Back to Basics: Poses 101

By Rodney Yee, October, 2013

School has started. The new fall clothes are bought—on sale, of course—books purchased, and pencils sharpened (oh, I mean, computers updated with more memory). Yoga Shanti is back to sanity, with no one turned away and mat space to spare. Maybe Colleen and I will get to teach a wall class where everyone gets their very own space around the periphery of the room. As BKS Iyengar said, I have had two teachers—Krishnamacharya and the wall.

With this in mind, and the remembered returned-to-school feeling, I figure it is time to reboot the yoga basics: If I had a group of beginners for the next year, which poses would I focus on that would be foundational poses for the rest of their lives and why?

First, mountain pose—tadasana—which is a constant reminder of basic posture, and yet sublime, subtle alignment—a pose in which all others return and reflect

Handstand—adho mukha vrksasana—would need to be included, or a handstand variation, to get people mentally awake and present.

Downward-facing dog—adho mukha svanasana—is the quintessential yoga posture that connects both our hands and feet to the earth, brings suspension to our torso, and reconnects us to the animal world.

Headstand—sirsasana—aligns our entire spine with particular attention to our neck and our head; when learned properly, headstand brings us closer to our energetic center and quiets the chatter in our minds.

Reclined hero’s pose—supta virasana— s the one pose that addresses many of the bindings of modern Western culture—for example, the full bending of the knees and the full opening of the hip flexors.

Upward-facing-bow pose—urdhva danurasana—is included to keep our entire spine free and healthy, and to keep our hearts wide open and fearless.

Shoulder stand is the queen cooling pose, and the perfect bookend to headstand; it releases so much built up tension in the neck and shoulders, and sets us deep into the inward journey.

Plow pose—halasana—releases all the muscles of our back body, and plummets us further inwards.

Full-seated forward bend—paschimottanasana—is the essential forward bend that opens the flight muscles (the hamstrings), and gets our senses to turn inwards toward our breath; with full-seated forward bend, our breath is forced closer to our central channel, and any blockages become apparent.

Relaxation pose—savasana—is the classic pose to still our body as we challenge our mind to stay present and aware.

With any cross-legged-seated pose that allows for ease and freedom of the breath, the foundations for meditation can be explored.

These are my choices for Poses 101. I know some of these poses are not available to many of you, and that you will have to substitute other poses or modifications. But these are the basics I keep in mind and am always refining.

As the fall takes away the flamboyancy of the bright summer days, bring your yoga practice back to its life-giving roots, and plant them well into Mother Earth.


Rodney Yee

Rodney is a world-renowned yoga teacher who started practicing yoga in 1980. He has been in over thirty yoga videos, and is the author of two books, including Moving Toward Balance. Along with his wife, Colleen Saidman Yee, he is the co-director of Heath and Wellness Initiative of the Urban Zen Foundation, Donna Karan’s project to change the healthcare paradigm to include complementary healthcare practices. He has been teaching at Colleen's studio, Yoga Shanti Sag Harbor, for several years, and is one of the founding members of Yoga Shanti New York.

Read more submissions by Rodney Yee

This entry was posted in . Bookmark the permalink.