Yoga sequences

Our bodies respond to what they do regularly.  A few minutes of Yoga practice each day can be very effective for releasing and strengthening.  The grounding and calming effect on the mind can help us sail through a busy day.  We tend to feel short of time, but I am confident that you will get more of your tasks done by setting aside a few minutes to recharge your well-being.

Shoulder sequence

Many of us react to stress by holding tension in our shoulders.  What's more, our modern lives can involve a lot sitting without much movement.  This short Yoga sequence can help to release shoulder tension and build strength.

You can benefit even more if in addition you take 30-second breaks throughout your day to move your shoulders, breath, and let go of tension.

Mobilising

Sit cross-legged with the unaccustomed leg inside (so you also get to open your hips a little), spine tall and straight.  Repeat each move around 10 times, moving with the breath.  Alternate arms where needed.

  • Shoulder alignment.  Inhale, broaden across the front chest.  Exhale, release shoulders away from ears.
  • "Angel wings".  Inhale, straight arms raise to either side (not forward or back) then towards each other, just as far as you can without losing shoulder alignment.  Exhale, return.
  • Arm across.  On the inhalation, raise both arms in front.  Keep shoulders back throughout, as if they were touching a wall behind you (try it against a wall even!).  Exhale, take R arm across body to L, aiding with L hand just above R elbow.  Inhale, return.
  • Palms to sky.  Inhale, link fingers, with the unaccustomed finger on top, and no gaps between fingers.  Exhale, press palms away in front, arms straight.  Inhale, lift palms  towards sky, but only as far as you can with straight arms and fully linked fingers.  Exhale, down like angel wings.
  • Arm raise behind.  Link fingers behind your back (unaccustomed way), and if possible press palms together to make a double fist then extend the first fingers.  Inhale, lift arms away from back, only so far as you can keep chest open and head/neck position unchanged.  Exhale, return.
  • Arm drop behind.  Link fingers in front to double-fist with first finger pointing.  Inhale, raise overhead to point at sky.  Exhale, keeping elbows, head, neck, chest all still, bend arms to point behind and down.

Strengthening

5-10 times each, 3 sets (so exercise 1, exercise 2, 1, 2, 1, 2).  Feel you are working, but not struggling.

  1. Dolphin.  Roll forward to hands-and-knees.  Come down on to parallel forearms, and walk elbows forward about 1 hand length.  Spine stays straight, core strong.  Inhale, rock trunk forward, keep shoulders working in good alignment, head just touches the ground lightly.  Exhale, push trunk back, open arm pits, pressing as if to slide the fingers away in front.  If that's easy, lift your knees up and do it with straight legs.  Walk the feet in closer to increase the challenge.
  2. "Hands behind" stretch.  Roll back to sit, legs in front, bent, feet flat.  Place palms flat behind you, straight arms, fingers reaching back away, whole palm on contact.  Inhale, press palms into ground, pelvis becoming lighter, maybe even lifting up.  Exhale, stretch hands a little further back and release.

Stretching

Come back to sit cross-legged.  Hold each for 20 breaths or more.

  • Hands link behind.  Reach straight arms wide to side.  R arm down, L arm up.  Bend both elbows and try to link fingers behind back.  If you can't reach, take a belt or towel in your top hand, and once you are in position, catch it in your bottom hand, and 'walk' in.  Keep neck and head in alignment, shoulders open.  Repeat other side.
  • Reverse namaste ("prayer position").  Reach straight arms wide to side.  Bend both arms down and back.  Press knuckles together, then side palms, then working towards whole palms together and sliding palms up back.  Come just far enough to get a nice stretch keeping good alignment.  Release , breath.

Then mobilise your arms and shoulders for a dozen breaths.  End up in final relaxation, lie back into corpse pose, stay and breath.

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Forward bending

Whilst some people find forward bends easy, for others they are a misery - we can feel blocked, especially from tight hamstrings.  This sequence offers a two-part answer

  • activate the opposing muscles to draw us deeper into the stretch
  • deeply release and let go of the back body.

With forward bending, we are trying to release the whole back body evenly.  See if you can soften the area where you have greatest intensity, and engage more where you feel nothing.  Focus on bending more from the lower back and less with the upper back and neck.

Forward bends tend to calm the mind, so this makes a nice sequence before dinner after a busy day.

Part I

Active, move with breath, 10 breaths for each step, or whatever you have time for.

