Yoga Routine


Your First Yoga Routine

Well, if you’re here reading this, I assume you’re interested in getting started with a yoga routine but don’t know where to start. Without the basics, it must seem like quite a daunting task. Cue the nightmarish quintessential yoga instructor:

“Alright, go. ……..What’s that? ….I haven’t taught you how to do anything? Well come on! It’s so simple! You just go like this and twist yourself like this and bend back over your foot like this.”

That may be something you might expect a yoga instructor to say. But it’s not really fair to get all those directions without ever understanding why your foot goes “there” or your hands go back “that way.” …… (sigh)….Great. Now I’m sure I’ve scared half you readers away. If you’re still here and you have the image of yoga being a giant game of Twister, please allow me to explain:

In yoga, each bend and twist has a reason. When you understand the basics behind certain positions, you can do everything by yourself--even combine moves and create your own (but there are so many, you may just be creating an already established position.) Now, I’m sure you don’t want to study without actually doing anything, so I will run through a routine and, whilst in the middle of a position, I will explain what you need to know about it. It will be a lot easier for you to feel why your back should be bent “that” way when you know in your head why it should be. It will also be a lot easier for you to know if you are doing the position correctly. In yoga, you work so many muscles that aren’t used in everyday life, so if you haven’t been doing yoga or anything similar that involves a lot of deep stretching, and you don’t even feel a slight amount of muscle strain or fatigue, chances are you’re not doing the move properly. I will also explain each position separately and in greater detail.

Well, let’s get started:

I want you to begin by standing with your back and shoulders straight (like you would stand when your grandma used to shout at you about your posture), place your feet together and your hands at your sides. This is generally called your “starting position” and that is how I will refer to it from now on.

Slowly—as you inhale—raise your hands out to your sides and then up over your head as you slightly stretch up. (After practicing for a little while, you can feel free to arch your back a little, but don’t fall over!) Leave your hands up and maintain your stretch for a few breaths. This is generally referred to as “Sun’s pose” or “Sun’s Salutation.” Not all names with the word “Sun” in them refer to this pose, but a lot of the time, this is the one people mean.

Now, when you are prepared to come back down, begin by exhaling slowly and bringing your hands back downward through the same path they came up. Without stopping, bend at your waist and, while keeping your knees straight, bring your hands down to your toes. You really want to feel the stretch in the back of your legs, so if you feel the stretch right now, skip the rest of this paragraph and continue to the next (but feel free to come back to this paragraph later on when you feel like you need to stretch more in this position.)  If you don’t feel the stretch, simply roll your weight toward your heels and you should feel it. If even after this you don’t feel it, you may bring your palms to the floor. If this is still not enough, you may bend your elbows at varying degrees in order to get the stretch. Consider these moves when you feel you are ready for more of a stretch.

Now, step your feet backward, one at a time, while your hands stay on the floor. You should end up in the top of a pushup position. Now, as slowly as you are able to, bend your elbows and come down toward the floor. It’s alright if you aren’t able to do it too slow at first. Just go comfortably. (Remember, you want your breathing to be steady and even, so if you can’t breathe through your nose, you may be working your muscles a little too hard in this beginner’s stage.) Now, just before you touch the floor, swoop yourself up so that your back is arched and you are still holding yourself up off the floor with your hands and toes. If you are having trouble understanding what I mean, think of your nose as an airplane. Just like in movies and such, when a plane is about to hit the ground and the pilot pulls it up at the last second, that is what you are going to do. You will bring yourself slowly down from the pushup position and swoop forward and upward. This position is called “Up Dog” (Again, if you don’t feel enough of a stretch, you may roll your body forward a little and hold yourself up with your hands and just the tops of your feet, but you may want to strengthen your ankles a little first. I will show you how.)

Now, many yoga routines will start with these three positions before going on their own diverging paths. Later on, I will explain how to change up your regimen a little and move into more complex poses, start your routine differently, or even trade different poses throughout so that you don’t get bored with the same, old yoga plan.

But, from Up Dog pose, simply push yourself backward and upward. You will be in a pose similar to the pushup, but instead, your butt should be lifted as far up as it can comfortably go. This is called “Down Dog” and that is how I will refer to it.

