Restorative practice that you can do at home!
Here is a set of yoga asanas or postures that you can incorporate into your busy lives. I hope that you can use it at your own home, and yoga will help you feel more flexible, more calm and rested, and better in every way!
1. Moving Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) - Lie on your back with your legs bent and arms by your sides. Inhale arching your lower back up, and then exhale as you lift your hips and abdominal area up off the floor. Inhale again as you raise your arms to the ceiling and then to the floor behind and above you. Exhale as you bring your arms back to their original position down beside you and lower your back down to the floor one vertebra at a time. Repeat this motion using your breath as a guide inhaling and exhaling with each movement. Use your own discretion on how many times you move through the motion; breathing smoothly and moving with grace and sensitivity.
2. Windshield Wiper Feet - Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet as wide apart as your mat. Let your right knee fall in toward your left leg. Keep the left knee pointing up toward the ceiling. After a few breaths, replace your right leg and let the left knee fall in. Continue to slowly go back and forth.
A variation is to let both legs fall together to one side, like American windshield wipers. The first variation is similar to European windshield wipers--one at a time. In the second variation, continue work with the feet wide apart, keeping the pose a gentle twist. The pose we did in class is with both knees moving in the same direction. This helps neutralize your spine as you press your tail bone into the mat and extend your arms out in a “T” position.
3. Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose) variation - Draw your knees into your chest then release your left leg down to the mat as you hug your right knee into your body. Shift your weight slightly to the right side before you spread your arms out into a “T” position. Using your left hand on the right side of your right knee, draw this knee to the left side of your body. If you want a deeper stretch, lift your head and turn to the right as you breathe into the twist. Then, do the opposite side after releasing your right knee back to a neutral position and lowering it to the floor. If it is too much of a stretch to lower the opposing leg to the floor, bring your foot to the floor as a modification. This is a powerful way to let go of frustration, anxiety, and stress as it releases your lower back.
4. Cakrakvasana (Cat/Cow Pose) - Start on your hands and knees in a "tabletop" position. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.
As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling like a cat arching its back, start by tucking your tail bone, and make sure you keep your shoulders and knees in position. Release your head toward the floor, but don't force (just lower) your chin to your chest. As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor. Lift your head to look straight forward. Repeat several times to enhance flexibility to your spine. Remember to lead with the chest as you keep the chin slightly down and avoid compressing your lower back.
5. Bringing your body into a “C” position like a twist - From your tabletop position, inhale completely and then exhaling bring your right ear towards your right shoulder and both feet towards your right side as if you were looking back at them. Your left hip will naturally move to the left bringing your body into a “C” curve. Inhale back to the center with your gaze towards the floor. Exhale as you lean to the right, left ear to left shoulder, and feet move towards the left side. All twists help to realign the spine provided you inhale to lengthen the spine and exhale to twist.
6. Balasana (Child’s Pose) - Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips. Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Broaden your sacrum across the back of your pelvis and narrow your hip points toward the navel, so that they nestle down onto the inner thighs. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of the pelvis while you lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck. Bring your arms overhead on the sticky mat, pressing your palms into the floor as you lift your elbows off the mat.
7. Circling Cat/Cow Pose - From Child’s Pose, pretend to push a marble with your nose up the mat towards your palms as you lift back up on the inhalation to Cow Pose. Then with your exhale, round your spine, while moving your hips back over your calves into Child’s Pose. Remember as you come forward pretending to push the marble, that you keep your elbows parallel to one another and do not splay out.
8. Parighasana (Gate Pose) - From your all fours position on the floor, slowly roll up so you end standing on your knees. If you have sensitive knee joints, take a flat blanket and use as a cushion under your knees. I like to turn sideways on my mat to have plenty of room to stretch out. Extend your left leg out to the side in line with your right knee. On an inhalation, reach your arms out to the sides, and as you exhale, slowly lean to the left, sliding your left hand down your leg. Reach your right arm overhead and towards the left side. Remain here for three to five breaths. Then do the opposite side.