  1. Lie still and relaxed on back.  Scan body for tension or unevenness.  Inhale, feel belly rise and chest expand.  Exhale, gently engage lower abdomen pulling navel to spine.  Alternate legs.
  2. Knee to chest.  Exhale, hug R knee to chest keeping L leg heavy in place.  Inhale, return R leg to ground beside L.  Alternate legs.
  3. Single leg-raise.  Exhale, lift straight R leg, L leg heavy, deepen R hip crease.  Inhale, return.  Alternate legs.
  4. Knee to chest plus curl.  Exhale, hug R knee to chest whilst curling up chest, engaging abs more strongly.  Inhale, return.  Alternate legs.
  5. Pelvic tilt.  Bend both legs to 90 degrees, feet flat on floor, hip-width apart.  Exhale, press lower back into ground and lift hips away from ground.  Inhale, pelvis down, return to neutral pelvis curve.  Allow the pelvis to rock smoothly.
  6. Double-leg raise.  Come up onto elbows directly beneath shoulders, draw in abs to round lower back out - don't let belly bulge outExhale, lift both legs keeping knees bent, core strongly on to round back down.  Inhale, return.  Option to straighten legs only if the belly is still tucked in.

Part II

Hang and stay.  Stand feet hip width apart.  Check your feet are parallel pointing straight forwards with weight equally in each foot.  The base of the big toe is well-grounded and the arch of the foot active and lifting.

  1. Exhale, roll down into forward bend, knees deeply bent, hug arms round back of thighs to bring chest towards lying on thighs, lengthen lower back.  With each exhale, engage abs to draw deeper.  Stay 10-20 breaths, roll back up.
  2. Hands on back of hips, push hips forward, gentle counter-pose for 5 breaths.
  3. Engage legs strongly to straighten, keep back straight (except not for weak back).  Exhale, fold forward hinging at hips, lengthen back of legs and lower back.  Stay 10-20 breaths, roll back up.
  4. Hands on back of hips, push hips forward, gentle counter-pose for 5 breaths.
  5. Check your feet are still working correctly.  Fold forward to rest forearms on a chair, bed or stair.  Or stand about 20cm from a wall, fold forward to lean back on wall (if your head is on the wall rather than your back, stick with the first option).  In either position, check the hips are directly about the feet.  On each exhale, let go of the whole back of body, gently engage abs.  On each inhale, gently engage front thigh to straighten leg.  Stay for longer, maybe 50 breaths, or with practice, even longer.  It's time to stop if you feel dizzy or can no longer keep your legs active and aligned.  To come out, bend you legs and lower yourself down to lie.  Don't leap up fast.
  6. Lie still and relaxed on back.

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Core strength sequence

Our core strength protects us in our Yoga practice and our daily life.  It allows our movements to be precise and firm, and helps our posture.  In more traditional Yoga language, our bandhas help our alignment (we'll talk more about that in class, and in a future article).  In everyday language, our core muscles connect the pelvis with the spine and ribs - in particular that means our deep abdomen muscles.

This sequence is great for building core strength and generating heat in the body.  Each movement needs to be done with control and alignment.  Don't attempt a more challenging option until you have the basic version mastered.  It's good to feel a gentle burn in the muscles, but no shaking or wobbling.  With just 10 minutes each day, you will gradually find your strength increasing.

We use our exhalation to engage our pelvic floor and deep abdomen muscles, so the movements are working most strongly on the exhale.  Repeat each movement 5-10 times.

