A slow flow to help cultivate a meditative mood
As we enter week 8 of navigating this self-distancing, mask making existence I can honestly say that all the best intentions of gardening, DIY, and keeping my cool while circumnavigating home schooling and tech boundaries have been drowned in wine, and self-care has gone out of the window. With this in mind I’ve designed a slow Yoga routine which includes soulful poses and techniques I’ve picked up from my favourite teachers that encourage a softness and sense of calm to mind and body. It should take around 20 minutes or so.
This is a slow practice that is hopefully accessible to anyone from total beginner to seasoned Yogi, it’s floor based and will calm and reset your entire body and mind to prepare you for our final relaxation pose. It is suitable if you are pregnant, although please consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regime during pregnancy.
So let us begin by dropping the expectation we place on ourselves, leave our worries and cares at the door and allow ourselves a daily pause for our wellbeing.
Building your Nest:
To begin set up your space, and allocate this time to you; you deserve it. Choose a spot you like, ideally it will have some degree of privacy and perhaps if you have a favourite candle or plant you could bring it with you. You don’t need any props but if you have the following you can bring them along to:
- A yoga mat
- A few pillows or cushions
- A blanket
- Some relaxing music
- A candle
- A yoga block or some hard backed books
Warm Up – 1 min or so
Sit in a comfortable seated pose, close your eyes and take a few centering breathes. If like me after a few moments you find it difficult to keep your eyes shut, just open them and simply soften the gaze and try to focus on one spot. Start to notice the sounds around you, for me this isn’t about blocking the noise out by some Yogi Warrior magic but by making peace with the sounds of the house and trying to sink into it. Take a moment to notice your body as it moves with your breath. Place your hands on your stomach and notice as you inhale the stomach fills and as your exhale it falls. Know that there is growth and discipline here, try and set an intention, a reason for being here today. It may be something like I want to feel good in my body and calm in my mind. Now open your eyes.
Step 1 – Cow Pose
Come onto all fours, try and have your wrists, elbows and shoulders in a line and your knees above your hips, your back is straight. We are now in Table Top Position and ready to flow into Cat/Cow pose.
Step 2 – Cow Pose
As you inhale push your shoulders and shoulder blades together, squeeze them tight, imagine you are trying to crush a nut with your shoulder blades. Simultaneously bring your head and gaze up towards the sky and fan your tail bone outwards. Pause as you reach the top of your movement.
Step 3 – Cat Pose
On the exhale round your spine, turn your head and gaze inwards towards your belly button, push your stomach in and towards you spine. Notice the feeling of space between your shoulder blades and the compression in your core. If you are pregnant do not pull your belly in to your spine just flow with the breath and enjoy the opening in the shoulders and lower back.
Step 4 – Childs Pose
We are going to add Childs Pose. Inhale, and glide into Cow Pose, Exhale into Cat Pose, Inhale into Table Top, and Exhale into Child Pose by bringing your hips back and placing the point between your eyebrows on the ground. You can place a cushion or block on the floor if you don’t reach the floor. Keep your arms out in front of you and repeat a few times to make it a moving meditation.
We are waking up the spine here and gently massaging our internal organs. The rhythmic breathe help to calm the mind. See if you can match the movement with your breath. Let the breath move you. If you are feeling relaxed you can stop here and go straight into final relaxation. If you want to go further follow the steps below.
Balancing Poses can be helpful in relieving stress and reducing inner tension. Additionally, they can improve focus, concentration and memory.
Step One – Balance
Come to your table top position with your hands and knees in a line and your hips and ankles aligned.
Step Two – Balance
Inhale the right leg up parallel to the floor, reaching the toes towards the back wall and then turning them to point towards the ground so the sole of the foot is parallel to the wall. Create a beautiful line by ensure the leg maintains up and aligned to your hips and torso – don’t lose your form here, stay connected.
Step Three – Balance
Starring at a point between the palms, slowly inhale the left arm up parallel to the floor, reaching the fingers towards the front wall.
Breathe and hold for 3-6 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side/
We are being pulled in different directions with this pose, our outreached arm is leading us is one direction while the leg pulls us in another. Wanting two things at once it’s important to remember to connect to your core so we don’t become overwhelmed.
