice that aims to integrate the body with the mind and breath through deep breathing, poses (asanas) and meditation.

Whether it is a twist or crouch, the pose brings mental and physical benefits. In yoga, postures are its backbone; and several studies have found these stretches to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health besides developing muscle flexibility and strength.

“What I’ve found through studying yoga therapy is that people who have a daily practice have effortlessly and automatically changed their lifestyle. They eat better, sleep better, their lifestyle is more regulated,” says Sarkar, chairman of the School of Integrative Medicine at Taksha University in Virginia. Sarkar survived a heart attack in 2001 and has since been practising yoga diligently every day.

Here, we provide the basic poses for a yoga beginner.

1. Mountain pose

This posture, the foundation for all poses, improves posture, groundedness, stability and confidence. By using your posture to mimic a well-aligned mountain, you are learning the principles of body alignment which are needed for every pose.

Begin by standing tall and firm with feet together. Keeping your spine long and straight, gently lift up your toes wide, then place them back on the floor. You will feel your weight evenly distributed through the bottom of each foot. Relax your shoulders and keep your arms at the sides. Take a deep breath and raise your hands straight above you, palms facing each other. Point your fingertips towards the sky. Exhale by bringing the arms down to your sides.

2. Tree pose

Here you assume the position of a tree and this stretch increases balance, focus, memory and concentration while strengthening the ankles and knees.

Keep the standing position, and with arms by the sides, bend the right knee so that all the weight is put onto the left leg. Place the sole of your right foot inside the left thigh. Make sure your hips are facing forward. Balance yourself and clasp palms together in prayer position, hands stretched in front of you. Inhale and hold for 30 seconds, then lower arms and exhale. Switch to the other side and repeat.

3. Downward dog

This stretches the back, opens the chest, and builds upper body strength. It is said to stimulate the brain and nervous system, improving memory, concentration, hearing and eyesight.

Picture a dog when you do this pose. Go down on all fours with hands directly under shoulders, knees under hips. Tuck the toes under, move hands forward, spread fingers wide and press palms on the mat. Keeping your arms straight, begin to lift the hips towards the ceiling, so that your body resembles an inverted V. Your feet should be a hip-width apart, and knees slightly bent. Breathe in and hold for 4-8 breaths.

4. Warrior (Veerabhadrasana)

The pose is derived from the name of a fierce warrior, Veerabhadra – believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Unlike its name, it is a graceful posture that strengthens and tones the arms, legs and lower back. Ideal for those with deskbound jobs, this improves balance and circulation in the body, as well as develops concentration.

Stand straight with legs about 3 – 4 feet apart. Relax your shoulders by bringing your hands to your hips, and then extending arms outwards to the sides, with palms pointing down. Bend your right knee 90 degrees, keep it over the ankle, and glance over your right hand. Hold the pose for a minute. The heel of your right food should align to the centre of the left foot. Repeat with the other side.

5. The bridge

The benefits are a stronger spine and lower body, and this pose helps to stimulate the endocrine and nervous systems.

Lie on your back and bend both knees, keeping the feet flat (a hip width apart) on the floor. Your arms must be kept straight, and with palms facing down, slide your hands alongside the body. Your fingertips should be lightly touching the heels. Press both feet onto the floor and breathe in while lifting the hips up, raising spine above the floor. Press down into the arms and shoulders to lift the chest up. Try to lift the hips higher so that the thighs are parallel to the floor. To release, exhale and roll spine down to the floor.

6. The triangle

Doing this pose will engage every part of the body as it strengthens the core and relaxes the hips and shoulders.

Stand with feet about 3 feet apart, with right toes turning out to 90 degrees, and the left foot at 45 degrees. Extend both arms out to the sides, then bend your right leg over. Your right hand should touch the floor or rest on your right leg below or above the knee. Point the fingertips of your left hand towards the ceiling. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat with the other side.

7. Seated twist

This will give you a good stretch on your shoulders, hips and back, and increase circulation and tone the abdomen.

Sit on the floor with both legs extended. Bend the left knee and bring your right foot forward and cross it outside of the left thigh. Your right foot should point towards the ceiling. Next, place the left elbow to the outside of right knee and the right hand behind you, down on the floor. Now twist as far as possible, feeling the stretch from your abdomen. Remember to keep your buttocks firmly on the floor. Hold for 1 minute, then repeat with the other side. Alternatively, you may keep your bottom leg straight and place both hands on the raised knee.

8. Cobra pose

Flexing your body to resemble a cobra will open the chest and strengthen the core body. It also works to align the spine and invigorate the kidneys and nervous system.

Lie on your stomach with chin on the floor and both legs together. Keep palms flat and under shoulders. Raise the knee caps, and press the pubic bone down onto the floor. Inhale as you lift your head and chest off the floor. Keep your neck aligned with the spine. Try to use the arms to lift yourself up higher. Throw back the shoulders and press the chest forward. Breathe and hold for 5 breaths. To release, exhale and lower the chest and head gently to the floor.

9. Pigeon pose

Similar to how people set pigeons free to clear bondages – this pose is both intense and liberating. For most people, tension is in the hips and this pose definitely flexes your hips.

Start from a push-up position, with palms aligned under shoulders. Place left knee on the floor near shoulder with left heel by the right hip. Lower down on your forearms and bring the right leg down with the top of the foot on the floor. Keep chest lifted while looking down. Tuck your right toes under while pressing the ball of foot onto the floor, pushing through your heel. Bend knee towards floor and release. Repeat on the other side.

10. Crow pose

This stretch will tone and strengthen your abdominal wall and strengthen your back and inner thighs. Get into the downward dog position. Squat and place your hands flat on your mat, keeping them a shoulder-width apart with fingers spread wide. Move forward until both knees touch your arms. Bend your elbows, raise heels above the floor, with the knees against the outside of the upper arms. Toes should be on the floor. Breathe in and hold for 5 breaths. MIMS

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