  1. Lie still and relaxed on back.  Scan body for tension or unevenness.  Inhale, feel belly rise and chest expand.  Exhale, gently engage lower abdomen muscles to squeeze air out.
  2. Single-leg lifts.  Palms press ground by sides.  Point both feet and engage front thigh muscles to straighten knee.  Exhale, lift straight R leg, just as far as you can without L leg moving.  Use the abs to keep the pelvis in neutral alignment.  Inhale, lower leg.  Alternate legs.
  3. Pelvic tilt.  Take feet hip-width apart, pointing straight forwards, heels near buttocks so you can just reach then with your fingertips. Arms by sides.  Exhale, tuck the pelvis, flattening the lower back into the ground and lifting the pelvis slightly off the ground.  Middle and upper back don't move.  Inhale, return to neutral spine, slightly arched.
  4. Roll to lie on your front.  Engage front thighs, press tops of feet into the ground.  Hands under top thighs, palm up.  Exhale, lift the abdomen away from the ground (it might not actually lift clear, but feel that you are lifting) and press the top thighs into the palms.  Inhale, release to neutral.
  5. Cat/cow.  Come to hands and knees.  Wrists beneath shoulders, or maybe slighter nearer to the knees, arms straight, hands well grounded.  Knees beneath hips, shins descend towards ground and point straight back.  Exhale, tuck pelvis, round spine up as head drops, engage abdomen.  Inhale, round spine down as head lifts, expand upper chest.
  6. Knee lift.  Tuck toes, come back to neutral spine, slight curve in lower back - after all the tilting you should now feel more aware of where your pelvis is.  Exhale, engage core, lift knees 1cm from ground (feel your are trying to lift even if knees don't actually come clear), knees still directly below hips.  Inhale, stay.  Option: continue with cat/cow whilst knees are lifted.
  7. Elbow plank.  Elbows on ground beneath shoulders, forearms point directly forward.  Walk knees back and lower hips to make one straight line knee=hip=shoulder - so hips about 5cm from ground.  Tops of feet press into ground pointing straight back.  Engage core, neutral spine, breath and stay.  Option: straighten each leg in turn lifting knee, or do both.
    • Don't let your pelvis sag down to the ground.
    • Don't arch your back and stick your bum out.
  8. Sphinx.  Rest pelvis down, arch back especially upper part.  Inhale, lengthen spine, fill chest.  Exhale, release bottom rib towards ground.  On both parts of the breath, engage tricpes (back of upper arm) to press palms into floor and maybe lift elbows 1cm.
  9. Lower downs.  Come to plank with knees down, straight arms.  Exhale, lower down keeping body straight knees=hips=shoulders, elbows tucked in to sides.  Come down at most half-way (elbows at 90 degrees) or just as far as you can in control, and hover for 1 second.  Inhale, relax pelvis down, arch back, cobra.  Exhale, sit back on your heels, child's pose.  Inhale, come forward to plank ready to begin again.  Option: lift knees in plank and lower down - but only if you can stay perfectly straight from foot to head.
  10. Roll onto your back and lie still.  Inhale, feel strong and alive.  Exhale, feel warm and relaxed.

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Hip-opening practice

A series of movements with the breath to open your hips.  Great first thing, or just before dinner to ease out from your day.  5-15 minutes.

General advice

  • Explore your full comfortable range of movement, ending with a gentle stretch, but no straining.
  • Slow down the movement until it takes the whole breath, so you have a smooth continuous flow.
  • Fine to stop before the end, but still do the last one for final relaxation.

Moves

6 breaths for each move, or adjust to suit the time you have available.  Most of the moves work with each leg separately, so do 6 breaths right, then 6 left.

  1. Lie still and relaxed on back.  Scan body for tension or unevenness.  Inhale, feel belly rise and chest expand.  Exhale, release muscles more deeply.
  2. Knee to chest.  Exhale, hug R knee to chest keeping left leg heavy in place.  Inhale, return R leg to ground beside L.
  3. Knee to side.  Bend both legs, feet flat on floor, hip width, close to buttocks.  Exhale, R knee drops sideways, whilst keeping pelvis and L knee exactly still.  Inhale, return.
  4. Knee across twist.  Straighten L leg, keep R leg bent.  Step R foot across L leg to outside.  Right arm stretches sideways to R.  L arm on R knee.  Exhale, R knee goes L and down, pelvis tips L, spine twists.  Inhale, return.
  5. Side leg raises.  Lie on L side, with L upper arm as pillow for head.  Check body is straight head to toe.  Check R foot, hip, shoulder is stacked exactly above corresponding L.  Inhale, lift straight R leg to sky, ankle neutral (like when you are standing), hips stay stacked.  Exhale, return.  Do next one on same side before changing legs.
  6. Bend R leg in front.  Inhale, left underneath L left, ankle neutral, hips stay stacked.
  7. Cat/cow.  Come to hands and knees.  Wrists beneath shoulders, or maybe slighter nearer to the knees, arms straight, hands well grounded.  Knees beneath hips, shins descend towards ground and point straight back.  Exhale, round spine up as head drops, engage abdomen.  Inhale, drop spine down as head lifts, expand upper chest.
  8. Add in leg movement.  Exhale, round spine and also R knee towards chin.  Inhale, drop spine down, also R toe towards head - bend knee, point foot, hips and shoulders level.
  9. Knee to side.  Inhale, R knee lift sideways towards sky, pelvis tips, L hip stays above knee, shoulders stay level.  Exhale, return.
  10. Forearm plank.  Come down to forearms, with them pointing straight forwards.  Knees, hips, shoulders in one straight line.  Inhale, lengthen spine, suck in lower abdomen.  Exhale, stay.
  11. Add in knee.  Inhale, lift R knee 1cm off ground, hips stay level.  If that's easy, bring R knee towards R elbow, staying 1cm off ground all the way, hips still level.  Exhale, return.
  12. Wide-knee child.  Kneel with knees wide, feet together.  Fold forwards from hips, keep buttocks grounded on heels.  Keep neck in line with rest of spine - can pillow head on hands or cushion.  If it's too easy, take heels a bit wider (but not so wide as knees) and sit down between heels.  Inhale, length spine.  Exhale, release hips more deeply.

