Yoga becomes the training ground for making lasting change when you can meet any resistance with mindfulness, responding wisely instead of giving up. This sequence from Heather Lilleston, a Los Angeles–based yoga teacher and co-founder of Yoga for Bad People, will cultivate the curiosity, stamina, and strength you need to move deeper into your yoga practice and make lasting change in other areas of your life. Lilleston recommends holding each of the following poses for at least 10 breaths, eventually working up to 3, 5, or even 10 minutes in each posture. Practice overcoming any physical or mental resistance and sticking with the pose (but not if you feel sharp pain). At each step, listen to how your body responds and to any thoughts that appear.
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Inhale as you bend your knees
and sit back, lifting your arms alongside your ears and gazing overhead between your thumbs. Reach through your fingers and lift your chest. Utkatasana activates the legs, realigns the pelvis, lengthens the waist, opens the side ribs, and honors the natural curves of your spine. As you lower your hips, keep your tailbone lengthening toward the floor. Your natural inclination will be to come out of the pose because it acti- vates muscles we generally don’t use, but that’s even more of a reason to stay. Exhale to come back to Mountain Pose.
From hands and knees, exhale to extend your legs back, keep- ing your hips and shoulders in one long line, engaging your legs, broadening your collarbones, and drawing your navel toward your spine. Keep your shoulders over your wrists. Plank builds heat in the body by teaching us how to distribute our weight evenly. It tones the abdominal, leg, and arm muscles and can be a nice combo of stillness and strength when you commit to relaxing into the pose for a minimum of 3 minutes. Exhale to release back to hands and knees.
From standing, extend your arms out to your sides and step your feet out so your ankles line up with your wrists. Turn your right foot out so the toes face the front of your mat. On an exhalation, bend your front knee so the thigh is parallel to the ground, and the knee is above the ankle. Reach the center of your front knee toward your right second toe. Most of us meet physical and mental resistance in this pose. Stay here for at least 1 minute before inhaling to straighten the right leg and switch sides.
Sit with your legs extended in front of you. If you have tight hamstrings, place a blanket underneath your sitting bones. Flex your feet, lengthen your waist, and on an exhalation, reach for the outer edges of your feet. (If you can’t reach your feet, bend your knees as much as needed.) On your next exhalation, bend your elbows out to the sides to draw your rib cage forward, moving farther into the fold. Take your time entering the pose, not forcing anything. Focus on pay- ing attention to each incremental movement in the posture. Inhale to return to seated.
From Balasana (Child’s Pose), interlace your fingers, keeping your elbows shoulder-distance apart. Press your forearms into the floor and place the crown of your head on the floor between them, maintaining a natural curve in your neck. Inhale to lift your hips, and then walk your feet in a few steps. Bend your knees as you draw your heels to your seat, then extend your legs overhead. For newer practitioners, simply walk your feet toward your face with your head on or off the floor. Make sure there is no pressure on your neck. If there is, come out; if not, stay as long as possible, gradually building up to 5 minutes. Wait for your internal dialogue to kick in, and sit with what arises. Whatever comes to the surface, stay still. When you are ready to exit the pose, slowly lower your feet to the floor and rest in Child’s Pose for several breaths.
From hands and knees, bring your knees together and sit between your feet, heels to the outside of your hips. If this causes pain or pressure in your knees, or you can’t get your sitting bones to the floor, sit on a block. Make sure all 10 toes face straight behind you. Interlace your fingers, and on an inhalation, reach your arms overhead, turning your palms toward the sky. This pose stimulates digestion, re- centers your pelvis, lengthens your waist, and activates your arches and opens the tops of your feet. Stay for 3–5 min- utes, sitting with the resistance as it arises. (That resistance shouldn’t be felt in your knees.) Exhale to release your arms and come out.
From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), step your right foot forward into a lunge, then lower your left knee to the floor. Flex your right foot, and gradu- ally slide your heel forward. Press your right thigh down and draw your outer right hip back. Start to straighten your leg. Extend your legs only as far as you can without pain—if you go too far, you risk a hamstring tear. To modify, place one block or blanket under your right thigh, near your hip and high enough that you can relax and comfortably lift your hands off the floor, or use firm blocks under your hands and alongside your hips. For the first few moments, you should feel comfortable. After that, resistance will come up. Try to stay for 20 breaths. Even with proper support, people commonly want to exit this pose early. Remain in the posture, letting the initial layers of inner dialogue pass. Eventually, there will be a release into the asana in which the body begins to let go of gripping. To release, gently push back to Down Dog and switch sides.
Lie on your back and bend both knees, placing your feet hip-distance apart and parallel on your mat. Place your hands by your ears, fingers facing your shoulders. On an inhalation, press your hands and feet down, and lift your hips and chest into a backbend. Drop out of it the tiniest amount, slightly internally rotate your legs, lengthen your tailbone, and reach your armpits toward your wrists (8A).
Try to stay for 20–30 breaths and pay attention to where along your spine you feel either fluidity or resistance. Develop an evenness of effort in your whole body. If Wheel causes back pain or isn’t avail- able to you, practice Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) or Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) instead. To release, exhale and lower to the floor.
To neutralize your spine after Wheel Pose, gradually lift your feet off the floor and hold your knees, letting your lower legs dangle; allow your lower back to lift off the floor slightly. Finally, rock your pelvis from side to side. Stay for 30–60 seconds.
Lying on the floor, let your feet fall open, slightly wider than hip-distance. Extend your arms alongside your body, palms facing the sky. Turn on a favorite, calming 10-minute song. Remain in Savasana until the song ends. Simply doing nothing can be a tapas practice for some people. It may seem like a waste of time, but if you stay a full 10 minutes, layers of resistance start to fall away, helping the body and mind to rest.
After Savasana, take a comfortable seat. Make sure your knees are slightly lower than your hips. You can sit on a blanket or cushion to help. Place your hands on your thighs, palms facing down if your mind is active, palms up if you are tired. Close your eyes and remain still for 20 minutes. Focus on watching the breath enter and exit through the nostrils. Respond to everything that arises with stillness. It is normal to want to move or adjust; the discipline is to remain physically still. Eventually, the mind catches up and quiets. Notice which excuses and fantasies arise and simply watch them pass.
About Our Pro
Teacher and model Heather Lilleston is a vinyasa- teacher-training and retreat leader based in Venice Beach, California, and New York City. She has studied extensively with Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman Yee, Sharon Gannon, and David Life and now travels the world teaching yoga. You can find her schedule at heatherlilleston.com.