Home practice is hard. It’s only human to go through phases where you get distracted by the shiny, next, new challenge pose in your practice—or on the opposite end of the spectrum simply get stuck on your favorite feel-good sequence. And while you definitely don’t want to lose sight of goals or the sweet sensations that keep you coming back to your mat, it’s a good idea to take a critical eye to your practice now and then and look for the areas where you could strive for greater balance.
That’s what yoga is all about after all, and practitioners of every level can benefit from going back to basics regularly to reexamine the actions and alignment of the foundation standing poses, back bends, forward bends, and inversions. Here’s my top 10 list along with focus tips for beginner, intermediate, and advanced practitioners.
Top 10 Yoga Poses to Practice Every Day
This beautiful squat is one of my all-time favorite poses. Malasana releases the lower back, opens the hips, and turns the practitioner into a cute little nugget. Explore variations and tips on how to make this pose easier or how to go deeper.
It’s common for beginners to struggle with dropping their heels to the ground. Make sure to spin your heels in and toes out, as well as to widen your stance. If it irritates your knees to drop into a full squat, sit on one or more blocks.
Step up the hip-opening element of this pose by incorporating your arms. Lean forward to wiggle your upper arms to the inside of your legs. Draw your palms together in front of your heart and push your heart into your thumbs. This will naturally encourage external rotation and give you that extra ahhhh moment.
Full Malasana is traditionally performed with the feet together, knees wide, and the torso in a forward fold with either the arms extending or wrapped behind the heels. You typically see this pose done with feet wider than the hips (which is still my personal favorite to release my back and hips after a long day).
Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Chaturanga is one of the most common postures in Vinyasa yoga—but also one of the most abused. Students tend to rush this pose, cheating its alignment, which with repetition can lead to injury. Check out my pointers below to revisit this foundational posture and begin treating it as its own pose instead of a transition.
Many people don’t have the strength and/or body awareness to perform this posture with good alignment. I recommend most students learn this pose with their knees down. Focus on drawing the lower belly up to prevent dumping in the lower back. Keep your elbows in tight to your ribcage and stacked above your wrists.
Have the eye of the tiger! Gaze forward the entire time to prevent rounding in the upper back (we always want to look down here, look forward!) Draw the shoulder heads back and focus on extending your heart as you lower so the elbows stay over the wrists instead of falling behind the heels of your hands.
Use full breath! People love to fly through this pose. Take a full inhale in Plank and a full exhale to come into Chaturanga. Don’t transition out of it until your exhale is complete. This takes control, awareness, and prevents you from making silly mistakes and moving too quickly.
Extended Triangle Pose
Trikonasana. Such a classic standing pose! We live in a world where standing poses are often ignored, but this one is part of my regular practice come rain or shine. It is a glorious way to release your lower back, strengthen your core, and expand your body (and mind).
Students tend to collapse their lower body trying to get their hand or palm to the ground. Skip that step and place your palm either on a block outside of your shin or on your shin below your knee. This enables you to even out through both sides of your rib-cage creating even length in the trunk of your body.
It’s so easy to get sassy in this pose! Most people stick out their butts (pitch in their lower backs) and puff their ribs. Focus on corseting your rib-cage in (wrapping the bones towards your mid-line) and keeping your lower belly engaged and lifted to create space in your lower back.
The final step is taking both of these tips and looking down. You want to line your torso up with your front leg (most students lean toward the inside). Can you keep both sides of your waist even, ribs in, belly engaged and lower back long as you lean back? Of course, you can! Practice, practice, practice.
Crescent Pose, aka High Lunge
I can’t imagine a yoga practice without this perfect standing pose. Crescent Lunge my go-to for opening my hips and psoas, encouraging space in my chest, and feeling powerful on my feet.
You’ll see newer students struggling for balance in this pose. Easy fix. Look down. Odds are your feet are too narrow. Make sure your front and back foot are hip-width apart. This will widen the stance and allow you to balance.
There’s a tendency to lean forward in this pose which is often caused by pitching in your lower back or tightness in the psoas connected to your back leg. Bend your back knee as much as you need to for mobility in your pelvis. Draw the front crest of your pelvis up to neutral (like a bowl full of kombucha that you don’t want to spill) and gently draw your back leg toward straight. It may not fully straighten, but this is a stronger posture.
Try adding the element of a back-bend/drop-back in your upper body. Follow the rules you’ve read so far and then reach your arms overhead interlacing all the fingers except for your thumb and index. Keep the base of the neck relaxed as you lift your heart up and curl your upper chest. Draw an imaginary line along the ceiling going up and back. Keep the base of your building strong, aka don’t pitch your pelvis.
Revolved Chair Pose
I know Chair isn’t the most popular pose in the world, but this is why it’s on the list. It’s a great foundation pose to teach us how to twist safely. If you can learn the mechanics of a twist here, you’ll be safer in more advanced postures.