Wrist Stretches and Shoulder Strengthening
If like me you are spending more time on the lap top and iPhone than usual, here are some counter stretches to help ease out any tension. These are great for anyone who works on a computer regularly.
Step 1 – Stength
From Table Top position makes sure your fingers are pointing forward; let’s start by turning your hands out to the side. If that’s enough of a stretch for you that’s fine, breathe and enjoy the release.
Step 2 – Strength
If you want to take it further rotate your fingers so they are facing your body at 180 degrees from your starting positon. Take a few seconds to lean into the stretch and allow the body time to process, breathe and ensure your shoulders are away from your ears so we have a beautiful lengthening across the chest and heart.
Step 3 – Strength
If you want to go deeper with this stretch, take your hips back an inch or so and focus on the breath. On the next exhale make a sigh noise and join me in a seated position.
Shoulder strengthening & conditioning
Sit in a kneeling position if this is available to you, you can use a cushion, or blanket in-between your knees to create some space here so you can stay in this position for a while. If this position isn’t right for you today, grab a chair, you could sit on the couch but ideally you will have a hard surface to protect your spine.
Step 1 – Conditioning
From your seated position, ensure your Spine is long and you are lifting up out of your hips rather than compressing your lower spine. Feel tall and proud, place your hands on your knees, lift your chest and look forward. Know that this is the feeling of your body getting stronger and practice some gratitude to yourself for taking the time out for your practice today.
Step 2 – Conditioning
Starting on your right side, make a fist with your hand and your palms facing inwards. Inhale, and lift your arm forward keeping it as straight as possible and bring it above your head and in line with your ear, try and track your ear as much as possible while keeping your shoulders away from your neck. Pause here for the smallest of moments.
Step 3 – Conditioning
Change the direction of your fist by externally rotating your arm so your palms are pointing away from your body and with your Exhale bring your arm down in the opposite direction, it will come to rest beside your hip with your palms facing inwards. Repeat 3 times and ensure your movements are smooth, deliberate and synced to your breath. As you inhale your arm moves upwards and you exhale it goes downwards.
Step 4 – Conditioning
We are now going to add to this movement. Keeping on your right side, your wrist is clenched and your palms facing your hips. On the inhale bring your arm behind you as high as it will go with your arm as straight as possible. Rotate your arm from your shoulder so your palm is now facing away from your body, bring it up to your ear and then bring your arm forward and come to rest it along wide your hip (your palm is now facing your hips). Repeat three times.
Step 5 – Conditioning
Repeat everything on your left side.
Work on keeping your shoulders away from your ears and keeping your torso straight and strong rather than twisting as your arms rotate.
Time to move into the Hips
We are now going to start moving into the hips. Many of us tend to store our emotions in the hip region. This is a natural part of the “fight or flight” stress response. Each time we feel threatened or have a stress reaction, our hips tighten. Sitting for long periods will also tighten those hips up.
Step one – Hips
Sit cross legged with your right leg in front, if this is tricky for you try raising your hips by finding something to sit on, maybe books or some yoga blocks if you have them. Your spine is long and proud; shoulders are away from your ears. Inhale your arms up, exhale and folding from your hips bring your arms and body towards the ground. If your hands don’t reach the ground bring the ground to you with a few blocks or books (don’t have them dangling into air you need them grounded on something).
Step Two – Hips
On your inhale lengthen the spine on the exhale fold down towards the ground and into yourself. Think about letting go of anything you don’t need right now so this is about release rather than reaching the ground. You may be feeling this in your right hip, if you’re feeling it in your left hip that’s ok it just means you have more tension there. We are taking 5 deep breathes here. The Inhale lengthens, and exhale allows you to fold and let go.
Steps Three -Hips
Inhale the arms up above your head and exhale them by the side of your body.
Step Four – Hips
Switch your front leg so your left is now leading, inhale your arms up above your head, exhale your arms and torso down towards the ground. Please lift up and out of your hips, think about creating space in your spine as you inhale and fold down as you exhale. We are taking five breaths, as your inhale create length imagine you are creating space between every vertebrae of the spine as you inhale and with your exhale fold into yourself and let go of any tension.
