Many of us tend to go through the day unaware of our posture whether we are standing or sitting. Sometimes I stand with most of my weight on one leg, or I hunch my back or tuck my pelvis under the shoulders rounded forward. These bad habits tend to have a long term effect on the back and overall health.
We can actually help ourselves gain a better awareness of such bad habits and address misalignments through strengthening the right muscles in the legs, hips, shoulders and upper back (my biggest weakness).
Standing poses are great for this purpose. In fact, standing poses are awesome for anyone looking to tone your body, lose weight or increase overall energy.
More importantly, standing yoga poses create stability and activate our pelvic muscles – crucial for balancing the Muladhara Chakra or root chakra that forms the foundation of energy balance in us.
This post is targeted at beginner yoga students who building their self-practice and want to know how to form a strong yoga foundation through standing poses. It uses less yoga-lingo and focuses on explaining how to perform the pose in a way that is easy to understand by the layman.
In this article, we will go through the 11 most important standing poses for beginner yoga students. If you are looking for a touch-and-go approach with a quick list of standing yoga poses, this is NOT the place for you. This will be a longish post but I hope you read on till the end and practice away! #practiceandalliscoming
Mountain pose [Tadasana]
Mountain pose is the foundational standing pose for all standing postures and also various inversions. Learn to do mountain pose correctly and the alignment and muscle movement can be easily applied to many other standing and inversion poses.
- Mountain Pose done with the correct form should activate every muscle in the body. Not only does it improve posture, but it also helps alleviate back pain because you have a better posture and are less prone to compressing your lower back when standing or sitting.
- This pose strengthens the entire leg, abdomen, and buttocks. Practising grounding on the feet helps to strengthen feet arches, reducing the effects of flat feet
How to get into Mountain Pose [Tadasana]
- Legs and Feet: Yogis always say “ground your feet” and there is a reason for this. Having your feet in the right position gives you the stability required for all standing and balancing poses.
- Look down at your feet and check that they are together with toes pointing forward, not outwards or inwards.
- Press your weight evenly across the balls and arches of your feet.
- Ground down through your heel, straighten your legs and press evenly along all four corners of the feet
- Spine: Lengthen your spine with an inhale, imagine someone using a string to pull your head upright towards the sky
- Tailbone. Draw your tailbone in. You can practice this moving using a simple exercise below
- Place one hand on your lower tummy and another on the lower back. Arch your back by sticking your butt out – you should feel the spine getting slightly tight.
- Now start moving your pelvis the other way and tuck your butt under. The lower back will flatten and you should feel the entire lower back opening up while your tummy tightening. Do not overdo it by rounding your spine.
- Shoulders and Arms: Relax your shoulders and have your hands hang down by the sides of the body
- Gaze: Fix your gaze softly in front of you
- Hold this pose for 5-10 cycles of breath
- For those just starting out, balancing in mountain pose may not be easy. You can modify the pose by standing with your legs apart.
- For the more advanced yogi, practice with your eyes closed.
Tree pose [Vrksasana]
This is a standing balancing pose where one of your foot will be anchored on the ground while the other will be placed against the other, either at the inner thigh (more challenging) or down by the calf (easier). Arms are extended to the sky with palms touching.
- Trains your balance as you have only one point of contact with the ground.
- Tones the legs and lengthens the spine
- Improves focus and concentration
How to get into Tree Pose [Vrksasana]
- Foot position:
- Start with mountain pose
- Bend the right leg and place the foot at the top inner left thigh
- Rest the foot on the left thigh with toes pointing downwards
- Anchor on your left leg, grounding all four corners of the feet together
- Gaze: Point your gaze in front of you at a single spot, this will help you balance better
- Once you have found your balance, join your palms and raise them straight over the head
- Stay for a few seconds and take 5-10 cycles of breath
- Repeat the pose with the left leg down this time
- Come back to Mountain Pose once you are done and relax
Tree pose looks relatively straightforward, but if you are a beginner yoga student or do not have a strong balance yet, chances are you will find it a challenge to do this pose with your right leg up high on opposite thigh.
