Many of us know how beneficial yoga can be. However, we don’t always do it as much as we think we should. When I first tried yoga I went to a class. I think a lot of people have been introduced to it in the same way. If you’re anything like me, you might have found a studio you liked, bought a 30-day unlimited pass, and showed up a whopping two times.
So how can you do more yoga? One of the best ways to make it part of the regular routine is try to start doing it on your own. This can of course be hard. It seems like there are an infinite number of YouTube videos with yoga instructions. There are also of course the paid videos that some people offer as digital downloads or DVDs. However, this can be tricky. I can’t tell you how many times I resolved to do 20 minutes of yoga in the comfort of my own home and then gave up because I didn’t like the teacher, or the sound quality wasn’t good, or I got distracted by a cake decorating video.
Here is what has helped me get to the mat every (most) days: memorizing five yoga poses that I really like and going through them in a sequence. I also really love sphinx pose, which I recently shared in a post here. This practice is great for people who have some yoga experience and familiarity with the poses already. I picked these nine particular poses because of the benefits they have for both the mind and body.
Start off your routine in mountain pose. Stand with your feet flat on the ground about hip distance apart. Notice the alignment of your body. Really take some time in this pose to make sure that your hips, knees, and shoulders are facing forward. You can keep a soft bend in the knees so that they aren’t locking. Check in with your neck and head; see if you can find a nice neutral position for them. You can also lightly engage the abdominal muscles.
Practicing this pose will help you feel into your body’s alignment. It allows you to take some time and make sure that everything is stacking nicely on top of everything else. It also enables you to check in with how you are distributing your weight to make sure that it is equal in all parts of your feet. So many of us stand with our weight dipped into one hip or walk on the outside of our feet. It is vital to take a moment to properly align the body.
From mountain pose allow yourself to float down into a forward fold. Before bending forward check in with your body. Allow yourself to contract the muscles above your knees. As you begin to bend forward keep your head and torso as one unit and bend from the hip joint. Try to keep the back as straight as possible as you bend forward. Finally allow yourself to release everything down.
This pose will help you build flexibility in your hamstrings. You might notice at first that you cannot bend very far or need to keep a bend in the knees in order to protect them. This is totally fine! Allow yourself to meet your body where it is. As you continue to practice this pose you will notice more and more flexibility in your legs.
From your forward fold you can walk your legs back, bring your knees to the mat, and come to all fours. Take a moment here to check in that your hands are directly below the shoulder and your knees are below the hips. Try to find a neutral spine so that your spine and head are in a straight line. Pull your bellybutton in toward your back in order to engage your abs. You can slowly and carefully allow yourself to curve your spine up toward to ceiling letting your gaze and tailbone fall toward the floor. This is called cat pose. Next gently move through to cow pose. You can let your gaze come up from the floor and allow your heart and chest to shine forward. The tailbone now points up toward the ceiling.
Let yourself move through as many cycles of cat and cow pose as you need in order to invite some softness into your back. This pose is great for anyone who has a stiff back or even some occasional back pain. Starting to build up some movement in the joints and flexibility in the muscles can start to alleviate some of that discomfort.
If you are not used to having holding our body on all fours you might notice a bit of a tremble or fatigue in the arms from the cat-cow sequence. The great way to rest and relax those shoulders is to flow into child’s pose. From all fours you can move your feet in toward one another allowing your knees to be slightly wider than your hips. Send your hips back so that they are above your feet or resting on your feet. Allow your forehead to come and rest gently on the mat. You can stay here for as long as you need to rest and recover.
Child’s pose is a great way to invite some relaxation into the body when you are doing a yoga flow. Especially when we are new to yoga it can be impossible to just go from pose to pose without any rest in between them. Child’s pose can be your go to resting and relaxation pose both during yoga and during daily life.
From child’s pose you can come up so that you are now sitting with your feet tucked under you. When you feel ready bring you legs out from under you so that you are sitting up straight with your legs out flat on the mat in front of you. Let your sternum shine forward and engage your abdominal muscles. Lengthen your tailbone down into the mat and then slowly lift your legs up to a 45 or 50 degree angle. If possible try to straighten the legs; it is also fine to keep the knees bent. Keep your ab muscles engaged here and try to hold for a few breaths.
This pose will help tone those abdominal muscles. It is a gentle but effective way to create definition in the tummy area. One yoga teacher I know says quality over quantity when she does this pose. If you hold it with everything engaged for even a short time it is better than staying in it forever with really bad form.