5 of The Most Popular Yoga Poses, Decoded

By Sam Negrin

September is International Yoga Month, i.e. the perfect time to decode the most common yoga poses, that we get a lot of questions about. Yoga is much more than a physical exercise. It's a fluid movement that requires extreme connection to breath while mindfully moving through different physical positions. Of course it's a major workout, but it can turn into so much more than that, especially with proper alignment of your joints and breath.

Today we're going through five of the most common yoga poses you might come across, and sharing much more throughout the month. Let us know any poses you want us to focus on in the comments!

Downward Facing Dog
credit: LEAFtv

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

This is sometimes considered your "home base" when attending a vinyasa yoga class. It decreases anxiety, increases flexibility, strengthens the nervous system and improves circulation. These are the alignment points you should look for:

  • Hands are shoulders-width apart and feet are about 2 inches wider than hips-distance apart
  • Press through all 10 fingers as you lift up and out of your shoulders, reaching your hips towards the ceiling (or sky!)
  • Reach your heels towards the floor, although they might not make it (just work the action), with straight legs or bent knees
  • If your knees are bent, make sure you're continuously lifting your hips up, not back
  • Draw your belly in and look towards your navel or in between your thighs
  • BREATHE IN & OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSE & RELAX!
Upward Facing Dog
credit: LEAFtv

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

This pose is an incredible stretch for your chest, shoulders, back and hip flexors. Because it's a heart opener, it can help broaden your horizons emotionally, cope with external stressors and improve posture. These are the alignment points you should look for:

  • Hands directly underneath shoulders, firmly pressing into the mat
  • Only the tops of the feet and hands are touching the floor, the thighs and calves are gently raised
  • Relax the glutes and make sure your ankles are drawing in (not splaying out to the sides)
  • Collarbones are widening as your shoulder blades draw down your back, helping you find an opening in your chest
  • Gaze is slightly upwards, making sure you don't strain the neck
  • BREATHE IN & OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSE & RELAX!
Chaturanga
credit: LEAFtv

Chaturanga Dandasana

This is one of the ultimate strengthening poses. In a vinyasa class, you can come into this up to 30 times in one hour! Imagine the strength you're building in your biceps, triceps and core. These are the alignment points you should look out for:

  • You should start in a plank position to feel your pelvis come into proper alignment, which is a neutral spine (not tucked or arched, as pictured)
  • Wrists under elbows and toes under heels, this requires a slight tilt forward with the entire body
  • Your upper arms should not be hugging your side body too tightly, or else you'll be relying too much on that and miss the strengthening, try to keep your arms about an inch away from your torso
  • Your elbows go straight back, unlike a regular push up where they'd be wider and to each side
  • Belly drawing strongly in, to protect your back
  • Your neck is long, looking a few inches forward, so that your cervical spine is in proper alignment
  • BREATHE IN & OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSE & RELAX!
Child's pose
credit: LEAFtv

Child's Pose (Balasana)

Aaah, one of the most delicious poses in the practice. Child's pose is the perfect movement to drop into when you're feeling short of breath, fatigued or anxious. It's a level 1 pose, but I've also heard some teachers say that it's a level 4 (because if you know when to listen to your body and simply ~relax~, you're more in-touch than most!). These are the alignment points to look out for:

  • With your knees wide and toes together, draw your hips back and down until you feel a stretch in the hips
  • Melt your chest to the mat and gently place your forehead down
  • Extend your arms straight in front of you ~or~ back (palms up) towards your feet
  • BREATHE IN & OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSE & RELAX!
Forward fold
credit: LEAFtv

Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)

This is a relaxing pose that greatly increases flexibility and strength, yet gets brushed over way too often in class. There is so much happening from an internal perspective here, it actually requires a lot of strength. For those who have discomfort in the hamstrings and hips, this pose can be really hard to stay in from a mental perspective. For those who have a lot of flexibility and can simply drop into this, it's 10x harder to find the strengthening aspects. Here are the alignment points you should look out for:

  • Find a comfortable seat that you feel stable in before you fold over your legs, this can include sitting on a flat pillow or folded blanket
  • Start to flex your hamstrings and draw your hips back into your hip flexors (this is an internal push/pull and you won't physically see much change)
  • Internally rotate your thighs so that your pinky toes are pulling back towards your face and your big toes are drawing in (which will then look like your feet are in one line)
  • Gently fold over your legs with a ~long spine~ as you pull your belly in, don't round your spine just so that you can get closer to your legs!!!
  • Place your hands on the floor, hold a strap around your feet, grab your toes, or wrap around your feet - wherever you feel comfortable!
  • Keep your neck long and protected
  • BREATHE IN & OUT THROUGH YOUR NOSE & RELAX!

Pictured: Myself (@samnegrin !) wearing Outdoor Voices, shot at Love Yoga in Venice by Miki Ash.