A Brief History of Yoga The Top 5 Poses for Beginners


A brief history of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice of self-study originating from Northern India, traditionally passed down through word-of-mouth from teacher to student. It’s believed the first written text relating to yoga was from the Vedic Period (1500BC-600BC). The word ‘Yuj’ in Sanskrit translating to the commonly known word Yoga. It means ‘union’ or to ‘unite’ which can be considered the connection of the physical, mental and spiritual body.

Many are aware of the physical postures of Yoga – the ‘asanas’, however, this is only one aspect of yoga. During the Classical Yoga period Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras were written as guidelines for others follow to live a morally disciplined and purposeful life. These are the ‘eight limbs’ of yoga:

1. Yama – ethical rules /moral requirements.
2. Niyama – correct behaviour towards oneself.
3. Asana – the practice of physical postures (the most common practice).
4. Pranayama – controlling of the breath.
5. Pratyahara – controlling the senses.
6. Dharana – concentration.
7. Dhyana – meditation/inward reflection.
8. Samadhi – reaching enlightenment or state of bliss. The first seven limbs must be achieved before reaching this state.

The practice of yoga is considered a lifetime study of self-discovery. Yoga today is a constantly evolving practice with many different styles and teaching making it available to all different levels and open to interpretation.

Emma’s Top Five Poses for Beginners

The physical practice (Asana’s) of Yoga is a great place to start as a new Yogi. Alongside many other benefits it builds strength, flexibility, balance and mobility. Often gentle yoga exercises are given as a starting point to help reduce back pain depending on your symptoms. Yoga can improve mental health, concentration and relaxation. Here are my top 5 Asana’s (postures) for beginners:

1. Cat-cow (Bidalasana).

Start in an all-fours kneeling position. Movement through the spine starting by arching through the back and lifting the chest then doming through the spine and tucking the pelvis under. This is a great way to mobilise the entire spine and gently stretch the abdominals and back muscles.

2. Downward dog (Adho Mukha Śvānāsana)

Starting from an all fours kneeling position or plank posture push through the shoulders and lift the hips high to create an upside-down ‘V’ shape with your body. Aim to lengthen through the back body. The knee’s can be bent if you are tight into the backs of the legs. The gaze is to the toes or knees depending on your flexibility. This is a great pose to build strength through the shoulders, and stretch out the back-body, hamstrings and calf muscles.

3. Tree pose (Vrikshasana)

Ground down through one foot balancing on one leg, place the floating foot to either the opposite: lower foot, shin or inner thigh of the stabilising leg depending on your level. Aim to rotate out through the hip of the raised leg. Find a soft-focus point, your ‘Drishti’ to aid your balance. This is a fantastic movement to build balance and open out the hip.

4. Childs pose (Bālāsana)

Often know as the ‘resting’ pose during a yoga class. From a kneeling position sit your hips back towards the heels. Arms can be down by your side, or you can stretch the arms out in front to stretch out the back and shoulders for an extended child’s pose.

5. Cobra (Bhujangasana)

Lying on your front palms are placed down on the floor under the shoulders, elbows are bent. Lift the chest, head and shoulders off the floor, hugging the elbows in towards the body. Keep the neck in a neutral position. This is a great pose to extend the spine, options can be given to work in different depth e.g. a ‘baby cobra’ is a smaller life and can be a good starting point as place less pressure on the lower back.

The White House Clinic offers yoga classes suitable for beginners and 1-1 sessions for those who want that extra attention to their practice.


  • Light on Yoga - Book by B. K. S. Iyengar. 1966
  • 30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Beginning Students and Their Teachers. Book by Judith Hanson Lasater. SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS 1990
  • Miller, Barbara Stoler. Yoga: Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali. University of California Press, 1996.

Emma Clements

Senior Physiotherapist & Clinical Pilates Instructor

Originally from Nottingham, Emma moved to Sheffield to study and ended up staying due to her love for the outdoors and the nearby Peak district. She graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in 2017 achieving a 1st BSc (Hons) in Physiotherapy.

Emma Clements

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