You can’t throw a yoga block these days without hitting a blog about the “10 Yoga Poses All Beginners Should Know” or “The 5 Best Yoga Poses to Begin Your Yoga Practice” or some other variation on that theme.
I figured I might as well toss my yoga mat into the ring on this topic with a slight difference from these other articles. I’m sharing the 5 yoga poses I do every single day. What I’m not sharing are the poses I think EVERY SINGLE PERSON PRACTICING YOGA should do every day. I don’t believe such a list exists.
The poses I choose to practice every day lay the basic foundation of my daily yoga practice. Almost all of them are very simple poses that create the building blocks of other poses I might choose to do in my practice that are more complicated or challenging.
And now I’m even going to say this:
This morning, I didn’t do a single downward facing dog. Downward Doggie is on my list of 5 poses I do every day, but I didn’t do it today. I don’t even follow my own rules, sometimes.
I’m a rebel like that.
And also, some days even those poses that usually create a valuable part of my yoga foundation, don’t feel as necessary or beneficial.
In that light, I’ve also included a few “honorable mention” poses that fill in the gaps of my yoga foundation.
One more friendly reminder that these poses are the essentials of MY daily yoga practice but that doesn’t mean they should be a daily part of YOURS. I didn’t so much pick these poses as they were the ones showing up in my practice with the most regularity. These poses kept showing up regularly because they felt (and still feel) great in my body and tend to some of the areas of my body that need the most support or attention. That’s how they ended up on this list.
What’s on your list?
Not sure where to start? Start on your mat, in class or at home. This may take a little while, so be patient. Pay attention to the poses that feel really good. Notice the poses that keep showing up for you, when you do yoga on your own. What poses are you drawn to, either because you like them or because they challenge you? What poses does your body crave?
That’s how you’ll start to add poses to your list.
For now, enjoy my list of yoga poses I do (almost) every single day.
Downward Facing Dog
This is a staple pose because DownDog is a fantastic full body pose. Down Dog provides lots of good strength and stability for my limbs, while allowing my spine to stretch and lengthen.
Basic Alignment Tips: Hands as wide and shoulders, feet as wide as hips. Wrist creases should be even with the front of your mat. Root down through your fingerpads strongly and through the circumference of your palms. Your heels DO NOT NEED to reach the floor. in fact, if your hips or hammies are tighter, bend your knees and allow your heels to stay lifted.
If you can’t bear weight in your hands or arms, you can do this pose at the wall. Hands at the wall, in line with your shoulders and feet on the floor, underneath your hips. Your torso should be roughly parallel to the floor. I call it “wall dog.” All dog alignment tips still apply.
Cobra Pose is a staple because it is a backbend and I love backbends. Cobra isn’t as hard on my wrists and doesn’t require as much warm up as some of the deeper backbends, although cobra is a very deep backbend in her own right. Deeper than the frequent vinyasa favorite, updog, which is actually more of an arm balance anyway, but I digress.
Basic Alignment Tips: Same foundation as dog, hands as wide as shoulders while feet and legs can be hip width or even a bit wider. Your arm bones should stay steady in your shoulder sockets as your heart moves forward and up, but your head shouldn’t drop back in this variation. Your head should remain an extension of your spine. Use your legs to create support for your low back by squeezing them actively inward. If your low back feels tight here, place a blanket underneath your pelvis to gently lift it off of the floor.
I love triangle pose because I get a lovely side body stretch while also strengthening my hamstrings. Triangle pose is a pose I can hold comfortably for awhile because both of my legs are straight, unlike Warrior 2 or Side Angle (Parsvakonasana), which have a bent front leg making long holds much less appealing (aka harder).
Basic Alignment Tips: Placement of feet is key. Front foot should face straight forward towards the front or short end of your mat, while your back foot should point towards the long end. Your front foot should line up with the arch of your back foot. Your back foot should be more lined up with the back edge of your mat unless your hips are tight or your knee hurts, in which case you can turn your foot in slightly. Also be sure to NOT lock your knees. Instead, press firmly through the ball of your front foot, while also engaging your heel so hammies are happy.
To modify for tighter hamstrings or hips, place your hand on a block instead of trying to reach the floor. Also, stay up on your fingertips to preserve support for your low back.
Twisted Quad Stretch
This pose brings me so much joy. It’s a twist and a quad stretch and a backbend and a hip opener. What can’t this pose do?
Basic Alignment Tips: Be sure to not twist your knee on the floor. And if you are holding your foot, get your butt back towards your heel FIRST, then pull your heel in closer, THEN lunge forward, keeping your heel and hip close together. Don’t lunge and let your thigh sag forward. No one wants saggy thighs. Keeping your thighbone back will actually give you a deeper stretch, no matter how far forward you can lunge.
