Life is so full of responsibilities to others—walking the dog, taking the kids to soccer practice, meeting deadlines—that it can be a constant challenge to find time for yoga practice. The irony, of course, is that we cannot really support those around us if we don't first take care of ourselves. In our busy lives, it's easy to forget this simple truth.
Fortunately, practicing yoga at home is a way to nurture our well-being, which is an essential first step toward caring for others. But the benefits are even more profound: As soon as we come to our yoga mat and begin to focus on our breath, we are reminded of our connection to something bigger than ourselves. We feel oneness with other people and beings, with all that is. Feeling this universal connection is a natural outgrowth of connecting to ourselves.
Vinyasa—a form of yoga in which each pose flows into the next in coordination with the breath—is the ideal medium for keeping this connection vital. Moving with the rhythm of the breath in vinyasas helps us recognize our experience as a reflection of the constantly pulsing universe—the rising and setting sun, the ebbing and flowing tides, the beating of the heart.
We can clearly see how asana practice is a physical manifestation of universal connection when we cultivate a strong midline in our poses. In the sequence demonstrated here, experiment with drawing into your midline and then expanding your energy outward, and see where it takes you.
Once you establish a firm center that acts as a central axis for all of your movements, you can radiate outward. Just as gravity allows us to jump up without flying off into outer space, a strong core (which we create by drawing physical effort into our center) allows us to reach out and fully experience how large we really are. This vastness extends far beyond the physical body. As we become familiar with how the body, breath, and mind are interwoven, we see a ripple effect: Everything we do affects everyone around us and, in turn, everyone around them.
The next time you think you don't have time for your home yoga practice, remember that the strength, balance, bright attention, and sense of connection that come from regular practice not only will make you healthier but will help make the whole world a better place. It sounds grandiose, but it's really true.
1. Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), with your hands pressing firmly into the mat and your heels reaching toward the floor. Turn your left heel down and step your right foot between your hands. Place your right hand about 8 inches in front of your right foot (on the floor or on a block) and your left hand on your left hip. On an inhalation, lift the left leg up and straight back, coming into Ardha Chandrasana. As you exhale, spin your left ribs, armpit, fingers, and your face up toward the sky. Move the tailbone and pubic bone toward each other to create a powerful connection from which you can extend through the arms, legs, and crown of the head—you should feel as though you're radiating out like the rays of the moon on a dark night. Feel your energy reaching past your fingertips and try to ride the movement of this big balancing pose for 5 breaths before moving on.
2. Virabhadrasana III (Warrior Pose III)
From Ardha Chandrasana, shift your pelvis so it faces the floor. Internally rotate your left leg as you pull your right outer hip crease back; at the same time, sweep both arms forward alongside your ears, coming into Warrior III. Imagine that your arms begin at the bottom of your back ribs; from there, reach out through your fingers. Tone your belly by gently drawing your abdominals in; lift the hip points up toward your bottom ribs to fill the back of your waist. With a strong awareness of your center, reach out through your head and tailbone equally. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
3.Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
From Warrior III, inhale as you place your palms on the floor on either side of your front foot. (It's OK to bend your front knee to do this.) On an exhalation, lower the left leg to the ground, then step the legs back into Downward-Facing Dog. See if this Down Dog feels different than the one you started with. Without judging, notice any physical or mental habits you have in this pose. Relax your mind and let your exhalations mix with the vast ocean of air all around you. Hold for 3 breaths.
4. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
From Downward Dog, bring your feet together. Draw your shins toward each other and in toward your midline; this action creates a subtle internal rotation and a sense of space between the thighs. As you shift onto the outside of your right foot and balance on your right hand, draw your tailbone down into this space. Shifting from Down Dog, in which the sitting bones are wide, to a pose in which there's a more integrated relationship between the pubis and the tailbone is another way to establish a midline connection, this time between the front and back bodies. Next, slowly unravel the left side of the body, just as you did in Ardha Chandrasana. If your hand is in line with your mouth, it's in the right place. Feel how pulling into your center gives you the confidence to expand out into space. Stay here for 3 breaths.
