Start Practicing Yoga – 5 Basic Poses

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Some things lose their appeal with time. They get old. Stale. Out-of-fashion. Yoga is definitely not one of them. This wonderful form of exercise and relaxation goes back about 5,000 years ago to ancient India, but only began to be taught in the West about a century ago.

5 simple moves to get you started!

Ever since the days when I was first training as a cardiologist, I’ve been an advocate of yoga. I first became interested in it when the practice became popular in the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, there was little scientific validation for its health benefits. Not anymore. Today yoga is backed by hundreds of positive studies that are literally pouring out as modern day researchers validate the ancient wisdom.

One recent study put a big smile on my face. It was a comprehensive review of several dozen previous studies on the effects of yoga on cardiovascular disease risk factors. After analyzing the data from forty-four studies and more than three thousand participants, the German researchers confirmed improvements in blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates, waist circumference, blood lipids, blood sugar, and insulin resistance. (See Cramer H, et al. below) 

The participants in those studies included healthy subjects, non-diabetic individuals with high risk, and diabetics. The analysis “revealed evidence for clinically important effects of yoga on most biological cardiovascular risk factors,” the authors concluded, adding that yoga should be considered as a beneficial activity in both the general population and for patients at risk. The yoga effects, they said, “were comparable or superior” to those of official guideline-endorsed interventions like exercise and psychological therapy.

Over the years, I’ve seen yoga help many patients with their cardiovascular health, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, lower back problems, arthritis, and even digestion. And that’s why I have often recommended it to my patients and even participated in yoga seminars to inspire people to start the practice.

So if you have had any reservations about getting into yoga – whether you are young or elderly – put those reservations aside and just get with it.

You’ll be glad you did. You’ve got much to gain and nothing to lose.

To help you make the transition, I asked a leading expert − Larry Payne, Ph.D., one of the foremost yoga teachers in the country. Dr. Payne is the co-founder of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, a group for professionals who teach yoga to individuals with medical or physical limitations. He also co-developed the yoga curriculum at the UCLA School of Medicine and is a co-author of Yoga for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, 2014) and Yoga Rx (Broadway, 2002).

Dr. Payne suggests five basic poses that he regards as the “most user-friendly” for individuals – including seniors − who want to ease their way into yoga. I’ve included pictures and descriptions of each one. They are great choices.

Proper Breathing Maximizes Benefits

To “do” yoga the right way requires learning what is called “yoga breathing.” That means breathing purposefully through the nose—you inhale and pause for a moment, then you exhale and pause for a moment, usually in conjunction with a specific movement.

“The yogis say that the nose is meant for breathing and the mouth is meant for eating,” says Dr. Payne. “We take this advice seriously.”

The focus on breathing is what helps make yoga a mind-body practice. Every muscle and organ in your body is connected to the brain by nerves. By simply relaxing your mind you relax all of these places. When you change your breath as you do in yoga you change your mood. The breath is longer and slower than normal. You oxygenate the system. You warm and filter the air through your nose. You’ve heard people say to take a few deep breaths when you are upset. There is good reason for that. When you breathe this way, and perform the poses correctly, with your mind in the moment, “it is like sending an email to your nervous system to relax,” says Dr. Payne. “It puts you in a better mood and increases the sense of wellbeing.”

Let’s Start! Five Poses for Beginners

Do not force any of these poses. If a pose doesn’t feel comfortable, adjust it or skip it. In the beginning, hold the poses for about 30 seconds unless otherwise noted, and work up slowly to about a minute. Perform them in the following order:

Tadasana (Mountain)

beginner yoga pose - mountain

What to do: Stand comfortably with your feet about 4–6 inches apart, toes pointed forward. Look straight ahead and stand tall (align your ears with the middle of your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles). One way to make sure you’re doing this correctly is to stand with your back against a wall. Once you are in position, start your yoga breathing. The position will remind you about the importance of good posture at a time in life when many people unconsciously start bending forward.

