Lifestyle and Health

First Time Yoga for Beginners

yoga
Written by Lisa Nelson

Whether you’re trekking in the Himalayas, exploring the Pacific West Coast Trail, or discovering the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu; women who explore need ways to keep our bodies strong and healthy while we do what we do best.

Yoga is great because you don’t need any equipment, even a yoga mat is not completely necessary.  Softer surfaces like grass, sand or even dirt are preferred, especially for poses where the hands or knees come to touch the ground. But in a pinch you can use a towel, blanket or even some rolled up clothing to help cushion the knees.

Another reason why yoga is becoming so popular right now, aside from the physical benefits, is the meditative aspect.  Bringing your awareness to your breath, using your breath to guide your movements, and focusing your attention inward, are just a few of the ways that your yoga practice can help free your mind from distractions.

To help you avoid muscle fatigue and weakness, or to simply prepare your self psychologically for any challenge that may lie ahead, try-out the following yoga poses before and after you hit the road.

Complete 5 rounds of Sun Salutation A to warm up the body before attempting any of these poses.  For a more in-depth explanation of Surya Namaskar A please see Surya Namaskar A explained.

Low Lunge – Anjaneyasana

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This pose is great for opening up the hip flexors (psoas major and iliacus), as well as for strengthening the quadriceps and gluteus muscles.

How To:   From standing, bring your palms down to the ground and step your right leg back, as far as you can reach it.   Bring your right knee to the ground and untuck the toes so that the top of the foot lays flat on the ground. Ensure your front left knee is directly over the left ankle.  Use an inhale to lift your torso and reach your arms up overhead so that palms are facing in and your biceps are beside your ears, relax your shoulders.  Exhale and sink the hips down toward the ground until you feel a stretch in the front of the right thigh (psoas). Tuck the tailbone under and continue to use your inhales to lengthen out of the pelvis and your exhales to lower your hips toward the ground.  Stay here for a few breaths or to intensify you can lift the right knee off the ground and come into Crescent Lunge. After 5 breaths, release the hands back to the ground and bring the right foot forward to meet the left.   Come back up to standing before switching to bring the left leg back.

Warrior 1 – Virbhadrasana I

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This pose will help to open up the inner thighs and groin, all the way down the back leg to the calf and ankle.  The arms being stretched upright will open up the shoulders and chest and the lengthening through the side body will stretch out the obliques.  The muscles on the front leg, specifically the quadriceps, are strengthened. As are the muscles of the back, shoulders and arms as you reach the arms overhead.

How To:  From standing inhale as you step your right foot back three to four feet, ideally the back heel will be aligned with the front heel, but you can step the foot out wider if you are feeling unstable. Turn you right foot out 45 degrees and rotate your hips so that your hips are square (aligned with one another and facing forward), bend the front left leg but make sure your knee doesn’t go past your ankle. Raise your arms up over head and either interlace the fingers keeping the index fingers pointed upward, or keep the arms at shoulder width apart with the palms facing toward one another. Your gaze can either follow your hands, or remain straight ahead. Draw the shoulders away from the ears.  Press down through the outside edge of the back right foot.  Inhale and lengthen the spine by reaching up with the arms and extending out of the pelvis. Exhale and tuck the tailbone under as you sink further into the front leg, bringing the front left thigh as close to parallel to the ground as possible.   Hold here for 5 breaths before you exhale and bring the hands to the hips, drawing the right leg forward to meet the left. Pause for a moment in this standing position before you bring the left leg back and repeat on the other side.

Warrior 2 -Virabhadrasana II

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Although it may look similar to Warrior 1, the hips are opened in this pose which creates a deeper opening in the inner thighs (adductors).  Your arms are stretched out to the side, parallel to the ground, which is activating and strengthening the shoulder muscles.  The quadriceps in the front leg are being strengthened again as they help support your body weight.

How To: From standing inhale and step your right foot back three to four feet, keeping the heels aligned.   Have the right toes pointed out on a 90 degree angle, the left toes will point forward, press down on the outer edge of the back right foot.   Bring a bend into the front left leg, try to get the thigh as close to parallel to the ground as possible but don’t allow the left knee to go further than the left ankle (widen your stance if this happens). Take a look at your front left leg and ensure your toes are visible to the inside of your knee, otherwise track your knee outward until you can see at least the second and big toe.  Exhale and tuck the tailbone under as you sink further into the front left leg.   Inhale and raise the arms so that they are parallel to the ground, stretching out through the fingertips.   Keep the sides of the torso equally long and don’t lean over the front thigh, your shoulders will be directly over your hips.  Turn the head to gaze out over the front left fingertips.   Hold here for five breaths, allowing your exhales to bring you into your depth.   At the end of your fifth exhalation bring the hands to the waist and transfer your weight to your left leg. Inhale as you bring your right leg in to meet the left.   Pause for a moment in standing and then repeat on the other side.

Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana

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This pose is great for stretching out the hamstrings, a very important group of muscles in the back of the legs that are often forgotten until they start to ache. The hamstrings are put to use when walking on an incline as the front leg extends to lift up the back leg and draw it forward. The calves and hips are also given a nice stretch in this pose.  The thighs and knees are strengthened as you contract them to bring your torso closer to your thighs.

How To: From standing, separate your feet so that they are hip distance apart.  Inhale and bring your hands to your hips and you draw the chest forward.   Exhale and keep the back and legs straight as you hinge at the hips and bring your torso toward the ground. Allow your hands to come to the ground, resting the palms flat on the ground, keep the knees straight.  If this isn’t possible then hold on to either elbow and just allow them to dangle in front of you. To deepen the stretch you can use the index and middle finger on each hand to wrap around the big toes. Inhale and lengthen through the crown of the head, drawing your torso out of your pelvis, keeping your back straight.  Exhale and release, allowing your torso to come closer towards your thighs and letting your head hang.  When you are at your depth use your inhales to lengthen and exhales to fold deeper, pause for 5 breaths. At the end of your fifth exhalation, inhale and lift the torso up halfway, exhale and return the hands to the hips.   Inhale and press the tailbone down as you keep the length in the front of your torso to return back up to standing.

Cow Faced Pose – Gomukhasana

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After a few standing postures we will come to the ground and this pose will help to stretch out the sides of the hips; the gluteus, piriformis and other hip rotator muscles. It will also stretch the backs of the arms (triceps), the rotator cuff and the upper back.

How To: Start from a seated position with your legs extended in front of you. Cross your right leg underneath your left leg so that your knees are stacked one on top of the other in the centre of your body.  Flex both feet and position your ankles an equal distance away from the thighs, ensure both sitting bones are on the ground (if this is too challenging then come to a regular cross legged position). Inhale and reach the right arm overhead with the palm facing behind you, exhale and bend your elbow and reach your fingertips down your back, as far as the can go.   Inhale to bring your left arm out to shoulder height with the palm facing behind you,  exhale to wrap it around your back and bend at the elbow, palm facing away from your back.  If your hands are touching, curl the fingers to lock them in place. Otherwise use a strap, towel, or even a t-shirt to effectively lengthen your arms and extend your reach. Keep the length in your spine as you sit tall, but notice if you are puffing out your chest, then draw the ribs in and down.   Pull down with your left hand and up with your right as you create tension and stretch the tricep of the right arm and rotator cuff on the left arm.  Hold for 5 breaths before switching to the other side.  To deepen the stretch and opening of the hips, inhale and lengthen through the spine and then exhale with a straight back to draw the torso toward the ground (as shown).

Half Lord of the Fishes Pose – Ardha Matsyendrasana

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A good spinal twist is an important end to your practice and is traditionally thought to massage your abdominal organs, detoxify your liver and kidneys, and stimulate your digestive system.  This particular pose will also stretch your hips and hip rotators as well as strengthen your obliques.

How To:  From seated, bend both knees and slide your left foot underneath your right leg, your right leg will cross over the left and the foot will come to rest flat on the ground at the outside of the left thigh.   Place your right hand on the ground behind you at the base of your spine.  Inhale the left arm up into the air, creating length and space in the spine and torso.  Exhale and bring a bend into the left arm, either hugging the right leg in or placing the outside of the upper left arm to the outside of the right thigh.  Gaze over your right shoulder.  With every inhale, lengthen through the crown of the head, growing taller through the spine.  With every exhale allow yourself to twist a little deeper.  Try not to place too much weight in the right hand that is resting on the ground (you may need to use  a prop like a book to bring the ground closer to your hand).  Stay here for 5-10 breaths before unwinding the legs and switching to the other side.

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About the author

Lisa Nelson

Lisa is a globe-trotting yoga teacher who fell in love with solo travelling when she left her home country of Canada last November. She was only supposed to have been gone for three months, but her life was completely changed with her first taste of solo travel. She can currently be found in Indonesia where she is teaching yoga on a quiet island near Bali. She is planning on heading to Australia as her next destination. When she's not yogaing (it's a verb) or exploring, she can be found in a cafe updating her travel blog https://eatpraylovebylisa.wordpress.com

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