5. Anantasana (Side-Reclining Leg Lift)
From Vasisthasana, slowly let your hips get heavy and bring them down onto the floor. Lower all the way down and lie on your right side. Bend your right arm and use it to support your head; try to find a Mountain Pose—like alignment. Then externally rotate your left leg and bend your knee. Take hold of the big toe with the first two fingers of your top hand and, on an exhalation, extend the leg up toward the sky. Your top leg will likely go forward on a slight diagonal line. See what you can learn from the rocking and rolling quality of this pose. Can you draw in and expand out at the same time without tension? Look for the answer in your physical alignment and notice how that affects your breath and your mind. Work on this pose for 5 to 8 breaths, then release the top leg and roll over onto your tummy.
6. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose)
From your belly, place your palms in line with your chest and come to the tops of your feet. On an inhalation, lift everything up off the floor except the feet and hands, coming into Upward-Facing Dog. Even though your legs are apart, look for a magnetizing energy between them, sending a charge up the spine. Allow the spine to sink into the back of the heart to open the chest. Move the inner edges of the shoulder blades down and toward each other, once again creating space, this time in the neck. Soften and draw the front of your throat in lightly to create even more space in the back of the neck. Stay here for 2 breaths, then push yourself back into Down Dog and hold for 3 breaths.
7.Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
From Down Dog, shift your weight forward and place your right knee on the floor between your hands. Bring your left knee directly behind it and sit down between your shins, stacking your knees and moving into Gomukhasana. Lift your left arm up, externally rotate it, bend your elbow, and place your palm down your back between your shoulder blades. Then internally rotate your right arm, bend it behind your back, and reach it toward your left hand. If your hands don't reach, make the connection by using a yoga strap or belt. Notice if your elbows are splaying outward or if the top one is falling forward. Try to move your upper arms and elbows toward the midline, even in this pretzel-like position. This pose is a great preparation for backbends, because it opens the sacral area, creates softness in the groins, and opens the triceps and shoulders. In this pose, go inward mentally and energetically for 5 to 8 breaths.
8. Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Release your arms from Gomukhasana and place your hands on the floor on either side of your knees. Rock forward and, on an inhalation, lean onto your hands so you come slightly off the ground. During the split second you are airborne, uncross your legs and land lightly on the tops of your shins in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose). Lift your hips directly over your knees and tuck your toes under. Feel your weight drop down through your toes and knees. Move your pelvis forward slightly as you press the thighs back. On an inhalation, lift the chest and look up, up, up. Begin to bend up and over a huge imaginary beach ball, so the spine extends evenly. Move the spine in toward the back of the heart to open the chest and maintain space in the lower back. Take hold of your ankles. (If you can't reach them, place your hands on blocks alongside your feet.) If you're able to keep your shoulder blades firm, your head should drop back easily. If that doesn't feel good, keep your head lifted and look forward.
Stay here for 3 breaths, then press down into your feet as you come back up on an inhalation, bringing your head up last. Rest in Vajrasana for a moment or two. Repeat 1 or 2 more times and end in Vajrasana.
9. Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja's Twist)
From Vajrasana, shift your hips to the right and sit down on your right hip. As you inhale, lift your arms up; as you exhale, twist to the right. Let your arms float down, turning the left palm up and slipping the fingers under your right thigh. Place your right fingertips on the floor behind your tailbone. Imagine that the spine is a barber's pole and twist around it. Feel this spiral of energy extending up above you and down below you. Stay in this twist for 5 breaths, then come back to Vajrasana.
10. Simhasana (Lion Pose)
From Vajrasana, come into Simhasana—said to relieve psychological baggage—by first taking a moment to go inside and think about what you want to leave behind. Then take a big breath in and curl yourself into
a little ball, making fists with your hands and scrunching up your face. Then do the opposite: On a big exhalation, spread your fingers wide and place the palms on the thighs, stick your tongue out and down to your chin, and roll your eyes up to the space between your eyebrows. At the same time, make an audible sound:
"Hahhhhhhhhhh!" Repeat 3 times.
11. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Here we are again. Downward Dog is a home-base asana, one in which we can explore the challenge of being alert and attentive as well as the comfort of returning home. This is the essence of yoga: waking up and letting go at the same time. Think about staying present with your experience in every Down Dog and at the same time finding a sense of spaciousness within the pose's familiarity. After 5 breaths, begin the entire sequence to the other side.