Step Five – Hips
After 5 deep breathes bring your hands above your head and exhale your arms by your side. Stretch out your legs
Forward folds are neutralising to the nervous system and calm the brain and help to relieve stress and mild depression. They stimulate the liver and kidneys and can reduce fatigue and anxiety. Your sides will feel different, you’re only human!
We are continuing to work with the hips with this next pose but we are going a little deeper. I have two options, the first is Pigeon Pose and the second is a modified stretch that I’ll call Hip Cradle. Choose which ever feels best for you today:
Step One – Pigeon
From your crossed legged position and your right leg leading, swing your left leg behind you and straighten it, with the front of your foot resting on the floor.
The closer your shin and feet are to your body the easier the stretch so if you want to move into a stronger hip opener work on keeping your feet and shinbone aligned with your knee. Your left leg also comes down on the mat, straightening out backwards.
Remember, toes are pointing backwards and the sole of your foot faces towards the ceiling. Make sure not to turn your resting leg outwards.
Try to plant your glutes on the ground, keeping your hip aligned. Avoid leaning to one side, if one hip is much higher than the other grab a hard book or block and place it under that hip. Its worth remembering in any pose that if you don’t reach the floor, bring the floor to you.
Step Two – Pigeon
Now sit up and walk slowly back with your hands, placing them next to your glutes. Elbows are pointing backwards, shoulders come together to open your chest. You can stay here for three to six breathes or move onto step three if you want to take it further.
Step Three – Pigeon
Inhale and lift up and out of your hips and on the exhale fold downwards from your hips think about creating length in the spine as you glide downwards while keeping your hips planted to the floor. Come to rest your torso and head on the floor, block or you can use your fist as a head rest but do make sure it is planted on something. Take 3 to 6 breathes here.
Step Four – Pigeon
Slowly lift your head and torso upwards with your inhale and switch sides.
Modified Hip Cradle Pose
If you prefer to try another stretch over Pigeon I have a good hip opener for you.
Step One – Hip Cradle
Sit up, plant your sit bones on the ground and lift up and out of your hips, have both legs stretched out in front of you.
Step Two – Hip Cradle
Cross the right ankle across the left knee. Your hands are behind you and you’re thinking about maintaining a nice tall spine. Now bend the left knee and bring the sole of the foot on the floor. Stay focussed and gently shift your weight from left to right, breathing into wherever you feel that stretch. Remember this is the feeling of wringing out anything that doesn’t serve you, this is the feeling of you getting stronger. You can come to lie on the ground with this if you want to. Take 3 – 6 breathes and change sides.
Step Three – Hip Cradle
Repeat on the other side, remember it’s totally normally that your sides will feel different. This is a final pose before relaxation.
Relaxation: at least 5–15 minutes is recommended.
Please take at least 5 mins for our relaxation pose, you deserve it. Remember that traditionally all yoga poses were built to lead us to final relaxation because its benefits are believed to have a profound effect on the mind and body. So often today we are busy doing a million things, and we are either on or off and rarely take the time to consciously relax and allow our time to process. Remember that there is growth and discipline in relaxation. The poses are part of a process, Yoga is a holistic system that believes the body and mind work in tandem and in our final relaxation pose just as we have used the poses to ease out any tension in the body, we will work on easing out all the thoughts and distractions that do not serve us. Think of it as leaving your car lights on over night, if you don’t ever switch off eventually you will feel overwhelmed and run out of juice.
Lay with your back on the floor, your legs and arms slightly away from your body and your palms facing up. If you prefer place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly this may help you stay connected to your breath. If you need to have some support on your back use a folded blanket. Try and close your eyes and focus on the ebb and flow of your breath, try and encourage the inhale and exhale to be equal in length. As thoughts come into the mind, don’t worry that’s normal but when you catch yourself in the plot of your mind, step away from that thought and come back to breath. This will get easier the more you practice.
When you are ready, come onto your side and use your hands to come to sitting.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful energy with me today.