12 Fundamental Yoga Poses for a Balanced Life

Hatha yoga, and its myriad of poses, offers nearly endless possibilities for cultivating strength, balance, and flexibility. However, the huge variety of poses can sometimes feel intimidating to both the new and seasoned yogi. In the limited time we have for our personal practice, which movements are the most basic and beneficial for restoration, healing, and stillness?

Here’s a well-rounded collection of fundamental poses that provide the core physical benefits of a yoga practice as well as greater awareness and emotional well-being.

Pavanamuktasana (Knee to Chest Pose)

Man in knee to chest yoga pose

Lying on your back, exhale, and draw your right knee in toward your chest, placing your hands just below the kneecap on the upper shin, or by sandwiching them between your calf and hamstring. Draw your elbows wide and out to the sides of your body, keeping your left leg straight along the floor.

Hold this pose for 5 to 7 breath cycles and slowly release the right leg to the floor. Pause and repeat on the left side.

Jathara Parivrtanasana  (Knee Down Twist Pose)

Man in knee down twist yoga pose

Lying on your back, exhale, and bring your right knee in towards your chest, grasping it loosely with your right hand. Bring your left hand across your body so that the left palm rests on the outside of the right knee. Take a deep breath and as you exhale, use your left hand to guide your right knee across your body and down toward the floor to your left.

Extend your right arm straight out to the side and allow your head to gently turn to look at your upturned right hand. Breathe deeply as you hold this pose for 5 to 7 breaths. Slowly return back to center and repeat on the left side.

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand Pose)

Man in shoulder stand yoga pose

While lying on the floor with your hands at your sides, slowly tuck both knees in toward your chest.  Continue to roll your weight onto your upper back and shoulders as you lift your hips. Place your hands on your lower back, while anchoring your elbows to the floor. Keep your head and neck straight and flat on the floor. Extend your legs perpendicular to the floor into a position of comfortable balance. Gaze softly at your toes as you relax and breathe deeply for 5 to 7 breaths. 

Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose)

Sit with both legs together and straight out in front of you, toes pointing upward as if they were up against a wall. Inhale and extend your arms straight up overhead, lengthening from the hips and through the spine.

As you exhale, fold your upper body down from your hips toward your legs, reaching with your hands toward your feet. Allow your hands to rest wherever they can comfortably reach. Relax your shoulders down and away from your ears and soften your elbows. Relax and breathe for 5 to 7 breaths.

Matsyendrasana (Seated Twist Pose)

Man in seated twist yoga pose

Begin seated on the floor with both legs extended in front of you and hands at your sides. Bend the right knee and draw the right foot to the outside of the outstretched left leg. Sit up tall, inhale, and extend your left arm out to your left.

As you exhale, draw that left arm across your body so the elbow joint gently wraps around your right knee. Take your right hand and place it palm down on the floor near your tailbone, fingers pointing away from you. Draw your chin toward your right shoulder, making sure to keep your spine tall and the crown of your head reaching toward the sky. Bend the right elbow slightly to allow the right shoulder to sink down. Breathe deeply in this pose for 5 to 7 breaths, making sure to twist (not crank) your spine comfortably. Repeat to the left side to maintain the balance in your body and spinal column.

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Man in child's yoga pose

Begin in an all-fours position. Exhale, sink your hips back toward your heels, and reach your arms out along the floor in front of you. Lower your hips only as far as your body will comfortably allow. Reach through your arms, extending into your shoulders as you bring your forehead to the floor between your hands.

As an alternative position, you may choose to stack your hands or make soft fists to rest your head upon. Relax completely and allow any tightness in your neck to release. Remain in child’s pose, breathing easily for anywhere between 30 seconds to several minutes.

Parvatasana (Mountain Pose)

From an all-fours position, spread your fingers wide and dig the balls of your feet into the floor or mat.  Inhale and straighten your legs as you push your hips back and upwards. Engage your legs and arms, while raising your tailbone up toward the sky. Gaze back toward your feet or belly as you breathe deeply. Keep your neck loose while strongly pressing down through your arms and legs. Hold and breathe through this pose for 5 to 7 breaths and slowly lower back to all-fours.

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation)

The Sun Salutation is a series of 12 poses that flow with the breath like a dance.

Get a detailed description of the Sun Salutation, complete with instructions accompanied by photos.

Chandrasana (Crescent Moon Pose)

Stand with your feet together facing forward, and bring your hands together to your heart. Inhale and extend your arms straight overhead, framing your head with your arms. Look straight ahead while you exhale and bend from the waist as you dip your upper body over toward the right into Crescent Moon pose. Inhale back to center and repeat Crescent Moon to the left.  Continue this cycle from side to side for 3 to 5 repetitions.

Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)

Man in triangle yoga pose

Stand with your feet facing forward and at least shoulder width apart. Check to make sure your heels are aligned in a straight line and then rotate your right foot to be perpendicular to your left. Extend your arms straight out to the sides.

Take a deep breath, and as you exhale extend your torso toward the right and tip your right arm down to your right leg. Rest your right hand on your shin, foot, or on the floor. Extend your left arm straight up to the sky. Gaze up at your left hand and breathe deeply for 5 to 7 breaths. Inhale and slowly return to center and repeat on the left side.

Vrksasana (Tree Pose)

Man in tree pose

Stand with both feet together and your weight evenly distributed. Bring your palms together at your heart center and gaze straight ahead at a visual focal point while breathing naturally. Sink all your weight into your right foot as you bend your left knee outward and place your left heel against your right ankle.

If comfortable, raise you left foot higher along the inside of your right leg while you balance on one foot, being mindful to avoid putting any weight on the inside of your knee.  Continue to look at your focal point as you inhale and extend your arms straight up overhead. Breathe deep as you feel the weight of your body pressing into your right leg and foot. After 3 to 5 breaths, slowly lower your arms and left leg back to the starting position. Close your eyes and allow your balance to gently reset before repeating on the opposite leg.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Man in corpse yoga pose

Gently make your way to the floor and into a lying position on your back. Extend your legs straight along the floor. If your back is uncomfortable with your legs straight, draw your knees up, and place the soles of your feet on the floor with your knees softly touching. Extend your arms down at your sides, palms facing up. Make any adjustments you need to feel comfortable—wiggle your hips, roll your head from side to side, or position your shoulder blades slightly closer to each other. Close your eyes and breathe naturally and effortlessly. Relax your face and jaw and let go of any remaining tension in your neck or spine. Drift into the stillness for 5 to 15 minutes.

These 12 poses can be comfortably performed in 30 to 40 minutes and can help form the foundation of your personal yoga routine. Practice on a regular basis to enhance your health, strength, balance, flexibility, and foster the union of body, mind, and spirit.

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About the Author

Adam Brady

Vedic Educator
Yoga teacher, author, and martial artist Adam Brady has been associated with the Chopra Center for nearly 20 years. He is a certified Vedic Educator trained in Primordial Sound Meditation , Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga , and Perfect Health: Ayurvedic Lifestyle , and regularly teaches in the Orlando, Florida, area. Over the last several years, Adam has worked to introduce corporate mind-body wellness programs into the workplace within a large...Read more