Some days you step on your mat and need a neatly prescribed yoga routine. Other days you just want to let your body and breath move you on a journey from pose to pose, as you morph into and out of different shapes.
Kira Ryder, a vinyasa yoga teacher in Ojai, California, prefers this second type of practice—one that moves into forms, investigates them, and then plays with them to find the best fit for each moment. Her aim is not to minimize the importance of alignment but to help students move intelligently, according to what their bodies need in any given moment. “The poses are designed to meet you where you are, not for you to conform to each pose,” says Ryder. Ryder shares a morning routine that wakes you up slowly and pumps prana, or life force, into all the nooks and crannies of the body, especially the hips and sacrum, which often get stiff and stagnant. The poses look familiar—Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), Plank Pose, Cat-CowPose—but each has its own unique expression.
The final pose is a twist with a slightly rounded spine to encourage softness in the lower back. “The twist is investigative,” Ryder says. “You’ll know it’s working if you come out and your lower back feels big and broad and warm. It’s real subtle stuff. It’s not always sexy and pretty.”
As You Practice
Gage Your Tension: As you do the poses, use your face to measure tension in your body. Ryder calls the face “the dashboard of the pranic system.” In other words, when your face is tight, your body is too, which limits the flow of prana. Start the sequence with your face soft and check in often to find out if tension is accumulating.
Breathe Naturally: Allow your breath to soften and notice whether you move into a breathless state. This state is a type of stillness that can happen spontaneously. Allow it to happen.
|1. Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)Sit with the soles of your feet together about 20 inches from the groin. Let your knees drop out to the sides. (If your knees are higher than the tops of your hip bones, sit on a folded blanket.) Walk your hands forward, allowing your back to softly round. Drop your head for a neck stretch. If that’s uncomfortable, support your head with your hands. Breathe into the back body. Stay for 5 minutes.|
|2. Cowboy Negotiation PoseTake a wide squat with your feet turned out. If your heels lift, place a blanket or a rolled mat underneath them. Bring your weight into your left leg as you press your right knee away from your midline to create space in your hips. Stay for 5 breaths, then do the other side.|
|3. Hammock PoseStand sideways on your mat with your legs wide apart, toes turned in and lifted to engage the inner arches. Walk your hands forward and draw the tailbone back. Let the upper back be like a hammock and your heart relax downward. Wake the legs by isometrically squeezing your heels together on the inhalation and pressing them apart on the exhalation. Then relax and use your awareness and breath to connect with prana flowing up and down the legs. Stay for 5 breaths.|
|4. Horse Stance with Uddiyana Bandha (Upward Abdominal Lock)Keep your wide stance and turn the feet out. Bend your knees and see that they are over the toes. Straighten your legs and reach your arms overhead. Inhale deeply and, as you exhale, bring your hands to your thighs, bend your knees, and stick out your tongue. Curl your tailbone under. At the bottom of the exhalation, draw your chin toward your chest and the navel toward your spine. Feel your pelvic floor lift up. Hold the breath out as you sway your hips side to side to access different spots. After a few seconds, relax all muscular effort, then inhale and bring your arms overhead as you straighten your legs. Feel the vitality in your body and mind. Take a clearing breath in between holds. Do 5 rounds.|
|5. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II)With your legs straight and arms overhead, inhale; on your exhalation, open up into Warrior II. Repeat this movement 5 times, until you eventually land in the shape. Try softening your elbows and turning your palms up, connecting with the flow of prana from your heart out through your hands. Stay for 10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.|
6. Low Lunge with External Rotation
From Warrior II, windmill your hands to the floor and come into Low Lunge. Stay for a few rounds of breath, draw your hips back on the inhalation and sink forward on the exha-lation. Turn the front foot out to externally rotate the hip. Relax your jaw and walk the hands back. If your hands are far from the floor, use blocks for support. Do both sides.
7. Rounded Plank Pose
Transition into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Draw your tailbone under and round your back as you bring your shoulders over your wrists. Breathe into your full open back. Feel the work in the belly; relax your neck and head. Stay for at least 5 breaths here.
|8. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)From Rounded Plank, bend your elbows and lower your hips to the floor. Roll your shoulders back and down and lift your heart. Slowly turn your head from side to side to stretch your neck. Stay for 10 breaths, then lower down and rest.|
9. Rocket Cat
Curl your toes under and press your hips back as if to move into Balasana (Child’s Pose), but pause halfway. Exhale through your mouth and stick out your tongue. Alternate leaning right and left for 10 breaths to stretch.
10. Slumpy Swami Twist
Contraindications: The combination of the twist and rounded back puts pressure on your lower back. If you have any lower-back injuries, take a twist that lengthens the spine instead.
Find a comfortable cross-legged position like Sukhasana (Easy Pose). With your right hand on the floor behind your right buttock, place your left hand on your right knee. Inhale and exhale, curling your tailbone under and rounding your back. Carefully and with a lot of attention, exhale through your mouth, draw your lower belly back, and twist your rib cage to the right. The work is not as strong as it is in Uddiyana Bandha, but the awareness is similar. If you feel open, reach the left arm across the right knee and dip in deeper. After 5 breaths, relax your effort, inhale, and slowly unwind. You will know it was effective if you have a warm, expansive feeling in your lower-right back. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
After You Finish
Sit Quietly: Find a comfortable seated position like Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Allow for a few deliberate deep inhalations, followed by audible exhalations to help the body become more grounded. Allow your breath to help align your body. Feel your neck lengthen. Feel your jaw relax. Feel the circumference of your mouth soften. Invite a sensual quality to your lips as your face really relaxes. You can use a timer to help you stay seated for however long you desire. Start with 10 minutes and work up from there.
Rest: Take Savasana (Corpse Pose) for 5 to 10 minutes.