- Modify this pose by placing your right leg lower by the left calf. This will lower your centre of gravity and make things easier
- Do NOT rest your foot against your knee in any of these modifications
For those who already mastered tree pose, challenge your balance with a side bend version of tree pose
- In tree pose with your right foot against the left thigh, place the back of your right palm onto your right knee
- Bend towards your right in a side stretch so that you open up your entire left side
Standing forward fold [Uttanasana]
Uttanasana is an intense stretching pose that aims to open up the back of your legs as well as the spine. ‘Ut’ refers to intensity, ‘tan’ means extend or stretch, and ‘asana’ means pose.
- Uttanasana is a great stretch for the hamstrings and calves (runners will love this!)
- Because your head is below your heart, it is a form of inversion and is known to calm the brain and has a positive effect on stress, headaches or mild depression
How to get into Standing forward fold
- Stand in Tadasana or Mountain Pose
- Inhale deeply, and exhale
- Legs and hips: As you exhale, bend forward at the hips and lengthen the front of your body
- If your hamstrings are open, you can keep your legs straight and place your fingers on the floor beside your feet. Go even deeper with your palms at the back of your ankle if you can.
- If you are unable to do the straight leg version, please bend your knees to prevent overstretching!
- What you want in both full and modified poses is to engage your front thigh muscles (the quadriceps) and draw your sit bones towards the ceiling.
- Focus on lengthening your back rather than overstretching your knees or hammies
- Progress from bent knees to straight legs when you are used to this pose and have improved in flexibility
Sometimes standing forward fold may feel too intense in the morning, you can start off with rag doll (see below) – the relaxed version with bent knees but with folded arms. This is a great way to wake up the spine and legs before doing standing forward fold
Gate pose [Parighasana]
Gate pose is really one of the best beginner side stretches. Generally, Gate Pose is used as a good preparation pose for other standing side stretches including triangle pose.
- In this pose, the entire side body is stretched, including the abdominal muscles, hamstring, spine and torso to armpits.
- This pose opens up tense shoulders and chest, encourages flexibility of the spine and helps to relieve stiff neck and opens tense shoulders.
How to get into Gate Pose
- Legs and feet: Kneel on the floor with ankles together
- Extend the right leg sideways and press the foot down, toes pointing forwards
- Make sure to keep your leg in line with your body, right foot in line with the left knee
- Arms: Extend the arms sideways as well, take two cycles of breaths here
- Place the right arm on the right shin or ankle
- Turn left palm upward and extend it towards the ceiling
- Reach the left arm further over to the right, so the biceps should rest against the left ear
- Hold this pose for 1 minute
- Try not to roll the left shoulders forwards, keep both shoulders facing the same direction
- If your knee hurts while doing this pose, put a folded blanket under the knee
- For beginners with tight hips, you can keep your left arm reaching upwards instead of stretching to the right
- For the more advanced student, you can further extend the left arm to eventually touch your right palm and right feet
Triangle [Utthita Trikonasana]
Triangle pose is a beginner yoga stretch that tones and helps open all the muscles along the lower body as well as shoulders, chest and spine.
- Triangle pose has great benefits for those suffering from back pain, tight hamstrings or tight hips.
- In addition, triangle pose stimulates the function of abdominal organs and is claimed to relieve stress, improve emotional wellbeing (as do most hip openers) and improve digestion.
How to get into triangle pose
- Foot and legs: Stand with your legs 3 feet apart, facing the long side of your mat
- Rotate the right foot to point towards the short edge of the mat, while the left foot continues to point toward the longer edge
- Arms and hips: Reach out your arms to form a ‘T’ shape
- Lean over to the right and reach your right hand as far ahead as you can. Push your hips towards the left to create more space. If possible, place your right hand on the calf, ankle or on the floor.
- Turn your head to gaze at your left palm
- Hold this pose for 5-10 breaths and change to the other side
- Focus on lengthening your left side body. If this is tight, you may be tempted to rotate your left hip downwards; Don’t.
