What is Yoga?

A Modern Definition and 10 Yoga Poses to Get You Started

What is Yoga?

Yoga, in its truest form, is the union of energies in the body, as well as the system to achieve union. With ancient eastern lineage and increased popularity in western society, the real meaning of Yoga has been left to the practitioner to seek out and discover. What we have come to know Yoga as is a system of postures that when sequenced together in different forms delineate different forms or styles of Yoga. There are many lineages of Yoga that practitioners can explore beyond the physical practice.

What is Yoga Good for?

Yoga connects the breath with movement. While the practice of Yoga is very physical, it’s much more about what the mind is doing. We become aware of the space in-between one action or movement and the next one. Our brainwaves decrease and we enter a more peaceful state of mind. As you start to free your mind on the yoga mat, you create a pattern of awareness for the real world and observe what’s happening. The practice of Yoga opens the door for us to see that the mundane can be completely extraordinary.

Beginning and Evolution of Yoga

The ancient roots of Yoga were transmitted from a guru (teacher) to a student, one-on-one. Religious traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism intertwine the practice of Yoga. Each student was taught at their own pace and the transmission of information was curated around their personal journey. Since the model of teaching and learning yoga has shifted towards students as clients, the monetary expectations of the students can create a wall between teacher and student and the amount of attention they receive. The Western revolution of Yoga would shift the dominant approach back to a one-on-one style rooted in a personal approach with the inclusion of a Sangha, or community made up of all students and teachers.

How to Begin a Yoga Practice

The following sequencing corresponds with the movement of your breath. Note the appropriate respiration for each pose is provided if you choose to move through these at a faster, or more Vinyasa-paced speed. If you prefer to move slowly, as in a Hatha-practice, use the breath cue provided for each pose as the beginning respiration to take as you move into that pose. 

What to Know: Breathe

Inhale – extend, lengthen, open, expand

Longer inhales will increase your heart rate. 

Exhale – contract, ground, hold, deepen

Longer exhales will decrease your heart rate.

What to Know: Pain vs. Sensations

As you begin a Yoga practice, or any new movement method, you may quickly find yourself asking as you move, is this good pain or bad pain? Was that an ‘ouch’ or an ‘ahh’ sensation I felt? 

Pay attention to the sensations in your body, but don’t read too much into them. All these movements are new to the body and your body is going to respond by signaling to your brain that something is different.

It is up to you to know the difference between pain and sensation. Here is a simple trick to tell. If you can’t keep the breath balanced while in the pose, that is pain and if you can keep the breath balanced, that is sensation.

The number one way to prevent injury is to stay connected and contained with your body. When you become aware of pain in your body, slowly change positions, coming out of the pose the same way you got into the pose. You may need additional adjustments or modifications for your body such as blocks, blankets, or straps. Ultimately, not all poses are accessible for all bodies. Be present to the process and your evolution.

10 Beginner’s Yoga Poses to Get You Started

1. Samasthiti (Equal Standing)

Consider this space an in-between that you are always trying to get back to.

Pronunciation: suh – muh – sthi – ti

Motion: Start and end in samastitihi. Feet hips distance apart with arms relaxed by your side.

Breath: inhale

2. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) 

Find your foundation first, rooted to the earth in order to rise toward the sky.

Pronunciation: tah – DAHS – anna

Motion: Feet come together and place palms together in front of your ribs. Gaze forward and relax the shoulders. Keep back straight and contract thigh muscles, but do not lock knees, while lifting through the balls of feet.

Breath: exhale

3. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

Remain rooted while you rise, lengthen while centered.

Pronunciation: ORRD – vah HAH – stah – anna

Motion: Reach the arms up from the side of your ribs towards the ceiling or the sky. Avoid lifting out of your ribs. 

Breath: inhale

4. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

We all fall down, find balance in the descent.

Pronunciation: OTT – ta – NAHS – anna

Motion: Fold forward and down, reaching your arms to the ground in front of you, keeping your chest open. Option to bend the knees to reduce stress on hamstrings and lower back.

Breath: exhale

5. Ardha Uttanasana (Half Standing Forward Bend)

Mobility on stability, without foundation, the whole system collapses.

Pronunciation: are – dah OOT – tan – AHS – anna

Motion: Place your hands on your shins or come onto your fingertips and halfway lift away from the ground, lengthening the spine and expanding the chest. 

Breath: inhale

6. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Find length through every limb and balance in your center.

Pronunciation: chaht – ah – RON – gah don – DAHS – anna

Motion: Bend the knees and place both hands, palm down on the mat. Step back, with one leg at a time while looking forward. Your thighs are firm, inner thighs strengthen, and the heels press back for stability. Pull the belly button to the spine and hold the shoulders in one place.

Upward-Facing Dog Pose, up next, is a powerful back bend. The integrity you have during Chaturanga will be the starting point of this pose. Think of it as the primer. With a strong base in Chaturanga, in the arms, core, and legs, you reduce the chance of bringing floppiness into your Up Dog backbend. 

Breath: exhale

7. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)

The whole is the sum of all its parts.

Pronunciation: urd – hva  MOO-kah  sv – NAHS – anna

Motion: Bend the elbows while you keep your arms and elbows next to your ribs, inside the frame of your shoulders. Hands are on the mat underneath your shoulders. Press palms, fingertips apart, into your mat and pull the chest through the arms, shoulders remain still. 

The toes also pull forward, like the chest, and you move from the balls of your feet to the tops of your feet touching the mat. Shins and knees float off the mat by strengthening through your calves and hamstrings, avoid contracting the glutes.With straight arms, lengthen through your hips and torso as your gaze rises forward.

Breath: inhale

8. Bālāsana (Child’s Pose)

Rest and find solace in the process of becoming. 

Pronunciation: bah – LAHS – anna

Motion: Press palms into the mat and release the hips back towards your heels, extending your arms, and sitting your belly on top of your thighs. Forward presses lighting into the mat. 

Breath: exhale

9. Padmasana (Lotus Pose)

Find clarity in muddy water; a foundation for meditation practice.

Pronunciation: pod – MAHS – anna

Motion: Sit with legs crossed or one leg in front of the other. You may want to rock back and forth or side-to-side to find the center of your seat. If you have difficulty finding this try holding in a fart. Seriously. Found it? Cool. Lift the spine out of this seat. Relax the shoulders and arms, gaze forward or close your eyes.

Breath: inhale, exhale

10. Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Stillness makes us uneasy if we are used to moving, begin (t)here.

Pronunciation: shah – VAHS – anna

Motion: Lay with your back on the mat and legs separated approximately hips-width distance apart. Arms are next to your sides, elbows are loose instead of locked. Gaze upward or close your eyes. Find stillness.

Breath: inhale, exhale

10 Quotes on Yoga & Mindfulness

Curated to Inspire Your Journey

“At its core, yoga has the sole goal of returning our minds to the state of innocence we were created with.”
Darren Main, Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic

“Freedom from wanting unlocks the real purpose of existence.” 
Yoga Sutra 2:39

“The very heart of yoga practice is ‘abyhasa’ – steady effort in the direction you want to go.” 
Sally Kempton

“We are each a living manifestation of divinity. To know ourselves is to know god. So next time you pray for something, do it with the knowledge that the answer lies within.” 
Michael Teal

“Positive thinking by itself does not work. Your embodied vision, partnered with vibrant thinking, harmonized with active listening, and supported with your conscious action will clear the path for your miracles.” 
Sumner Davenport

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 
Viktor E. Frankl

“Yoga is not just repetition of few postures – it is more about the exploration and discovery of the subtle energies of life.”
Amit Ray

“To change, you have to make the effort. This world is the place to do it.” 
Paramahansa Yogananda

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.” 
B.K.S Iyengar

“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.”
Aadil Palkhivala