10 Essential Yoga Poses: How-To + Video with Rodney Yee

Learn the most common yoga poses from Gaiam’s expert!

Get up to speed on 10 basic yoga poses with these how-to video clips and detailed instructions. Rodney Yee teams up with his friend Mariel Hemingway, the actress and longtime yogi, to demonstrate and explain each pose in detail.

With this guide, you'll get a good feel for how to do each pose, or asana, correctly. We've also included some insider tips from Rodney Yee and Mariel Hemingway to help you start exploring and being playful in each pose — something Rodney highly recommends to every yoga student. You'll also learn the Sanskrit name for each pose, shown in parentheses after its English name.

In the video clips, Mariel performs each pose as Rodney points out alignment tips and explains exactly where to put your hands, feet, hips, etc., and how to move into and out of each pose. It's the next best thing to having yoga expert Rodney Yee right in your living room, showing you the ropes.

Once you've mastered these yoga poses, find out what your favorite pose says about you!


Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

How to: Begin with your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Your heels should be under your sit bones. Spread your toes wide and feel grounded in your stance. Don't lock your knees, and keep your weight balanced on the four corners of your feet. Keep your shoulders down and your elbows straight. In his book Yoga: The Poetry of the Body, Rodney says, "Imagine a basket of sweet, ripe mangoes is on your head, and balance it sensuously as you extend up into it. Sense the plumb line of your body, down from the center of your head through the center of your heart, pelvis, heels. Then play with your balance ..." Rodney offers more tips on Mountain Pose in the Rodney Yee blog.

Benefits: Rooting your legs to the earth helps the body and mind understand how to move and be still simultaneously. This is a wonderful pose to do in the morning to help calm you and balance your energy. Also promotes postural awareness.

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

How to: Starting on your hands and knees, turn your toes under and straighten your legs as you raise the hips and straighten the arms. Shift your weight to the back of your legs, pressing down on the heels. Once you've mastered the basics, try celebrity yoga instructor Mandy Ingber's toning variation.

Benefits: Opens the shoulders and stretches the hamstrings and calves. Improves the health of the spine. Increases blood flow to the brain which calms the mind.

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)

How to: From a standing position, jump your feet apart about three or four feet, then turn your hips to one side. Turn your back foot at a 45-degree angle with your weight pressing into your heel, and extend your front leg so your foot is pointed straight ahead. Inhale as you bring your arms overhead. Exhale. Bend your front knee in lunge style until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Keep your back leg fully extended. Lift up through your core; don't collapse your chest. Breathe and hold the pose for several breaths.

Lower your arms, turn back to center, jump your feet together and repeat on the other side.

Benefits: Tones the legs, hips, buttocks and thighs. Lengthens and tones the spine, opens the chest and shoulders.

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)

How to: Begin in Mountain Pose. Step your feet about three to four feet apart. Turn your right foot and knee outward from the top of your thigh. Your middle toe, ankle, kneecap, and center hip should be in a straight line. Turn your left foot in at a 45-degree angle.

Raise your arms to shoulder height, keeping your shoulders down, your spine extended, and your legs strong. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle, centering it over your middle toe. Keep your hipbones level, your spine long, and your weight evenly distributed between your legs. Don't lean forward over your bent knee. Press into your forward heel and lengthen your spine up from your pelvis. Keep your shoulders down (don't hunch them).Breathe for 5 to 10 evenly paced breaths.

Inhale and straighten your right leg. Turn your left toes out and your right toes in and repeat the pose on the opposite side.

Need help? Try using a chair for extra balance and support.

Benefits: This is a strong, heat-building yoga pose that develops strength, endurance and discipline in the body and the mind.

Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)

Stand in Mountain Pose, exhale and step your left foot back into a high lunge, and place your forward knee at a right angle. Fold your torso down over your right thigh and bring your hands to your right knee; hold it firmly and lift your torso off your thigh. Exhale.

Stretch your arms forward, parallel to the floor and straight out in front of you, palms facing. Exhale and press the heel actively into the floor. Lift your back leg straight out behind you. Don't rotate the hip of your back leg upward; let it release slightly toward the floor so your two hip joints are even and parallel to the floor. Breathe deeply and hold the pose for several breaths.

Benefits: Strengthens legs and ankles, shoulders and back; tones abs and core; improves balance and posture.

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

How to: Lying on your belly, draw your legs together "like the powerful tail of a reptile," says Rodney, as you lengthen your legs vigorously from your pelvis to the tips of your toes. With your palms face-down next to the center of your ribcage and your elbows kept close to your sides, push down evenly with your hands and lift your chest, then belly, then pelvis off the floor. Keep your shoulders down away from your ears. Your hands and the lower part of your legs, from your lower thighs down to the tops of your feet should be the only parts of your body touching the floor. Arc your head back and look up toward the sky as you consciously lift your chest.

Focus on lengthening and opening up your spine. Most of the movement is from the chest, with the back and legs supporting the arching of your spine. "Don't force it," Rodney adds. "Be willing to spend time searching for the ease and articulation of your spine."

Benefits: Strengthens back muscles and tones glutes; stretches chest, shoulders and abs; helps relieve stress. May also help soothe sciatica.

Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)

How to: Begin in Mountain Pose.  Step your feet three to four feet apart. Turn your right foot and knee outward from the top of your thigh. Turn your left foot in at a 45-degree angle and distribute your weight evenly across both legs. Inhale and raise your arms to shoulder height. Keep your shoulders down and stretch out from your core into your fingertips.

Exhale and extend your side body out over your right leg as you move your hips toward your back foot. Place your right hand on the floor next to your right foot, or on a yoga brick. Keep your back leg strongly rooted to the earth. Straighten your left arm overhead and look up toward your left hand. Breathe for 5 to 10 long, evenly paced breaths.

Inhale and come up. Turn your left toes out and your right foot inn at a 45-degree angle. Repeat the pose on the other side.

Benefits: Strengthens and tones the legs, hips and abs; relieves stiffness in the spine.

Tree Pose (Vrksasana)

How to: From Mountain Pose, shift your weight to your left leg and draw your right heel up to your left inner thigh with the bottom of your foot against your inner thigh. Your body will look like the number four. Place your palms together in namaste, or prayer position. Lift up through your core. Let your bent leg feel like a heavy tree branch releasing out from your hip. Breathe deeply and hold for several breaths. Allow yourself to sway. Mariel says to "see the humor in wobbling ... it is no big deal if you don't 'stick it.'"

Explore the pose a little more by extending your hands straight up above your head and looking up toward your hands. And get more tips on Tree Pose in the Rodney Yee blog.

Benefits: Strengthens legs and back; stretches inner thighs, chest and shoulders; improves balance; can help relieve symptoms of sciatica.

Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

How to: Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Inhale, lift your pelvis slightly off the floor, and slide your hands, palms down, underneath your glutes. Let your glutes lower down onto the backs of your hands; don’t lift your hips up off your hands as you proceed into the rest of the pose. Keep your forearms and elbows tucked closely in to your sides.

Inhale and press your forearms down into the floor. Press your scapulas up and into your back. Inhale and lift your upper torso and head away from the floor. Then release your head back onto the floor. Either the back of your head or the crown of your head will rest on the floor. Let it rest there gently; don't press too much of your weight down through your head.

Keep your knees bent, or you can straighten your legs flat onto the floor but keep your thigh muscles engaged and press down through your heels.

Hold the post for several deep breaths. Exhale and lower your torso and head to the floor. Draw your legs up into your abdomen and squeeze.

Benefits: Stretches hip flexors, abs and neck; strengthens upper back and back of the neck; improves posture.

Pushup Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)

How to: Start in Downward-Facing Dog. Then move into Plank Pose — bring your shoulders forward so they're directly above your hands. Keep your body in a straight line parallel to the floor, from your torso through your legs. Look forward and feel the strength of your arms, legs and core.

Bend at the elbows and lower your body down toward the floor as far as you can go without touching your body to the floor. Keep your elbows hugging to your torso and aiming straight back, not angling out to the sides. Hover here and breathe deeply for several breaths. With regular practice you'll build up your strength in this pose very quickly. "Yes, really," says Rodney.

Benefits: Strengthens arms, chest, core. Can help you build confidence by challenging you physically and mentally.

For more from Rodney Yee check out the Rodney Yee blog, Rodney Yee yoga DVDs and the Gaiam Yoga Studio. Or, work out with Rodney Yee at home on GaiamTV.com!

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Odea's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 21 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 03/21/2009

I think that all Yoga is just simply fantastic for the release of stress of the day. I would like to thank Rodney Yee for this teaching it (in my view) is well done infact it is VARY WELL DONE! Thank you!

MBunny's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 18 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 04/22/2009

In 20 minutes, Rodney Yee taught me more about how to do these ten poses correctly than I have learned on my own, as a novice reading books and watching other videos. I recommend this article to anyone who is either just beginning their yoga training or anyone who wants to review their postures.

TONI425's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 21 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 04/18/2008

Re. Fish pose: I need to strengthen my thoracic spine and neck, both of which have been injured in several auto accidents, but I have not tried this pose for more than a decade because I fear for my neck. Is it safe for someone like me? Thanks for your comments!

Mariah422's picture
User offline. Last seen 7 years 14 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/14/2009

Wanted to point out that the Sanskrit name listed for Cobra Pose, Baddha Konasana, is actually the Sanskrit name for Cobbler's Pose/Bound Angle. Cobra is Bhujangasana in Sanskrit.


GranolaJoe's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 43 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 04/17/2007

Mariah: Thanks for bringing that to our attention - we'll make sure to update it!

Dorothy422's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 14 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/16/2010

Does this pose require to be performed in a sequence and they all have to be performed?

Eric's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 14 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/16/2010

No Dorothy, it does not required to be performed all at one time

evemito's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 27 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 02/16/2011

I have to give a big huge thanks to Rodney Yee because of him and Gaiam I have yoga in my life. I just wish it would have been there many years ago! I got so busy that I didn't have time for a few months to do my yoga, but does it ever relax me!

Kirs10's picture
User offline. Last seen 3 years 48 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 12/07/2007

We here at Gaiam are Rodney Yee fans, too! So happy to hear you find yoga so relaxing and are able to make time for it in your day. It makes such a difference, doesn't it?

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