In the Morning:
If you have a busy day, you know it pays to get organized, and that includes looking after your body. Think about your normal morning routine and find a slot for this quick yoga sequence, perhaps as you wait for the kettle to boil. It takes less than five minutes and is easily done in your dressing-gown.
What you might notice about the effects of this short sequence is that the backs of your legs are stretched, your spine and rib cage extended and the front of your body opened, reversing the effects of the sleeping position and the downward pull of gravity.
Put a timer where you can see it and set it running for 5 minutes, using the second counter to time your holds. Check you’re not holding your breath. Bear in mind this is about extension, not tension, so don’t grip your muscles. Work gently into, holding, and out of the postures, keeping your breathing smooth and natural. This has a calming, energizing effect on the body and mind.
1) Tadasana to a wall:
Face a wall or a door, with your feet about 8 inches away. Without leaning your body on the wall, stretch your arms up and press your hands into the wall. Working from your feet, feel your body stretch and your skeleton become more aligned. Press your heels down and your thighs back, ease your tailbone forwards and tuck your shoulder blades in. Lift and broaden your upper chest. Squeeze your outer elbows towards each other, and stretch your palms and fingers up. Keep your breathing soft and your jaw relaxed. (Working slowly and carefully, this should take about 30 seconds.) Release slowly from the pose and pause for a few seconds to feel the effects. Then repeat once more.
2) Uttitha hasta padangusthasana:
Stand facing a chair or a low stool. Put your left heel on the chair seat and catch roundthe foot with a tie or yoga belt. Straighten your right leg, (the standing leg) by pressing the thigh back. Let the left leg (the lifted leg) stretch from hip to heel as you gently pull on the strap. Hold for 15 seconds and swap. Do each side twice.
3) Half uttanasana:
Press your hands flat onto a work top, shoulder width apart, or grip the sides of your chair. Walk slowly back, allowing your body to become straight from hips to hands, and horizontal to the floor if you are using a worktop. Your feet should be hip-width apart, toes turned in. Let your arms straighten, and feel the sides of your body begin to stretch.
When your back is flat and your legs are vertical, your head will be between your arms. You will feel your spine begin to stretch and re-align itself, and you can assist this process by pressing your heels down and your thighs back, tucking your shoulder blades in, and opening your armpits. Squeeze your elbows towards each other and press your hands firmly down. Keep your breathing soft and your neck and jaw relaxed. Walk towards your hands to come up.
In the evening:
Think about your normal routine later in the day, and pinpoint a time when you could set aside 5 or 6 minutes for these evening stretches. You will need a mat, or do them with your heels close to a wall for support. Set your timer for 6 minutes and when you’reready, set it to countdown. (Be sure to put it somewhere you can see easily without straining your neck!) Once you’re familiar with the flow of the routine you won’t need the timer.
The focus is on extension of the body, not tension – it’s important that you learn to feel the difference. The downward facing postures help to relieve your mind and nervous system of the stress and emotion of the day. You will need to wear something loose, stretchy and comfortable.
1) Adho mukha virasana:
Sit on your heels, keeping your feet and knees close together. This will stretch the tops of
your feet, so if it feels painful, put a folded blanket on your mat, under your ankles. Keep your big toes together and take your knees wide apart. Keeping your hips on your heels, walk your hands forward on the mat until your chest meets your thighs and your arms are straight. Your forehead may easily reach the floor. If your hips come up or your forehead won’t meet the floor, use a couple of thick books on which to rest your forehead. Hold for 20 seconds, tuck your toes under and come onto your hands and knees.
2) Adho mukha svanasana:
Pressing down with your hands, lift your hips off your heels, feet hip width. Push your hips up high, straightening your arms and legs, keeping your neck relaxed. Hold for 20 seconds. If your calves feel tight, put a block under your heels for support. Come back down onto your knees, bring your big toes back together again and sit back down on your heels, forehead on the floor or books as before for 20 seconds.
Repeat the sequence of lifting your hips, stretching your arms and legs, and coming down twice more. Keep the movements slow and deepen the stretch each time.
Finally, come back to sitting on your heels, with your feet and knees together. Stay sitting on your heels if you are comfortable or change to cross-legged for the next section – you can sit on your block if that is more comfortable.
Link your fingers closely and put the backs of your hands on your head. Tuck your shoulder blades in and draw your navel back towards your spine. Take your elbows slightly back and feel your chest open and lift.
Now slowly raise your arms straight up with your palms facing the ceiling, allowing your side ribs to stretch and open further. Pause. Now bring your hands back down close to your head and take your elbows back again. Repeat once more, stretching your arms up again, pausing, andfinally bring your hands back down onto your knees. Allow your arms and hands to rest.
4) Parsva sukhasana:
Place your right hand outside your left knee and your left hand round the back of your waist. Turn your trunk to the left, inhale and as you exhale, lift your spine and turn a little more, turning your neck and head last of all. Come back to the centre and repeat to the right. Repeat to the left and right once more.
5) Resting position:
To finish, lie on the floor (with a block under your sacrum if you have low back problems), knees bent and feet apart, allowing your knees to rest against each other. Stay for 2 minutes, and notice your sense of well-being.