9. Uttana Shishosana (Puppy Pose) - Come onto all fours. See that your shoulders are above your wrists and your hips are above your knees. Walk your hands forward a few inches and curl your toes under. As you exhale, move your buttocks halfway back toward your heels. Keep your arms active as you bend elbows and bring them into prayer hands behind your head. Drop your forehead to the floor or to a blanket and let your neck relax. Keep a slight curve in your lower back. To feel a nice long stretch in your spine, press the elbows down and stretch through the arms while pulling your hips back toward your heels. Breathe into your back, feeling the spine lengthen in both directions. This pose is good as a stress reliever stretching the spine and shoulders. It is a nice alternative to Downward-Facing Dog Pose if you have high blood pressure or glaucoma.
10. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) - Returning to all fours or quadriped, tuck your toes under and spread your palms out flattening them on the mat with your index fingers parallel to one another pointing to the top of the mat as you lift your hips towards the ceiling. Keeping your knees bent and your heels lifted in your first inversion of the day. Raise the sitting bones toward the ceiling, and from your inner ankles draw the inner legs up into the groins. Then with an exhalation, push your top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward the floor. Straighten your knees but be sure not to lock them. Firm the outer thighs and roll the upper thighs inward slightly. Narrow the front of the pelvis. Firm the outer arms and press the bases of the index fingers actively into the floor. From these two points lift along your inner arms from the wrists to the tops of the shoulders. Firm your shoulder blades against your back, then widen them and draw them toward the tailbone. Keep the head between the upper arms; don't let it hang. You can gaze towards your feet or up towards your upper thighs or navel area.
11. Uttanasana (Forward Fold Pose with Rag Doll Arms) - Walk your feet towards your hands. Your feet are hip-distance apart. Bend your knees, and release your torso over the legs until your belly touches your thighs. Make fists and place them in the opposite elbow creases or hold onto your opposing elbows. Relax your back, neck and head, and roll your head and arms up one vertebra at a time with your head being the last to unravel. Bent elbows and holding your opposite elbows or making fists together are a central nervous system trigger that causes your back muscles to open. You’ll feel it after just a few breaths!
12. Rotating Shoulder/Neck stretching - In a standing position at the top of your mat and bringing your fingertips to your right shoulder, begin to rotate your elbow in wide circles clockwise and counter clockwise. Raise your left arm up alongside your left ear towards the ceiling and after turning your palm to the back plane of the body, take your arm back and lay it on your lower back near your waistline with your palm facing out. Release your right fingertips from your shoulder and clasp your left hand with your right hand on the right side of your waistline. Inhale nice and straight with your spine growing long, and then take your right ear towards your right shoulder. This stretches the left side of your neck. Now, do the opposite side starting with your fingertips on your left shoulder as you rotate your left elbow in a circling motion, then for the neck stretch bringing your right arm alongside your right ear and back behind your waist. Clasp the right hand with your left and bring your left ear towards your right shoulder. The neck is known as the bridge between the heart and the mind, and it is how we get the messages back and forth between the two areas in yoga.
(You can incorporate several Sun Salutations A into this section of your practice at this time. The directions for Surya Namaskar A are listed in an earlier post on this blog page.)
13. Standing Pigeon as a balancing pose - Standing in Mountain Pose, lift all ten toes as you lift the arches of your feet, your knee caps, your chest, your head and stand tall. Bring all of your weight into your right foot and lightly lower your right toes to the ground. Bending your left knee and keeping your toes lifted, you can just raise your left knee towards your chest. To begin your balancing postures, you may choose to stay here and find a quieting stillness before you move on and can even take your left hand to your left knee to open your hip as you guide the left knee to the side. Before you set your foot back down, always come back to the center before releasing. (Remember that all balancing poses are based on a steady gaze at a point in front of you that is still, a calm mind, and a constant inhalation and exhalation. Never hold your breath!) Then as preparation for standing pigeon, do the second side “easy side.” (:
Standing Pigeon is a modification of a standing lotus tree type pose. If you are ever in a power yoga class, you can opt for it instead of the more difficult Arda Baddha Padmottanasana. In Tadasana or Mountain Pose once again, bring all of your weight into your right foot, lower your right toes without gripping the floor or mat, and lift your left knee once again. Turn your left knee out to the side and hold that leg under the shin with both hands (almost as if you were cradling it). After a calming breath, slip your left ankle down so it is on your right thigh just above the right knee. Opening out the left knee to the side as you press your ankle into the right thigh, exhale and sit back into the pose as if you were coming into Utkatasana or Chair Posture. Your bottom reaches to the back as you place your weight into your heels almost like sitting in an imaginary chair. Inhale reach your arms up towards the ceiling bringing your shoulders over your hips, and hips over your ankles. Keep your inner thighs parallel to one another and reach your tail bone down tucking it under while pulling your belly button into your spine. To come out of the pose, inhale standing back up and uncrossing your ankle, then bring your knee back to center and release to the floor. Do the second side always. If we only do the side that is easiest, we are unbalanced and can actually make the weaker side even weaker!