The twist is more important than the quad stretch from an alignment perspective, so if you can’t grab your back foot, put it back down on the floor and lift your arm up instead while aiming for a deeper lunge. Your quads will still stretch this way.
Supta Baddha Konasana
Yes, I’ve included a restorative. This is new for me. 5 years ago, I never would have considered this pose a daily essential. Ok, 5 weeks ago. Lately, though, this pose has been a nightly opportunity to get calmer and more grounded in my body. Highly recommend. Even if you think you don’t like restoratives, every body needs time to refuel and restore.
Basic Alignment Tips: You’ll need a bolster, 3 blankets, and 2 blocks. I fold 2 of the blankets and place them under my shoulders (they are “stair stepped” so my head is actually higher than my chest) and head, while the other blanket goes under my butt and over the 2 blocks under my knees. The blocks under my knees help support my knees so I don’t have to work at all while in the pose. In fact, there should be ZERO WORK in this pose. You shouldn’t be holding anything, just releasing. If you need more Restorative Pointers, check out the brilliant work my friend Tara Lemerise does, especially if you in the DC area.
I do cat/cow pose on most days as a simple and enjoyable way to warm up my spine, as well as connect with my breath and the movement of my body. The most common movement combo is “inhale, softening belly and lengthening chest forward; exhale, rounding spine upward while you drop head and tail.” You can add variations to the movement, like exhaling hips to heels for childs pose or inhaling forward into cobra pose. You can also do cat/cow in many different poses, like sitting on your knees or a lunge or even any of the poses listed above, except the restorative. You can also do cat/cow movement seated in a chair, if you don’t bear weight in your arms! Highly versatile and valuable pose.
Standing Side Body Stretch
Another highly versatile stretch, which is why I love it. Most commonly practiced from standing, take a hold of your wrist of forearm with the hand of your other arm. Root through your legs as your stretch your body to one side, then switch the grip to go to the other.
This pose can be done seated in a chair, lying on your back on the ground, and even in ore dynamic poses like Warrior 1 (or the “high lunge version with back foot lifted instead of grounded).
Pigeon pose will always be one of my true yoga loves. Pigeon pose is another “what can’t this pose do?” pose. It’s a hip opener, quad stretch, backbend, and strength building pose, for legs and hips. Pigeon pose is a phenomenal prep pose for almost every single arm balance, not to mention a phenomenal prep pose for all of the deeper hip openers like lotus AND is a phenomenal prep pose for many deeper backbends. This pose is a workhorse. Or work-pigeon.
Anyway, the most important tips are have for pigeon pose are these three:
First, don’t try to let your bent front leg sag down towards the ground. Nobody wants saggy hips. More importantly, it can compromise your knee and low back. Also, don’t intentionally put a block underneath that same hip for the same reason. In order to keep your low back safe and level, squeeze your legs towards one another to give yourself liftoff. Your pelvs will not be in contact with the ground which is a-ok.
Second, your front leg does not need to be parallel to the front of your mat. In fact, if your hips are tight, it won’t be. Don’t force it. Ever. Instead, aim for a front shin diagonal until your hips are stronger and more open.
Third, keep your keep active and engaged to protect your knees.
Handstand (or Forearm Stand)
I do an inversion every single day. Sometimes handstand, sometimes forearm stand, sometimes just my humble all purpose downdog. Handstand is a bit more of a playful expression for me, whereas forearm stand is more about building strength. You already know about why I love dog. So even though I don’t do each of these 3 poses every single day, I do one of them every day because inversions bring me joy, connect me to my playful spirit, and give me a good challenge.
As a note, I rarely do headstand or shoulderstand, both poses which usually make those “most important poses” lists I mentioned before. Although my neck is healthy now and I know how to practice both poses safely, neither pose brings me as much joy as handstand, forearm stand, or dog. Additionally, these 2 poses require a lot more warm up and prep in order for my body (and in my expert opinion, most bodies) to do them easily. So unless I have lots of time, I do the ones that make me happy and feel good.
Parivritta Janu Sirsasana
I adore this seated pose because it’s the best side body stretch for your yoga buck. One leg kind of looks like pigeon and the other leg extends straight out. Pigeon leg hip stays grounded while you reach towards the straight leg foot. Massive side body stretch on the pigeon leg side ensues. Whether or not you reach your foot isn’t important; the side body stretch is queen even if you never make it to your foot. To ensure this, your pigeon leg hip must stay grounded. You can also better support your neck and get a little more juice in your side body stretch if you place your hand (same as bent leg) behind your head.