Yoga is an incredible practice for physical and mental health, but it can also be wildly intimidating—especially for beginners. Walking into a room of experienced yogis can feel as uncomfortable as walking into a room naked (or so we imagine). But we’re here to let you in on a little secret: Being new is NBD. Everyone starts somewhere, and you’re not expected to be a master yogi the first time you step onto a mat.
“It’s literally just like any other kind of activity,” says Jessamyn Stanley, certified yoga instructor and author of Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get On the Mat, Love Your Body. “In the beginning, you’re not going to know what you’re doing: You’re expected to fall down; you’re expected to feel a little bit out of place. But the fear is really the thing that you’re trying to get over, and once you start to understand that that fear is also manifesting in other parts of your life, you can start to see that maybe this is something you want to release not just with yoga, but in other areas as well.”
To help you build up your courage, we teamed up with Stanley to walk you through a basic sun salutation, which features 8 super-common yoga poses. “Whenever you focus on a sequence like a sun salutation, you’re really getting every single little thing that you need out of your yoga practice. It’s not about the big poses; when you focus on just building the fire within yourself—that fire is called tapas—it’s literally something that’s meant to build inside of you, so you can burn away the pieces of yourself that don’t need to be there.”
How to use this list: Find your ujjayi breath (a breathing technique also called “ocean breath,” in which you breathe in through your nose, close off the vocals chords, and exhale through your nose, keeping your lips shut. This should sound similar to the haaaah sound you make when fogging up a mirror). Start on an exhale, then match each pose to your breath. Repeat this sequence 3 times (or more, depending on how you feel). Scroll to the bottom to see Stanley flow through it.
1. Mountain Pose
Stand tall, feet rooted firmly into mat and hip-distance apart, toes facing forward. Keep hips over heels and distribute weight evenly through all four corners of feet. Relax shoulders, lengthen neck, and let arms relax at sides while you soften your gaze.
2. Upward Salute
On an inhale, raise arms overhead with palms facing inward. Lengthen through your side body and stretch long and tall through arms and fingers. Draw your shoulders blades down (to keep shoulders out of ears) and keep neck soft, releasing all tension.
3. Standing Forward Fold
On an exhale, fold forward from hips as you draw arms, hands, and heart toward the floor. Keep weight in heels by stacking hips over heels. Allow a small bend in your knees to lengthen through lower back and hamstrings. Release all effort and encourage body to relax and soften.
Variation: If flexibility allows, place hands behind calves (shown), grab a hold of your big toes with your thumb and first two fingers, or slide hands under feet with palms touching the soles of your feet.
4. Standing Half-Forward Fold
On the inhale, walk fingertips forward to lift slightly and lengthen spine, chest, and gaze forward. Allow any tension in upper back to melt as heart draws forward.
Variation: Use two blocks under your hands and push into them to help lengthen spine.
5. High Plank
Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana
With hands placed firmly on floor, walk both feet straight back, toes curled under, shoulders stacked over wrists. Keep core and shoulders engaged (push the ground away from you to keep body lifted in this pose). Rotate triceps in toward ribs and send gaze just beyond your fingertips.
6. Modified Four-Limbed Staff Pose
With core engaged, start to bend elbows to 90 degrees as you simultaneously drop knees, chest, and chin toward ground. Keep elbows hugged in and stacked over wrists. Hips and shoulders should be in line, tops of toes pressed into mat. Stay for a breath then lower all the way down to belly.
On the inhale, press into palms to lift head and chest, peeling ribs and belly up off mat. Keep elbows slightly bent and hugged in close to body. Roll shoulders back and down and pull heart forward as you gaze up and forward.
8. Downward-Facing Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Exhale, and flip feet so soles are on mat, then send hips straight up and back. Keep a slight bend in knees if necessary and draw chest toward thighs. Spread fingers wide to distribute weight evenly through hands. Keep arms straight, rotating triceps in toward ears. Continue shooting hips up and back as you gradually guide heels to floor (it’s OK if they don’t touch).
9. Standing Half-Forward Fold
On the inhale, step feet toward hands and lift hands and chest forward to return to Standing Half-Forward Fold (No. 4).
10. Standing Forward Fold
Exhale and fold forward from hips sending them up to the sky with weight in heels to return to Standing Forward Fold (No. 3).
11. Upward Salute
Inhale, and raise arms overhead, lengthening though side body, arms, and fingertips to return to Upward Salute (No. 2).
12. Mountain Pose
Exhale, lowering arms to rest at sides and grounding down through your feet to return to Mountain Pose (No. 1).
Photography: Julia Hembree
Video: Jenna Haufler