unrolling yoga mat

Yoga doesn't have to be complicated and poses aren't usually as intimidating as their names. Here are five basic poses that will help get you acquainted with yoga and its many benefits. You can practice them separately or in-sequence for a ready-made routine.

This pose stretches your abs, neck, and back and keeps the spine flexible. It's especially helpful for stiff backs.

  1. Begin on your hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and make sure your back is straight and your wrists are aligned directly below your shoulders.
  2. As you inhale, drop your belly and look up towards the ceiling, opening your heart towards the front of the room. This is the cow position.
  3. As you exhale, untuck your toes and arch your back like a scared cat, drawing your belly in towards your spine. This is cat pose. Continue this sequence for a number of inhalations, moving with your breath.

This pose is great to come back to when you need a rest in between poses. It stretches the lower back and hips, and helps to relieve stress, lower back discomfort, fatigue, trapped wind, and bloating.

  1. Sit back on your heels, with your legs tucked beneath you.
  2. Lower your chest onto your thighs, bringing your forehead to the floor.
  3. Relax your arms, palms up, alongside your legs. Relax in this position for a number of breaths, or as long as you need.

Variation: Stretching your arms out in front of you stretches the groin and inner hips and thighs.

This pose is an all-around body pleaser. It strengthens arms, shoulders, abs, quads and ankles, while stretching shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and the chest. It also helps to combat fatigue, tight legs, and stiff shoulders, while increasing mental awareness.

  1. Start on all fours, with your wrists about a foot in front of shoulders and your knees hip distance apart. Curl your toes under.
  2. As you exhale, push the floor away, lift your knees, and send your sit bones towards the sky. Keep a slight bend in your knees.
  3. Move your chest back towards your thighs, straightening your legs as much as feels comfortable. Keep your hips lifted, pressing through the floor. Your ears should be in line with your upper arms, your gaze should be fixed towards the bottom of your mat, and your body should look like an invert "V."

This pose strengthens the arms, wrists, and spine. It's also a great abs toner. You can easily glide into this position from Downward Dog.

  1. If starting from Downward Dog, on an inhale, shift your body forward. Your arms should be straight and strong, your shoulders directly over your wrists. Your torso should be parallel to the floor, like you're at the top of a push-up.
  2. Lift out through the top of the head and bottom of the feet, feeling your body get long. Hug the upper arms towards each other and roll your shoulder blades down your back. Keep your gaze soft, focusing on the floor.
  3. You can go back into Downward Dog from here, and continue into several Plank-Downward Dog series.

This pose strengthens the back, glutes, hamstrings. It stretches the chest and abs and keeps the spine flexible. It also helps poor posture and combats depression, lower back discomfort, and low energy.

  1. On an exhale, lower yourself down from Plank pose, letting everything touch the floor at the same time.
  2. Untuck your toes. Your elbows should be bent, hugged in towards your chest and your fingers should be pointing forward.
  3. On an inhale, use the strength of your lower back—not your hands—to lift your torso up. Leave a slight bend in your arms. Extend through your head and arch back, fixing your gaze on the ceiling.
  4. Lower yourself back down, resting your head to the mat.

You can finish your practice in Child's Pose, paying attention to any differences you feel in your body, and thanking yourself--you just did yoga!