- The back of the legs, back of chest and hips should be in line, as though you are leaning on a wall behind you
- Modify this pose by bending your left leg
- For beginner yoga students, you can also place your hand on a block instead of the floor, this helps to prevent collapsing into the pose
High lunge [Utthita Ashwa Sanchalasana]
High Lunge pose, sometimes called Crescent Pose, is a beginner yoga pose that builds lower body strength and opens the chest. It is a good pose to practice in preparation for the full Warrior 1
- Opens the hip and groin area, which is particularly beneficial for people who do repetitive walking or running
- Strengthens the thighs and tones the entire length of the legs
- Strengthens knee and ankle muscles, which may be hard to get to in other poses
- Lengthens the spine and aids in digestion
How to get into high lunge pose
- Legs and feet: Begin in standing forward fold with straight or bent legs and palms on the floor beside the feet
- Exhale and step the right foot behind by around 4 feet
- The right heel is lifted up for this pose; rest on the ball of the foot
- Arms: As you inhale, lift up the arms and reach for the sky
- Hold this pose for 5 breaths.
- On the next exhale, step your right foot back to standing forward fold
- Repeat on the other side
- As you stretch the front of your body upwards, make sure you do not arch your back
- Keep your buttocks tucked in, make sure both your hips are facing forwards (“square your hips”) and keep your torso straight up
- If you are unable to “square your hips” with straight right leg, bend the right leg so that you can push your right hip forward more
- Look downwards and align the front knee on top of the ankle, don’t let your knee go beyond the ankle
- Caution: If you have knee problems, it may be hard to hold high Lunge with straight knees. In this case, do the bent knee version or forgo this pose altogether if your body tells you to
Warrior 1 [Virabhadrasana 1]
- This is one of the most quintessential yoga poses and is recognisable even by non-yogis. It is a standing pose commonly used in flow classes as part of the Sun Salutation B sequence.
- Warrior 1 is similar to High Lunge Pose in that the front knee is bent at 90 degrees with the knees above the ankles, and the torso faces forwards. The key difference is that in Warrior 1, the heel of the back foot is grounded on the floor at 45 degrees, stretching different parts of the back leg as compared to High Lunge Pose
- Similar to High Lunge Pose, Warrior 1 is beneficial for strengthening the feet and legs. It is also said to reduce fat around the hip area and improves overall coordination and balance
- In addition, flattening the back foot on the floor provides a stronger sense of grounding, hence encouraging concentration and balance
- Warrior 1 pose improves overall circulation and energizes the whole body
How to get into Warrior 1 Pose
- Legs and Feet: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
- Step your right foot behind and place the foot flat on the floor
- Make sure to point the toes 45 degrees to the right, in the direction of the front right corner of the mat
- Straighten your right leg and tighten at the knee
- Your left foot should still be pointing towards the front of the mat. Bend your left knee and align it above your ankle
- Arms: As you inhale, lift up the arms and reach for the sky
- Beginners can keep the palms open.
- Otherwise, join your hands together, relax your head backwards and look upwards towards the palms
- Elongating the spine and point your gaze at your palms
- Remember that the bent knee should not extend beyond the ankle!
- Beginner yoga students may have a tendency to overarch the spine or collapse into the lower back. Remember to elongate your spine by stretching all the way from the lower back through to your arms. This means you need to slightly push your hips forwards, activate (or tuck) your buttocks so you do not arch your lower back.
Caution: While all standing poses are considered intensive, the warrior series, in particular, should not be practised by people with heart issues or high blood pressure.
Warrior 2 [virabhadrasana II]
Warrior 2 is practised at all levels and is considered one of the most effective poses for toning the entire body for beginner yoga students. it strengthens the entire lower body including the thigh, calf and back muscles. It also builds core strength and improves blood circulation.
How to get into Warrior 2 pose
- Legs and feet: Stand with legs wide apart with toes and body facing the right side of the mat
- Rotate the right foot clockwise 90 degrees. Your toes should point towards the short end of the mat
- Bend the right knee, aligning it above the ankle; Thighs are parallel to the floor
- The left leg should be stretched out behind you, and the foot grounded on the mat
- Note: You may also enter Warrior 2 pose from Warrior 1, simply by rotating the body towards the longer side of the mat and aligning the back foot towards the same side
- Arms: Stretch the hands out towards the side, as though someone is pulling you from either end
- Gaze: Turn your face to the right and look at the right hand
- Hips: The hips and front body should be facing the long side of the mat
- Hold for 5-10 breaths and change sides
- Take it easy with this pose if you have recent issues with your knees, hips or shoulders
Wide legged forward fold [Prasarita Padottanasana]
As inferred from the name, this is a forward fold but done with legs wide apart or “Prasarita”, which stands for expanded or spread.