Look at your knees! You want to keep your lower back even, and the best clue comes from your knees. You want them to stay even, so if you have one popping out, draw it back in! This will neutralize your lower back and keep you safe.
Draw your palms into Anjali Mudra and press them into each other. Press so much that your torso revolves and your heart lifts up to meet your thumbs. That’s a juicy twist!
Reach your bottom hand down to the outside of your foot and extend the top arm back up. Combine the work of keeping your knees/hips level and using your outer arm to push into your leg to get the beautiful turn in your chest.
Inversions are a magical group of postures that reverses our perspective and give us a strong dose of empowerment. Tripod Headstand is one of the easier inversions to balance because of the large foundation. It’s also fantastic to understand if you want to move into advanced transitions such as lowering into arm balances.
Place the crown of your head on the ground with your hands shoulder-width apart and elbows stacking over the heels of your hands. Curl your toes under and straighten your legs to enter a Dolphin Pose. Focus on keeping the elbows in (engage your adductors) and draw your shoulders up away from the ground to prevent collapsing into your neck. Try walking your feet in without loosing these actions.
Keep the same actions as above, but as you gain flexibility, walk your feet in enough so you can place one knee at a time onto the back of your arms (aim closer to the armpits if possible). Again, keep the elbows in and shoulders up to prevent collapsing your arms from the weight of your legs.
From the knee position draw them up off of your arms and into your chest like a cannon ball. Continue to draw the legs up until they straighten out keeping the legs hugging into the mid-line the entire time. You can also enter this posture from Dolphin walking your feet in, keeping the legs straight, and entering from a press.
Supported Bridge Pose
Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
This is my happy place. Funny enough, traditional Bridge Pose makes me crazy. Add a block under the lower back and voilà—I could stay there for hours with a smile on my face. This is a great modification for Shoulder-stand and a relaxing way to release the front body and release the spine.
Start with a block on the low–medium level underneath your lower back.
Place the block the tall and narrow way underneath your lower back (you might need to press up onto tip toes to fit the block in). Interlace your fingers in front of the block and hug your shoulders in.
Following the steps above, if you can get a firm grip with your hands and keep the arms hugging in, extend one leg at a time to into a modified Shoulder-stand.
Camel is a love-hate pose for many people. The key is to trigger all of the proper alignment in the body to keep the lower back supported and the neck happy. The beauty lies in the fact that there are so many variations. So here we go!
Stand on your shins with your knees and feet hip-width apart. Wrap your hands around your hips encouraging your tailbone to drop down while your lower belly lifts up to neutralize your pelvis. Keep your hands on your hips and lift your heart up powerfully as you roll your shoulder heads back. Hold here with hands on the hips for about 8 breaths.
Begin the same way as above but curl your toes under. Neutralize your pelvis then draw your hands to your ribcage encouraging them to lift and expand. Roll the shoulders back and keep the arms neutral as you drop your hands down to grab your heels. Keep hips stacking over the knees and the chest lifting.
Keep all the previous actions but this time with the feet flat. After you adjust your ribs, keep the powerful lift of your chest and let your head fall back. Grab your heels and soften your face and throat.
Head-to-Knee Forward Bend
This one may seem random, but I have affection for it going all the way back to my Ashtanga days. This fabulous forward fold releases the calf and hamstring of the straight leg with the added benefit of opening the hip of the bent-knee leg. It also teaches the student to notice the effects of small nuances, such as squaring the chest with the straight-leg knee.
Sit up on a blanket or block. Place a strap over the ball of your straight-leg foot. Hold onto each side of the strap and focus on sitting tall without rounding your spine. Gently pull back on the strap so you feel it pull into your foot encouraging it to stay flexed.
To start, inhale and extend your spine long. As you exhale, pivot your belly button to face your straight-leg knee. Keep the twist and length as you grab either edge of your straight-leg foot.
Follow the steps above, but as your flexibility increases, clasp your outer wrist with your inner hand thumb and middle finger around the ball of your foot. Inhale as you clasp, and keeping your gaze forward, exhale and bend your elbows wide to draw you deeper into the fold.
This is such a glorious pose and great for all levels of students! Leg-Up-the-Wall is the best way to relax after a long day or practice on your feet. It drains the legs and is also a fantastic posture if you struggle with insomnia.
Place a folded blanket or bolster lengthwise along the wall. Sit on it sideways with one hip touching the wall. As you lie down, swivel around and sweep your legs up the wall, keeping your lower back elevated.
Lose the blanket or bolster, and just practice Legs-Up-the-Wall with your hips flush against the baseboard.
Make a lasso out of a strap and tighten it around the balls of both of your feet. Bring your legs up the wall and wrap the strap around your shins twice. Take the tail end of the strap and thread it through the loop around your feet and two loops around your shins to tighten everything together. Let your legs fully relax.