During the first probably four or five yoga classes I ever took, I spent the majority of the time frantically looking around at everyone else. I wasn’t trying to compare myself to them—I was just trying to understand what the heck was going on. I wasn’t familiar with either the English or Sanskrit names for the poses, and to be quite honest, even when I did know what I was supposed to do, I couldn’t tell if I was doing it right.
Taking some cues from the more advanced yogis around me helped, but I do wish that I had familiarized myself a bit with some yoga poses for beginners before I took my first class. If you’re new to yoga and have had a similar experience—or are still too hesitant to walk into a studio and roll out your mat—learning a handful of the poses that will pop up throughout class is a great way to feel more confident to give it a shot.
Yoga is now a very welcome part of my fitness routine, so I’m glad that I powered through the discomfort in the beginning. To help you do the same, I asked Heather Peterson, certified yoga instructor and chief yoga officer at CorePower Yoga, to share what she thinks are some of the best yoga poses for beginners to learn. The moves below “are the blueprint postures that allow you to build upon your practice and move onto more advanced poses and sequences,” says Peterson. (Quick note: We’re talking specifically about yoga poses for vinyasa or “vinyasa flow” yoga, a style that’s pretty popular in the U.S.)
Peterson says that it’s also important to let go of your ego if you’re new to yoga. “Oftentimes we let comparison or the thought that I should already be good at this push us to unrealistic expectations. Be willing to let that mindset go and pause for a moment, and realize that everybody starts somewhere.” Another tip that she gives her beginner students: If anything hurts, stop doing it. “Some postures bring up discomfort and some feel really good, but you always want to avoid pain,” she says. On that note, it’s also always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you start a new form of exercise to make sure it’s safe for you.
And of course, remember that practice makes progress. “The more you practice yoga, the more you’re building awareness in your body,” says Peterson. “The biggest thing to do as a beginner is to start and then stay consistent with your practice.”
Ready to start? Here are 12 helpful yoga poses for beginners. Demoing the moves is Devon Stewart, a yoga instructor and sexual and reproductive health doula based in Harlem.