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Spine awakening practice

This practice is all about movement with the breath.  Aim for a full and flowing range of movement rather than forcing an extreme stretch.

There are 8 parts.  For a 5 minute practice, do each for about 10 breaths. Take more or fewer breaths depending on your breathing speed and how much time you have. 

  1. Lie still and relaxed on back.  Scan body for tension or unevenness.  Inhale, feel belly rise and chest expand.  Exhale, release muscles more deeply.
  2. Lying twist. Bend knees, feet together, heels near buttocks. Arms straight out to side.  Exhale drop knees to right, pelvis tipping, spine twisting.  Inhale to centre.  Alternate sides.
  3. Bridge. Take feet hip-width apart, pointing straight forwards, heels near buttocks so you can just reach then with your fingertips. Arms by sides, flatten lower back into the ground.  Inhale, peel up in turn: pelvis; lower back; mid back.  Exhale, peel down in turn: mid back; lower back; pelvis.
  4. Cat/cow.  Come to hands and knees.  Wrists beneath shoulders, or maybe slighter nearer to the knees, arms straight, hands well grounded.  Knees beneath hips, shins descend towards ground and point straight back.  Exhale, round spine up as head drops, engage abdomen.  Inhale, round spine down as head lifts, expand upper chest.
  5. Child/up dog - expanded version of previous move.  Exhale, round spine up, sit back onto heels, hands stay.  Inhale, pelvis lifts up, forward and down towards hands which stay still, arch spine forwards, arms straight.
  6. Side bends.  Come up to kneel, inhale left arm up to prepare.  Exhale, bend right (not forwards or twisting), keep left hip grounded down, right hand gently supports.  Inhale to centre, changing arms.  Alternate sides.
  7. Rolling.  Lie on back, hug knees to chest, round spine evenly along whole length, abdomen engaged, arms wrap around back of thighs.  This one must be done smoothly — if back is tight or sore, do small, slow movements.  If spine bones stick out, lie on a blanket or duvet.  Inhale, hug knees in, roll back, lift hips.  Exhale, keeping rounded, roll forwards down spine, hips down, head and chest come up.
  8. Lie still and relaxed on your back.  Inhale, feel great.  Exhale, feel great.

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Sun salutation introductory practice

The sun salutation is a strong flowing sequence of movements with the breath.  With just 5 spare minutes in the morning you can really kick-start your day.

Summary

  • Sit cross-legged for 1 minute, close eyes, breath, mind explores body and breath feelings
  • 4 rounds Surya Namaskara A
  • 1 minute relax in corpse pose, close eyes, breath, mind explores body and breath feelings

Background

  • Original name in Sanskrit = Surya Namaskara = greeting to the sun
  • Each move has a corresponding breath: smooth and strong in an out through the nose
  • Each breath is even length, so move faster when you need to
  • It is a flow, vigorous but not forced - adapt any positions
  • There are slight differences in the sequence between types of Yoga.  I like the sequence from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, even though that's not my style of Yoga.  We'll be doing 'A' version, slightly modified.
  • There is plenty more information on the internet

Sequence

Start standing, feet together, hands by sides

  1. Inhale, arms up
  2. Exhale fold, just as far as you can
  3. Inhale, flat back, but stay folded at hips
  4. Exhale, bend knees to put hands down flat, step back right foot then left (don't jump at first) to plank and still in the same breath (but add a breath if you need to) lower down, with elbows tucked in to lie on your belly.  Option to put knees down before lowering.
  5. Inhale, back bend, however far feels good
  6. Exhale, downward dog, stay 3 breaths
  7. Inhale, step forward right then left (arrive at same position as in 3)
  8. Exhale, fold
  9. Inhale stand up, reach up
  10. Exhale, hands down by sides

Alternate rounds, step with left foot then right

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