Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

With the multitude of research-supported benefits of yoga—from improved flexibility and balance to reduced stress and improved mood­—it’s not surprising so many people are eager to roll out their mats and experience a physical yoga practice for the first time. For those seeking to establish a personal practice at home, consider exploring a few foundational yoga poses, including the following postures that focus on establishing and maintaining stability and mobility throughout the body. 

Cat-cow variation

Focus: Thoracic spine mobility

Begin in a hands and knees position with wrists below shoulders and knees below hips. As you inhale, soften belly toward floor, gently arching the back while tilting tailbone and chin toward ceiling. As you exhale, gently round spine drawing chin toward chest, then shift hips back toward heels. Inhale once again, shifting weight forward to return to an all fours position, repeating the sequence of movements for a total of 5 breaths. 

Bridge pose

Focus: Hip mobility and core stability

Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, positioned hip-width distance apart. Feet should be positioned close enough to the body that fingertips can lightly graze the back of the heels. To maintain alignment in the lower body, you may wish to place a block between the inner thighs. Relax arms alongside the body with palms down and allow back of head to rest comfortable on the mat. On an inhale breath gently and lift glutes off of the floor, guiding pelvis toward ceiling. Hold at the top of the movement for 3-5 breaths before slowly lowering to starting position and repeat once again. 

Supported half kneeling gentle twist

Focus: Thoracic spine and hip mobility

From a high kneeling position step right foot forward toward front edge of mat. For greater comfort and support, you may wish to place a folded towel or blanket below the left knee. Shift weight slightly forward, deepening bend in right leg to allow right thigh to draw parallel to the floor, keeping knee tracking in line with the second toe. Place a block to the inside of the right foot at an accessible height of your choosing. Place left hand atop the block and draw right hand to right hip, keeping chest squared over right thigh. On an inhale breath lengthen spine, drawing crown of head slightly forward. On an exhale breath, rotate the torso to the right, twisting from the upper back as you draw right shoulder back and left shoulder forward, opening chest toward right side of mat. With each inhalation continue to maintain length in the spine and with each exhalation explore slightly more rotation in the spine, depending on what feels appropriate in your body. Hold this position for 3-5 breaths and repeat on the opposite side. 

Upward salute to chair pose variation

Focus: Core stability and shoulder and hip mobility

Begin standing with feet positioned hip-width distance apart with arms relaxed at sides. On an inhale breath, sweep both arms overhead, drawing upper arms alongside the ears with wrists drawing above shoulders. Palms should face one another with shoulders relaxed down away from ears. On an exhale breath, hinge at hips and bend knees, lowering into a modified squat position allowing torso to lean forward just slightly while simultaneously extending arms back, reaching fingertips toward the back edge of the mat, palms facing inward toward one another. Reverse the movement as you begin the next cycle of breath, pressing down through the feet to extend arms and legs. Repeat the sequence of movements for 3-5 breaths. 

Staff pose

Focus: Shoulder girdle and core stability

Assume a seated position with legs extended together in front of the body. For enhanced support and alignment, you may wish to sit atop a folded towel or blanket. Extend arms alongside the body, rooting palms into the ground outside of each hip with fingers pointed forward. Engage quadriceps and dorsiflex the ankles, drawing toes toward shins. Maintaining this engagement, press down firmly through the palms and engage the core, lengthening the spine allowing the torso to become perpendicular to the floor. Focus on keeping the ears, shoulders and hips in line with one another. Maintain this aligned and engaged position for 3-5 breaths. 

Assisted reclining hand-to-big toe pose variation

Focus: Hamstring flexibility and ankle mobility

Lie on back on mat with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Using a yoga strap or towel, draw right knee in toward chest looping the strap/towel around the sole of the right foot, holding the strap/towel in both hands. With an inhale breath begin to extend the right leg, pressing right heel toward ceiling to extend arms and right leg to whatever degree is accessible. Keeping hands as high on the strap as possible, release shoulders slight into the floor and draw right leg as close to perpendicular with the floor as possible. For a deeper stretch, continue to draw knee toward face. Hold this stretch for 3-5 breaths, then add in movement at the ankle (draw toes toward shin, draw toes away from shin and move ankle from right to left) for another 3-5 breaths. Release the posture by re-bending the right knee and removing the strap/towel from underneath the foot. Repeat on the opposite side.

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