Emmalyn Gaertner wants to live in a world where health is about balance, we find happiness in the little things, and our food is cooked with love. As a yoga teacher and wellness expert, Emmalyn guides women through flowing transformation both on and off the mat. When Emmalyn isn’t practicing yoga or at her computer she enjoys hiking with her dog Ollie, cooking with her husband, and always loves a hug! For recipes, tips & tricks, and healthy inspiration please visit her website https://www.doyouyoga.com/members/emmalyngaertner/
We all had a first day of kindergarten, a first day of high school, a first day of a new job, and I’m sure those memories consist of a combination of excitement and nervousness. Over the past four years that I’ve been teaching yoga I’ve had hundreds of brand new students walk into my classes and they always appear to be excited and nervous about what they are getting themselves into. As the teacher I take it upon myself to make them feel comfortable, welcome them to the studio, and get them set up in class with the props they will need for their practice.
The one thing I always wish I could do (but can’t because of time restraints) is to give these brand new students an outline of some of the poses they will see over and over in most yoga classes. I’ve put together all the poses I would share with those students so that when you walk into your first yoga class you will feel prepared and confident.
Mountain Pose might look simple and easy but looks can be deceiving. Mountain pose is the foundation for all other standing poses and teaches you how to engage your body in specific ways to make you stronger. Come into the pose by standing with your feet hip width apart or together and toes facing forward. Your knees are straight but not locked, your core is engaged, and your arms are by your side. Mountain pose is taught towards the beginning of class as time to center and bring your awareness into your practice.
Downward Facing Dog is a very common arm-strengthening, heat-building, hamstring-stretching pose. Your arms are shoulder width apart at the top of your mat and your feet are hips distance apart at the bottom of your mat. Your hips lift up to the sky by pressing down your hands and feet. One of the biggest complaints I hear from new students is that their wrists hurt in downdog, the trick to fixing this is to spread the fingers apart and push the ball of your pointer finger into the mat.
Cobra is done by laying on your belly, pressing your feet and legs into the ground, placing your palms on the ground next to your ribcage, and engaging your back by lifting your chest off the ground. To get more back strength lift the hands about an inch off the ground as your lift your chest and to get more of a stretch in the front of the body gently push your hands into the mat as you lift. Make sure you are protecting your neck by looking about 3 feet in front of you, not up to the sky or down at your hands.
Forward fold is one of my favorite poses on this list because it’s so easy do and always feels good. It’s really as simple as it sounds; stand with your feet apart and let your torso hang down over your legs. Make sure you aren’t locking your knees and if you feel pain in your lower back bend your knees deeply. There are a bunch of arm variations to try depending on what upper body stretch you are looking for: holding onto opposite elbows will let the torso hang deeper, taking the palms under the feet will release the wrists, and interlacing your fingers by your lower back and reaching the hands to the sky will release the shoulders.
Warrior One is a great pose to build lower body strength, heat up the core, and open the upper body. One leg is forward with the knee bent directly over the ankle, the hips face forward, and the other leg straight back with the foot pointing out at a slight angle. The torso and arms are reaching up overhead. Many of my new students feel very unstable in this pose; the best way to bring stability into this pose is the move both feet closer either long edge of the mat.
Warrior Two is the sister pose to Warrior One and builds just as much strength and opening in a slightly different way. In Warrior Two one leg is forward with the knee bent over the ankle (just like in Warrior One) and the other leg is straight back and the foot at a right angle to the front foot. The hips open out to the side of the mat and the arms actively reach out over the legs with the gaze forward.
Savasana is sometimes known as the dessert of the yoga practice, and it’s the type of dessert you will always get to eat. This is the time of practice when you rest, relax, and your body is able to integrate all the benefits from the practice. The simplest way to practice savasana is to lay flat on your back with your arms by your side. You can take it to another level by using a blanket under your head as a pillow or support under your knees to relieve lower back pain or tightness. While savasana looks simple and relaxing from the outside but it can be very mentally challenging. Try to keep your mind in the present by focusing on your breath or doing a body scan by bringing your awareness into different areas of your body.
If you’ve never been to a yoga class practice these poses a few times at home so that when you walk into class you won’t be so nervous. If you are a yoga pro take some time to review these basics to take your next practice to the next level.