Benefit: Helps shift you from your current state of mind to the more settled mind-body mode of yoga.

Vira bhadrasana (Warrior)

beginner yoga pose - warrior

What to do: Start in the mountain pose, but rotate your left foot outward a quarter turn and extend your right arm forward until it is parallel to the floor. Take one big step forward with your right foot so that your foot is beneath your outstretched hand. Then place your hands on your hips. With your back straight, bend your front knee. You should be able to see your toes. If you can’t, gently extend your foot a little further. Now straighten the leg, let your arms hang to your side, and inhale.

While breathing in, bend the front knee again and raise both arms over your head. Then, as you exhale, slowly bring your arms back down to your sides and straighten your knee. Repeat this motion three times. On the third repetition, hold the posture for about 6–8 breaths, which is about 30 seconds. Repeat the same movement with the other side of your body.

Benefit: Many people experience more problems on one side of the body than the other. This maneuver helps fortify balance and stability, opens the chest, and strengthens the joints.

Bhujangasana (Cobra)

beginner yoga pose - cobra

What to do: Consider for a moment your habitual tendency to slump forward during daily activities. It happens everywhere: on the toilet, in the kitchen, at the computer, watching TV.  Most people need to arch their backs to compensate for this chronic forward tilt, and the cobra pose does just that. 

To begin, lie on your stomach with your legs slightly separated. Turn your heels out and point your toes in. Bend your arms so your hands are beside your shoulders, and your palms are against the floor. Keep your elbows tucked close to your sides and drop your shoulders. As you inhale, lift your head and torso upward as high as you can while still keeping your hips on the floor. Don’t lift the hips. Keep your buttocks loose. As you exhale, come back down to the starting position (this is one position that you do not want to hold at the top). Perform this movement 6–12 times according to your ability. If you cannot raise yourself all the way up in the manner described, try using your forearms for support—just be sure to keep them flat on the ground.

Benefit: You are pumping the vertebral discs in your lower back that are pushed the wrong way all day. This is a way to help bring your lower spine back into its natural curve. The pose can often help with disc and sciatica problems.  

Apanasana (Knees to chest)

beginner yoga pose - knees to chest

What to do: Roll onto your back. Bring your knees up and into your chest. Place each hand on the side of the leg just below the knee as if to gently hold the knee inward. If you have knee problems, hold underneath your thighs for added stability. In apanasana, you can do any one or several movements: just hold the knees, squeeze them closer to the chest in and out, gently rock back and forth, or rock laterally in each direction.  

Benefit: After the arching of the back in the cobra pose, the apanasana relaxes the lower back and acts like a massage.

Shavasana (Corpse)

beginner yoga pose - shivasana

What to do: Lie on your back. Legs are normally straight with the feet naturally turned out. Hands are at your sides, palms up. If you have a lower back problem, bend the knees instead of having them straight. Stay in the position for three to five minutes. Put your awareness on the breath. After doing this position regularly for a while, increase the time to 15-20 minutes. As you lengthen the time it becomes like a meditation. You may think you are doing nothing with this pose but you’ll be surprised. It is a very underestimated pose. This is, in fact, the most popular of all yoga poses, and the most used in yoga therapy.   

Benefit: Relaxes the body and mind, and helps people discover the essence of yoga: a quiet mind.

Your Next Step

If you enjoy the simple yoga routine laid out here, Dr. Payne offers a great seven-disc DVD series called Yoga Therapy Rx for people who he respectfully refers to as “in the prime of life.” You can learn more by calling his yoga center in Santa Monica at 310-306-8845, or at his web site, www.samata.com.

Dr. Payne is quick to point out, and I totally agree, that your best bet is to learn yoga from an experienced teacher. Group classes are available most everywhere − at gyms, spas, and yoga centers − and usually cost around $10–18 per session. Individuals with special needs should look for a certified yoga therapist who can create a safe and effective routine. People with pronounced limitations can even practice yoga while sitting in a chair. To find a yoga therapist in your area, visit www.iayt.org. Private instruction runs from $75 to $150.

References: 

Save

Leave a Reply

5 Comments

  1. krohn a. traversie

    on April 23, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    more info please

  2. Martha

    on May 23, 2020 at 10:57 am

    Thank you, Dr Sinatra.
    I started doing yoga in the 70’s in L.A. Love it and need to do a yoga class today. I have a great dvd from my teacher.
    I’m wondering how you feel about ABLATIONS? Ive been on a roller coaster with AFIB for 7 years. The cardioversions and meds are no longer working.
    Theyve been trying to get me to do an ablation for years and Ive had my concerns about soemone burning or freezing tissue in my heart.
    Last bout was during the Covid pandemic. It went so long I moved into CHF. 25% ejection fraction before cardioverison. IM ON AMIODORONE,, ELIQUIS, ENALAPRIL & Metropolol. It did slow things down and I imagine the EF is higher now. Im 67 and this thing has really ground me into a pulp. The drugs alone Im sure have done a number if not caused more problems. I wish Id never gone on them. I want to get OFF and they say the ABLATION will fix the AFIB so I can live drug free in normal sinus. Sounds good but it feels wrong. I also take a good magnesium ( alot) and Taurine 2-4k per day.

    Without getting personal, would love to hear your thoughts for some one like me who moved from paroxysmal to chronic and needs a solution that won’t harm me. Im wondering how you feel about ablations They seem to be the new latest greatest thing but none of these doctors EVER address root cause. They are CLUELESS as to what causes AFIB! Therefore, you could have an ablation and if you don’t address the root cause such as a problem with your parasympathetic nervous system and electrical signals going haywire then the AFIB will just come back!
    I NEED HELP GETTING TO THE ROOT OF THIS. APPRECIATE ANY FEEDBACK YOU MIGHT HAVE.
    Thanks alot.
    Martha

  3. Diane Olk

    on May 26, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    Martha, you spine may be out of alignment.

  4. Sandi B.

    on May 29, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Martha,
    Here are some links that will help on causes of Afib and treatment options like ablation: https://www.healthydirections.com/what-is-atrial-fibrillation

    Articles by Dr Sinatra on other hard-to-identify- household causes of Afib, such as EMF, WiFi and cordless phone bases… and even Smart Meters:

    https://heartmdinstitute.com/detox-toxins/emf/

    And here is another one specific to cordless phones and arrhythmia like Afib, as well as HRV testing that can be done to evaluate the person:

    https://heartmdinstitute.com/detox-toxins/can-cordless-phone-use-affect-your-heart/

    We hope this helps.

  5. Martha

    on May 29, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    Hi Sandy Bergeron,
    Thank you very much. My concern about ablations is the radiation ( besides the general invasiveness). This article says ” sound waves” are used but that’s different from freezing and/or burning heart tissue such as what is described as the ablation procedure everywhere Ive read and talked about it w my cardiologist.
    So Dr Sinatra is pro Ablation? Does he know where the leading edge Ablation EP’s are located?

    My new chiropractor is a big fan of Dr Sinatra and suggested I get on the Four Supplements. I am ordering them from Swanson.
    There are different kinds of Co Q 10. Is Ubiquinol better or doesnt it matter?

    Is Dr Sinatra seeing patients?

    Why don’t any cardiologists seem to prescribe Digoxin anymore? Foxglove is an ancient remedy. I can’t take Hawthorn because of the heart meds Im on.
    Once you get on the drug train it’s hard to get off and I want to get off but I was in dangerous tachycardia atrial fibrillation and needed to be hospitalized seven times this year. The cardio versions don’t seem to be holding any more and amiodarone is not a drug you want to stay on for any length of time.

    Thanks alot and I’ll look forward to your kind reply. In my case, time is a factor so if you could write me back soon I would appreciate it.

    Thanks.
    Martha

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular