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10 Basic Yoga Poses for All Ages

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Even though I’ve been practicing yoga for almost three decades, I still find myself drawn again and again to the “basic” yoga poses. These are the foundational postures and practices that don’t demand supernatural strength or flexibility but can help us stretch and strengthen our muscles, soothe our nervous system, improve our posture and balance, and enhance our focus.

10 basic yoga poses that benefit everyone

In my opinion, these 10 basic yoga poses and practices might be the best tools yoga has to offer for a healthy and vibrant life, with huge benefits for body and mind at any age.

1. Savasana with mindful breathing

There is a Sanskrit proverb that says, “For breath is life; if you breathe well, you will live long on Earth.” Contemporary science agrees. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we use diaphragmatic breathing (also called belly breathing), deep ribcage breathing, or a specific pranayama technique. Research suggests that slow, deep breathing can trigger the relaxation response in the central nervous system, which in turn slows respiration and heart rate, reduces blood pressure, soothes digestion, enhances energy, and reduces stress and perceived pain.

This simple tool is available to everyone, regardless of injury, age, range of motion, or physical strength.

Other yoga poses with similar benefits:
Sukhasana (Easy Seat)
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Any yoga pose (as well as standing in line at the store)

See also
 A Mindful Breathing Practice for Tough Emotions

Gentle flow yoga pose GIF

2. Cat and Cow

Some of the most basic yoga poses, such as Cat and Cow, are as much about the movement in between as they are about the actual poses. These gentle movements don’t look fancy, but they help connect you to the rhythm of your breath and the proprioceptive sensations of your body. They also gently stimulate blood and lymphatic flow and warm and mobilize our joints. Allowing yourself to flowing like water can also help you become aware of and better able to dissolve muscular and mental tension to rid yourself of  stiffness and stagnation.

Other movements with similar benefits:
Circling your wrists and ankles
Flexing and pointing your toes
Windshield wipers with your legs
Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A)

easy yoga pose mountain pose

3. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Most of us spend an hour, at most, practicing yoga. This means that what you do off the mat has exponentially more impact on your health than what you do on it. Every time we find our roots in Mountain Pose, one of the most basic yoga poses, we are encouraged to notice and correct our postural habits. This helps us to new habits that we can take into each moment of our day. Your posture influences your breathing, digestion, and mood, and over time, it can even create asymmetric strain on your joints, leading to premature wear and injury.

Other yoga poses with similar benefits:
Sukhasana (Easy Seat)
Savasana (Corpse Pose)

downward dog yoga pose

4. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Downward-Facing Dog is a yoga staple for good reason. The pose offers much-needed opening the chest while lengthening the back body. It balances the inward focus of a forward bend with the upper body strength of an arm balance. And it is easily modified to suit each student’s needs.

See also 4 Steps to Master Downward-Facing Dog

woman in balance pose on one leg

5. Standing Balance Poses

We can always improve our balance. Challenging your stability in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) boosts body awareness and mental focus while teaching you how to use your core muscles to coordinate the upper and lower body. Because we practice one side of the body at a time, we also get the chance to notice small discrepancies between the left and right sides before they become big ones. These are efforts that have a functional role in your everyday life.

Balance work of any sort also fosters a feeling of resilience—mentally and emotionally as well as physically—and boosts stability as we age.

Other yoga poses with similar benefits:
Garudasana (Eagle Pose)
High Lunge

See also 15 Poses for Better Balance

side plank yoga pose

6. Vasisthasana (Side Plank)

Standing balance poses, such as Tree Pose, help us maintain strength and stability in the lower body. Side Plank helps us achieve the same in the upper body. This is a key benefit for women, because we tend to lose upper body strength as we age.

Whether you practice the customary version of Side Plank or a variation, you activate the rotator cuff (the small muscles that correctly position the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket), tone the muscles along your oft-neglected side body and outer hips, and recruit core, chest, back, and leg strength to retain your balance.

Other yoga poses with similar benefits:
Side Forearm Plank

See also: 5 Not-So-Intense Side Plank Variations

prone backbend pose

7. Prone backbends

Over time, many of us tend to slouch, letting the head and shoulders fall forward and the upper back round into tech neck. This habit limits breath capacity and organ function, depresses energy, and creates uneven wear and tear on the joints of the neck, back, and shoulders.

Basic yoga poses, including belly-down backbends such as Bhujangasana (Cobra), counter this pattern by strengthening the muscles of the posterior shoulder, spine, buttocks, and legs. As we open up our posture, we open ourselves up in other ways to life.

Other yoga poses with similar benefits:
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

yoga inversion pose

8. Inversions

Like shaking up a snow globe, inversions change our relationship to gravity and upend the usual flow of things. They shift blood and lymphatic fluid from the legs and hips toward the heart and head and take the weight off our feet, ankles, and knees, giving joints that keep us stable and steady some welcome rest.

Legs-Up-the-Wall-Pose (Viparita Karani) is my favorite inversion because it also helps to relieve neck and back tension. Unlike  many inversions, this restorative pose contains an element of surrender that is missing in our frantic lives.

Other yoga poses with similar benefits:
Dolphin Pose
Supported Shoulderstand
Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)

yoga supine twist

9. Reclining twist

A gentle twist is the basic yoga pose equivalent of hitting reset and releasing myofascial tension in the back and side body and encouraging the intervertebral disks between the bones of the spine to allow for easier movement.

woman meditating

10. Meditation

Regular meditation, regardless of its style or duration, has been shown to boost immunity, focus, and creativity, while reducing anxiety, stress, and perceived pain. No matter what other basic yoga poses you can or cannot practice, these powerful and long-lasting benefits are available whenever you can find a comfortable seat to pause, sidestep your thoughts, and observe your breath for even a few minutes a day.

See also: 12 Ways to Make Sitting in Meditation Easier

This article has been updated. Originally published March 6, 2018. 

About our contributor

Rachel Land is a Yoga Medicine instructor offering group and one-on-one yoga sessions in Queenstown New Zealand, as well as on-demand at Passionate about the real-world application of her studies in anatomy and alignment, Rachel uses yoga to help her students create strength, stability, and clarity of mind. Rachel also co-hosts the new Yoga Medicine Podcast.

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