14. Marichyasana III (Sage’s Twist) - Sit back down on the floor by doing a Sun Salutation or simply coming to the floor in Dandanasa (Staff Pose), then bend your right knee and put the foot on the floor, with the heel as close to the right sitting bone as possible. Keep the left leg strong and rotated slightly inward; ground the head of the thigh bone into the floor. Press the back of the left heel and the pull the toes towards your shin. Grounding the straight-leg thigh and bent-knee foot will help you lengthen your spine, which is always the first prerequisite of a successful twist. With an exhalation, rotate your torso to the right and wrap your left arm around the right thigh. Hold the outer thigh with your left hand, then pull the thigh up as you release the right hip toward the floor. Press your right fingertips onto the floor just behind your pelvis to lift the torso slightly up and forward. Remember you can use a block behind you to place your hand on as an assist. Continue lengthening the spine with each inhalation, and twist a little more with each exhalation. Hug the thigh to your belly with you’re your left arm or hook your left arm on the outside of your right thigh, then lean back against your shoulder blades into sitting up nice and tall. Gently turn your head to the right to complete the twist in your cervical spine. Then, do the other side. This accomplishes the following: it massages abdominal organs, including the liver and kidneys, stretches the shoulders, stimulates the brain, relieves mild backache and hip pain, and strengthens and stretches the spine. Twists are very beneficial!
15. Ardha Matseyandrasana (Half Lord of Fish Pose) - Sitting up straight and tall on your sits bones or on a thinly folded blanket in Dandasana, bend your left knee and cross it over your right side, planting the left foot on the floor outside of your right thigh. You can keep your right leg extended or you can bring it towards your left hip in a type of wrapping position; however, make sure you are grounded by sitting on your bottom and not on your ankle. Inhale to lengthen the spine as your raise your arms up by your ears, and as you exhale, wrap your right arm around your left knee or hook your right elbow on the outside of your left thigh. Your left hand is on the floor behind you just behind your sacrum (triangular part of your pelvis just below your spine) or can be on a block. Inhale again before you twist to help lengthen your spine before you exhale beginning the twist. Go slowly and feel how the twist begins deep inside you and starts at your lower spine moving up your back. Turn your neck or cervical spine last of all. Then, do the other side. (: Return back to your neutral sitting position.
16. Savasana (Final Relaxation Pose) - In Savasana it's essential that the body be placed in a neutral position. Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and lean back onto your forearms. Lift your pelvis slightly off the floor and, with your hands, push the back of the pelvis toward the tailbone, then return the pelvis to the floor. Inhale and slowly extend the right leg, then the left, pushing through the heels. Release both legs, softening the groins, and see that the legs are angled evenly relative to the mid-line of the torso, and that the feet turn out equally. Narrow the front pelvis and soften (but don't flatten) the lower back. You may choose to use a rolled up blanket (like a burrito) under your knees. Then release the arms to the floor, angled evenly relative to the mid-line of torso. Turn the arms outward and stretch them away from the space between the shoulder blades. Rest the backs of the hands on the floor as close as you comfortably can to the index finger knuckles. Make sure the shoulder blades are resting evenly on the floor. Release all tension as you relax your jaw line, soften the root of the tongue, the wings of the nose, and the skin of the forehead, especially around the bridge of the nose between the eyebrows. Let the eyes sink to the back of the head, then turn them downward to gaze at the heart. Release your worries and wrinkles out of your face, neck, and head. Remain in this pose for at least five minutes. Take even longer if you have the opportunity. To exit, first roll gently with an exhalation onto the right side. Take 2 or 3 breaths. With another exhalation press your left hand against the floor and lift rolling up to a seated position. Sit quietly in Sukasana or Easy Seated Pose for a few breaths. Namaste’!