8 Common Yoga Poses That Are Easier to Teach (and Learn) at the Wall

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Do you remember when you started to practice yoga? A lot of what you did was probably attempt to contort your body into some semblance of the shape your teacher was trying to help you understand. How many times did you ask yourself, “This looks right… right?!”

Each time you teach beginners, you have an opportunity to connect with students who are like your former self. Although you want to give those who are new to yoga all the help you can, it can be impossible to give everyone your everything, given the additional time and attention beginners require. A wall can act as a second teacher in the room by helping you guide students into feeling proper alignment in their bodies.

Yes, a wall.

See also: How a Wall Can Revolutionize Your Revolved Half Moon

The science of learning how to move

As a teacher, it helps to understand how students learn to produce a new movement. We are not taught this in a typical yoga teacher training, but the neuroanatomy of learning is just as significant as the musculoskeletal anatomy. When we teach a yoga pose to students, the need to engage their motor control system to produce movement and their sensory system to perceive movement. These motor and sensory messages travel via neural pathways to and from the periphery of their bodies.

When first trying to hone in on a new movement or skill, the brain can sometimes connect with the body in a way that feels “out of network.” The brain calls upon the body to coordinate a new orchestration of movements, and then several of those calls get dropped and the student becomes disoriented. You know, when suddenly you don’t know your right from your left and everything feels confusing. This can be frustrating for both students and teachers alike!

One reason this can happen is that sensory information students receive from their bodies is simply too subtle to be noticed among the vast amount of new information being thrown at them. Another is that even though teachers offer precise anatomical cues with the best of intentions, the reality is a lot of beginner students don’t yet understand how to move their bodies into yoga poses and might be thinking, “What does that even mean?!”

A wall provides solid, unmistakable support and feedback, which paves the way for students to create new neural pathways and communication between body and mind. It also helps them better embody the actions you are trying to teach. And, by pressing into the wall, they learn how to engage their bodies in ways that you cannot achieve through words alone. The wall works equally well whether you’re using it in-person or online classes, with group classes or one-on-one sessions.

All of this helps students better understand the basics of a pose before they later practice it away from the wall. It also helps them develop a strong mind-body connection. Whether you aim to provide extra support or get your students in touch with muscles they didn’t even know they had, the wall is your friend.

See also: The 8 Best Yoga Poses for Beginners

How to teach yoga to beginners at the wall

In each asana, I have provided cues for how to come into the pose. Practice teaching these cues before trying them in class. Try them out in your own practice. Notice if anything in your own body may be helpful to mention to your students. I have also provided you with some of the benefits that you can share with your students. I have found that students can better understand the cues and tend to connect deeper to teaching that is paired with reason and purpose. You might even discover some of your own “whys” along the way.

You do not need to use every single cue below. I have shared many so that you can discover what resonates with you the most and mix and match as you please.

See also: Explore yoga poses in depth in our members-exclusive Pose Library

(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

How the wall helps:

  • Provides support for students who cannot reach their heels to the mat
  • Stabilizes the heels so they do not turn inward or outward
  • Activates muscles on the front side of the legs

How to:

  1. Bring a short side of the mat against the wall.
  2. Start in Plank Pose with your feet hip-width distance apart, your feet a few inches away from the wall. Your hands should be shoulder-distance apart. Press down through your knuckles.
  3. Reach your hips up and back toward the wall to come into Downward-Facing Dog. Rest your heels of your feet on the wall and the balls of your feet on your mat.
  4. Press your heels directly back into the wall. Try to bring your knees toward your hips to engage the quadriceps (fronts of thighs) to take some weight out of the hands.
  5. Press all 10 knuckles of your hands down into the mat.
  6. Draw your upper outer arms toward the wall behind you.
  7. Draw your lower front ribs toward your spine.
  8. Remain here for 5–10 breaths.
(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

How the wall helps:

  • Helps students maintain balance while working on the alignment of the pose
  • Informs proper placement of the hips even when they are out of sight
  • Helps students experience and integrate muscle memory of proper spinal and hip alignment in the pose

How to:

  1. Start by sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose) facing the wall. Your feet should be touching the wall.
  2. Mark where your sitting bones are with a couple of blocks or a water bottle. The distance to the wall is the length of your legs.
  3. Turn your back to face the wall and stand alongside your marker.
  4. Fold forward from your hips and place your hands on the mat or blocks in front of you.
  5. Extend one leg back towards the wall. Your foot should meet the wall without you having to bend the knee of your extended leg. If not, simply lower your leg, adjust your distance from the wall, and try again.
  6. Place your foot on the wall at the same height as your hips.
  7. Gaze back and ensure that your toes are pointing straight down towards the ground. Teacher Tip: When students check that the toes are pointing down, this tells them that the outer hip is rolling down enough to get both hip points even and parallel to the mat, as if they were in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), which is the desired alignment.
  8. Lift your torso halfway, creating a long spine out from the pelvis and parallel to the mat. If you can, bring your hands together at heart center; if you’re using blocks under your hands for support, you will need to walk the blocks forward until they are directly under your shoulders.
  9. Draw your front ribs toward your spine. Actively press your entire foot into the wall to contract the muscles of that leg.
  10. Lengthen from the crown of your head through the heel of your back foot.
  11. Draw the front of the standing leg thigh towards the back of the thigh to stabilize the femur bone in the hip socket.
  12. Relax the toes of your standing foot.
  13. Slowly lower your hands and then your foot to the mat. Pause here in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). Repeat on the other side.

Teacher Tip: When in doubt, direct your students’ attention to their feet. Most of the time, misalignment in the body can be mapped back to the foundation. Whether the feet turn in or out, pronate or supinate, or the toes are simply just holding on for dear life, foot misplacement can create problems elsewhere in the body. Furthermore, if the toes are scrunching, which they often do, the sole of the foot will actually arch off the mat, meaning less surface area to help balance!

(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

How the wall helps:

  • Informs foot and knee placement
  • Helps keep knees from falling in or out of alignment
  • Supports the cue of drawing the ribs back into their spine by pressing the fingers into the wall
  • Keeps the torso upright, which demands more work from the lower half of the body, the core, the muscles down the back, and—let’s face it—your students will feel their muscles firing everywhere!

How to:

  1. Stand facing a wall with your toes touching the wall.
  2. Your feet can be together or hip-width apart. The important thing is that they are parallel to one another.
  3. Bring your fingertips to the wall in front of your shoulders, bend your knees, and draw your hips back as if you were going to sit, bringing your knees to the wall. (Not so easy this way, right?!) Sit back only as far as you can, keeping your toes touching the wall and your knees stacked over your ankles.
  4. Slowly start to walk your fingertips up the wall, maintaining shoulder-width distance between your hands.
  5. Press the pads of your fingers into the wall, and draw your lower ribs toward your spine, creating space between your shoulders.
  6. Draw your tailbone down to lengthen through your lower back.
  7. Pay special attention to your feet, as they may start to go rogue on you. Bring your attention back by pressing your feet back down into the mat, then lift all ten toes up and spread them back down. Feel your shins and ankles working. Teacher Tip: Unlike a wall sit, your students will need to work muscles they didn’t even know they had to get their shoulders closer to upright over their hips. This variation of chair pose really taps into the stabilizing muscles of their ankles in particular.
  8. Remain here for 5–10 breaths
(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

How the wall helps:

  • Avoids pressure on wrists
  • Without the downward force of gravity in traditional Chaturanga, students can more easily practice spinal alignment without their hips or shoulders collapsing as easily.
  • Helps students build strength gradually, without compromising alignment. In this way, you are helping to develop the muscle memory for the real thing!

How to:

  1. Stand facing a wall in Mountain Pose, arm-length distance away.
  2. Extend your arms out in front of you and place the palms of your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Your hands should be shoulder-distance apart.
  3. Spread your fingers wide and check to make sure your wrist creases are parallel with the bottom edge of the wall (to avoid turning the wrists in or out).
  4. Inhale to lift your heels and come up onto your tiptoes—your hands should now be just below your shoulders if you kept them right where they were. Teacher Tip: Bringing the hands slightly above the shoulders will ensure that the elbows end up in the same line as the wrists when they are bent, rather than out of alignment with the wrists. In traditional Chaturanga, this translates to asking students to bring their shoulders slightly in front of the wrists in Plank prior to lowering.
  5. Exhale and bend at your elbows, making sure to stop before they lower past your ribs. Leave little to no space between your elbows and your body and reach your elbows straight back.
  6. Lengthen your tailbone down toward your heels.
  7. Draw your ribs in toward your spine.
  8. Broaden through your chest and draw your shoulder blades down your back.
  9. Your ears should remain in line with your shoulders all the way through.
  10. Remain here for 5–10 breaths. Teacher Tip: You can offer students the option to practice wall Chaturanga push-ups to build strength.
(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

How the wall helps:

  • Avoids pressure on wrists
  • Keeps hips over heels to help students learn to stabilize their low backs and bend up and out from the middle and upper back
  • Helps students build strength gradually, without compromising alignment—in this way, you are helping to develop the muscle memory for the real thing!
  • Requires students to engage the muscles along the back of their bodies in a new way—without the floor to press down into, students must learn to engage new postural muscles to hold themselves up

How to:

  1. Stand facing the wall in Mountain Pose, standing a foot or two away.
  2. Extend your arms straight ahead and place the palms of your hands on the wall at shoulder height. Your elbows should be slightly bent; if your arms are straight, step closer to the wall.
  3. Bring your hands shoulder-distance apart and your feet hip-width distance apart and parallel to one another.
  4. Spread your fingers nice and wide and check to make sure your wrist creases are parallel with the bottom edge of the wall (to avoid turning the wrists in or out).
  5. Press into your hands and come into a backbend by leaning slightly back with your upper body. Option to come onto your fingertips.
  6. Keep your ears in line with your shoulders, so that the natural curve of the spine does not abruptly change at your neck (your cervical vertebrae).
  7. Lengthen your tailbone down towards your heels and lift your pubic bone up towards your navel.
  8. Broaden through your chest and draw your shoulder blades down your back.
  9. Engage your thighs just as if you are lifting your knees toward your chest. Teacher Tip: When the quadriceps are activated in this pose, this supports the low back by relieving pressure on the lumbar vertebrae.
  10. Imagine a string attached to your sternum, lifting your chest towards the sky.
  11. Remain here for 5–10 breaths. Option: You can practice stepping closer to the wall to increase the bend, or coming on to your tiptoes to practice balance.
(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

Revolved Low Lunge 

How the wall helps:

  • Offers support for students to deepen into the twist without compromising alignment in the knees or hips
  • Enables students to create more space across the entire chest by pressing into the wall with the elbow closest to the front leg
  • Wall helps to direct the shoulders directly over the hips and prevents hunching or rounding through the spines given the
    minimal amount of space between the torsos and the wall
  • Builds strong muscle memory for proper alignment away from the wall
  • Offers support and stability for those who have difficulty balancing in this shape

How to:

  1. Stand on your knees with your right hip and shoulder up against a wall.
  2. Step your right foot forward, keeping the pinky toe edge of your foot and outer edge of your knee in contact with the wall. Your outer right shin and thigh should be flush against the wall.
  3. Keep your front knee directly over your ankle in Low Lunge.
  4. Draw your tailbone down towards the back of your kneeling knee. At the same time, lift your pubic bone up towards your navel.
  5. Your torso should be stacked directly over your pelvis.
  6. Imagine drawing your front foot toward the back of the mat. Notice how that engages the inner thighs and pelvic girdle.
  7. Begin to twist toward the wall and bring your arms into a cactus shape with your elbows at shoulder height and your palms and forearms against into the wall.
  8. If you can, turn to gaze at your back hand. If it strains your neck, don’t do it; instead, try keeping your chin in the same line as your heart.
  9. Gently press your left elbow and forearm into the wall to open the right side of the chest more.
  10. Lift your ribs up and away from the hips to create more space.
  11. This shape can feel a little claustrophobic or difficult to breath at first due to its deep belly-twisting nature, so remember to come back to your breath. Breathe more into the low back than the belly.
  12. Repeat on the other side.
(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

How the wall helps:

  • Acts as a point of contact to refine alignment
  • Informs hip-over-knee alignment and keeps the low back free of unnecessary strain or stress
  • Offers feedback to support middle back (thoracic spine) extension
  • Prevents students who are a little too eager from reaching back for their heels and compromising their alignment

How to:

  1. Stand on your knees, facing a wall, with your knees hip-width distance apart and your shins parallel to one another. You might want to place a block outside each ankle.
  2. Bring your thighs to touch the wall so they are perpendicular to the mat. (The wall in the picture above is irregular, so that is why my thighs are only touching a portion of it; if you have a perfectly vertical wall, keep your thighs on it from knees to hips.)
  3. Rest your palms, facing up or down, on the back of your pelvis where your buttocks and low back meet.
  4. Use your hands to press your tailbone down toward the backs of your knees as you lift your heart and sternum.
  5. Begin to slowly lift your chest away from the wall and lift your gaze. Draw your shoulder blades down toward the backs of your ribs.
  6. Stay here and press your hips into the wall.
  7. Then, if you decide, you can walk your hands back, one at a time, to the blocks. If that feels comfortable and you want to take it further, you can take your hands to your heels. Your fingertips should be facing away from your body to help your chest expand.
  8. Maintain contact between your legs and the wall at all times, pressing your thighs and hips toward the wall.
  9. Notice if your buttocks are contracting and if you can feel that tension extend to the low back. Try to soften a little by turning your inner thighs up and in.
  10. Lift your ribs up and out from your pelvis as you are bending backward, keeping the bend mainly in your mid and upper back and neck (thoracic and cervical spine).
  11. If you have neck tightness or any cervical spine (neck) injuries, keep the back of your neck elongated and your gaze toward the tip of your nose (as in the picture above). If not, you have the option to release your head back. If it becomes difficult to breathe or you feel dizzy, slowly lift your head.
  12. Soften through the muscles of your throat.
  13. Remain here for 5–10 breaths.
  14. To come out, walk one hand at a time to the back of the pelvis for support, draw the front of hips toward the knees, and use your core muscles to lift you back up, leading with your heart and lifting your head last.
(Photo: Neil Gandhi )

Reclined Pigeon Pose

How the wall helps:

  • Allows students to practice Pigeon Pose and stretch the hips while disengaging the upper body
  • Enables students to relax and hold the pose for longer
  • Eliminates rounding of the spine or straining to reach their leg and pull it in towards their body
  • Stabilizes the hips by keeping the foot on the wall
  • Wall informs knee and hip alignment by keeping the foot on the wall parallel with the bent knee

How to:

  1. Begin lying on your back with your feet facing a wall.
  2. Scoot your hips close enough to the wall so that you can come into a reclined Tabletop position with both feet placed hip-distance part on the wall.
  3. In your reclined Tabletop, your knees will be stacked over your hips, and your ankles should be knee height with your shins parallel to the mat.
  4. Cross one ankle over your other knee, making a figure 4 shape with your legs.
  5. Flex through the ankle of the bent leg to protect your knee. (Flex means draw the top of your foot toward your knee.) Your toes should be pointing straight up.
  6. Let your arms rest by your sides, palms face up.
  7. Allow your chest and heart space to spill open.
  8. Soften the muscles of your face, neck, and shoulders.
  9. Let your jaw unclench if tension resides there.
  10. Over time, you can begin to scoot your hips closer to the wall, deepening the effects of this stretch.
  11. Remain here for 5–10 breaths or, for a Yin Yoga version, for 3–4 minutes. Repeat on the other side.

See also:  Got Wrist Pain? Here’s How to Modify Sun Salutation A

About our contributor

Jenny Clise has been teaching yoga since 2012. Her classes are inspired by many schools of yoga, but her favorite style of yoga to teach is alignment-based flows. She is an avid traveler and leads retreats around the world. She is also the author of the yoga e-book BLOCKASANAS. To learn more about Jenny, her classes, or upcoming events, check out JennyClise.com or follow her on Instagram @jennyclise.

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