When in this position, try to keep your legs as straight as possible while you hold your WHOLE foot on the ground. It can be difficult at first, especially if it was difficult to touch your toes, but just do your best and you will soon be able to do it without any difficulty at all. Your arms should be straight and you should be stretching them so that your butt moves higher into the air. This will also give your legs and chest a better stretch. You may feel a little muscle fatigue in your shoulders, as well. Now, hold the position and lift your right leg into the air. Do your best to keep your legs straight, but this will make it harder. You want to use the muscles in your glutes (butt) and the muscles just below it in order to lift your leg as high as you can. I recommend holding this for at least a minute and a half, but if you feel you can do more, by all means go, go ahead! (If it is too difficult to hold your leg up, you may want to try to be near a wall when starting out with yoga. It will be very helpful to use it to hold yourself up in a number of positions.) Slowly lower your leg and repeat with the other side, holding for the same amount of time…

Now, you should have both feet back safely on the ground and you should still be in Down Dog position. Many instructors have their students repeat this series of positions many times before continuing. It can be quite beneficial to your overall ability in the beginning of your routine, so I will explain how to cycle it around again and you can if you want to.

Simply walk your feet back toward your hands while keeping the palms down on the floor as long as possible, and now you will be touching your toes (or close to it.) Slowly inhale and raise your body up, bringing your hands outward and upward as you go. You will once again be in Sun’s Salutation pose and you can exhale and bring your hands back down to touch your toes. From here, walk your feet backward and you will be in the top of a pushup, once more. Slowly bend your elbows and bring yourself into that airplane nose-dive before swiftly swooping forward and upward into Up Dog pose.

Now, you know how to continue on from here.

Let’s continue from Down Dog position (the one where your butt is in the air and you are above a pushup position).

Lift your right leg up the same as you did before and, instead of holding it, swoop it down and forward toward your hands. You should be standing, with that knee bent and the foot of that leg standing in between your hands on the floor, or as close to it as you can get. Lift your opposite arm up into the air and stretch your chest open while you twist your waist and abdomen. If you are able to look up into the air, you will get a balance workout along with the stretch and twist. Many poses will allow for this additional workout, and I will let you know when you can do this. If you are unable to, don’t worry. Just work towards that ability later on.

Now, leaving your feet where they are, raise your upper body so you are now standing with your right leg bent and in front and your left leg bent just behind you. Raise your hands out from sides and straight up as you would if you were in Sun’s Salutation. This is “Crescent Pose” and I will call it that from now on.

From here, while keeping your arms straight, move them down to about shoulder height, and put your right arm out in front of you while your left arm goes out behind you. You want there to be a straight line from the tips of your right fingers to the tips of your left fingers and you should be able to look out at the horizon over your right finger tips. This is called “Warrior Pose.”

Hold this position for about 2 minutes.

This position, along with Crescent Pose, is one of those positions that allows for quite a bit of variation in how you hold yourself and what you move into next. But what I will have you do from here, is, while keeping your arms straight still, bend backwards so your left arm goes down and your right arm goes up. Hold for about 1 minute and then bend forward so your right arm goes down and your palm rests on the floor while your left arm goes back in the air. This is the pose you were in when you swung your foot up towards your hands. So, you may now be able to see how this is all connected. Place both hands back on the floor and take your foot backward again so you are in Down Dog again. Now repeat everything with your other side. Lift left leg, swing forward to hands, lift right arm into air, stand in Crescent Pose, move to Warrior Pose with opposite side as before, and bend backward, then forward, then get back into Down Dog.

From Down Dog, move your butt down so you are in the top of a pushup and move into Up Dog. Push yourself backward and upward into down dog and walk both feet up to your hands once more so you are touching your toes. Then, slowly come up with your body and lift your arms so you come into Sun’s Salutation pose. Exhale and lower your arms back to your side so you now have come full circle to your starting pose.

Good Job! You’ve just completed your first basic yoga routine!

*A couple of things to remember:

Whenever you move a part or all of your body upward, you should be inhaling and, inversely, when you move downward, you should be exhaling. Now, while there are exceptions to each rule, this is generally the way it should be. It is quite a bit more relaxing and soothing.

* Do not use up all of your muscle endurance on one pose! You will be doing many things with your arms and legs by the end of your routine, so you don’t need to rush your workout and shove it all into the first five minutes. I will write up a short ten minute routine for when you have less time, but 45 minutes to an hour is usually best. That includes warm-up and cool-down time, though, so it’s not too long.