Similar to standing forward folds, this pose works the hamstring and enhances flexibility. In addition, Wide Legged forward fold is a good beginner yoga pose to strengthen the outer hips, and stretch the inner thighs.
How to get into wide-legged forward fold
- Legs and feet: Stand with your feet wide apart, facing the long side of the mat
- Tighten the legs and draw up the knee caps
- As you exhale, bend forward from the hips and touch the floor
- Arms: You can either place the palms on the floor below the shoulders
- With each exhale, bend even more and perhaps touch the crown of your head onto the floor
- Hold and breathe for 5-10 cycles of breath
- Beginner yoga students may place your hand on your ankle instead of the floor. Clasp your ankles and use it to pull your body closer to your legs with each exhale.
- For beginners, instead of touching the crown of your head to the floor, hanging it heavy may be a better option until you gain sufficient strength and flexibility to pull your body and head closer to the floor
Caution: If you have a back or hip injury, you may want to avoid this pose as it can get rather strenuous especially for the hip muscles
Goddess pose [Utkata Konasana]
Goddess pose, also called Fierce Angle Pose is a powerful squat that helps to open and stretch the hips, strengthen the front thighs (quads) and ankles, and tone the buttocks. It is a good beginner yoga pose for strengthening the entire body.
Goddess pose also encourages proper posture and breathing with the opening of the shoulders and chest. This pose is particularly beneficial for women as it stimulates the pelvis to encourage better reproductive functions of the organs.
How to get into Goddess Pose
- Legs and feet: Stand with hips wide apart, wider than hip distance
- Point the feet outwards towards each side of the mat at around 45-degree angle
- Bend the knees until your thighs are parallel to the ground and your hips are in line with your knees
- Arms: Put up the arms as though you are “surrendering”, with elbows at shoulder level and palms are facing forward
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths
- There is a tendency for knees to roll inwards, keep your thigh muscles activated and make sure the legs stay opened and knees remain directly above the ankles
- Keep the chest and shoulders open with shoulder blades drawn back
- Do not arch the lower back, tuck your tailbone in
- In case you have shoulder injuries, place your hand in prayer position with palms at your heart centre, instead of keeping them open
- For the more advanced student, try a tiptoe variation of this pose!
Supported standing backbend [Anuvittasana]
Anuvittasana is a beginner yoga backbend that acts as a foundation for many other
Standing Backbend opens up the front of the body, strengthens the heart, and encourages tight upper backs to become looser. It boosts energy in the body and is typically used as a warm-up yoga pose in flow yoga to prepare the body for more intense poses
How to get into supported standing back bend
- Legs and Arms: stand with legs hip-width apart in mountain pose, ground the feet and pull up the knee caps
- Hips: Engage the thighs and buttocks, push the hips forward and begin bending back from the middle to upper back
- Gaze: Keep the gaze forward, or if it feels comfortable to let the head drop all the way back
- Hold for 5 breaths and return to mountain pose
- Ensure buttocks are relaxed and the lower back is not compressed
- Pull the shoulders away from the ear and relax them
- For students with flexible backs walk hands down the thighs to the back of the knees
- Advanced students may raise the arms overhead and touch the palms together for the full expression of the pose
Congratulations on making it to the end of the post! It was a long one, but for those who practice these 11 beginner yoga standing poses regularly, you can be sure to reap the rewards with a stronger foundation for more advanced poses.
There are many other standing yoga poses which will be covered subsequently, this is just the list we believe are super important for beginners.
If you haven’t already, why not start your yoga practice at home with our FREE ebook below!
- Light on Yoga (Revised Edition) by B.K.S. Iyengar
- Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews
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The YogaMad is founded by Candy, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams.