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
2. Upward Salute
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
6. Modified Four-Limbed Staff Pose
8. Downward-Facing Dog
Adho Mukha Svanasana
9. Standing Half-Forward Fold
10. Standing Forward Fold
11. Upward Salute
12. Mountain Pose
Photography: Julia Hembree
Video: Jenna Haufler