The new year is when many of us think about what we want more (or less) of in our lives—and what we’re going to do to make our dreams a reality. In order to do this successfully and sustainably, you must have a combination of stability and ability. That’s where Katonah Yoga comes in. Developed by veteran yoga teacher Nevine Michaan, Katonah incorporates Taoist principles, Chinese medicine, and sacred geometry to work with the body’s glands and internal organs.
One of the big aims of Katonah Yoga is to help you feel more stable by “fitting” yourself into your own body. For example, when you’re in a low lunge with your right foot forward and your hands alongside your feet, your right knee should fit into your right armpit. This makes it easier to feel more rooted, balanced, and buoyant in the shape of each posture. I practice the following sequence most mornings. When I start the day from a stable, grounded place, I’m able to see what’s going on around me, name where I want to go, and figure out the best way to get there.
Standing at the top of your mat, fold forward, bending your knees enough that your rib cage touches your thighs. If you tend to dig your heels into your mat, bring more of your weight into the balls of your feet. Spread and lengthen your toes to make a clearer connection to the earth. Fit the tips of each elbow into the opposite palm. Let your head and neck hang. Stay here for 5 breaths.
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Place your hands on the ground, and bend your knees even more. Lift your sit bones toward the sky, and walk your feet back to Down Dog. Bend your knees again and lift your sit bones so you feel a wave-like motion through your lower back; this helps you move more energy through the pose. Hold for one round of breath, then move from the balls of your feet into Plank Pose, maintaining a back bend behind your heart. Alternate between Down Dog and Plank Pose 10 times.
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From Down Dog, come onto all fours with your knees under your hips, hands under your shoulders. Spin your wrists so your fingers face your knees. Root your pinky toenails into the mat and begin to undulate your spine slowly, rounding your back as you forcefully inhale (Cat Pose), and arching your back (Cow Pose) as you forcefully exhale (Bhastrika Pranayama, a.k.a. Bellows Breath). Repeat 5 times.
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Stay on all fours with your knees under your hips, hands under your shoulders, and wrists flipped so your fingers face the back of your mat. (Feel free to shake out your hands if your wrists need a break.) From this shape, start to move your torso clockwise, alternating between big and small circles. Do this for 30 seconds, then switch directions and repeat on the other side.
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Step your right foot forward and bend your right knee so it’s directly above your heel. Keep the top of your left foot on the mat and root your left pinky toe down, which will help you find an even pelvis. Bring your arms into a frame shape above your head, grasping each elbow with the opposite hand and feeling the connection between your palms and elbows. Lift your pubic bone toward your navel and your navel toward your sternum; then let your head lean back between the frame of your arms. Stay here for 5 breaths.
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From Low Lunge, place blocks on either side of your front foot. Hop your back foot inward until you feel the support of your back leg. Keep your back heel lifted so it is easier to square your hips. Fold over your front leg, and lift the right side of your belly away from your right thigh so your pelvis is even. Let your head drop, but lift your shoulder blades away from your ears. Hold here for 5 breaths, then repeat Low Lunge and Parsvottanasana on the other side.
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Remove the blocks, place your hands on the mat, and walk back to Down Dog. Step both feet forward to shorten the length of your Down Dog, and come to the balls of both feet. With your left hand, grab your right heel, cupping your heel into the palm of your hand. Turn and look underneath your right arm and bend your left knee so it fits into your left armpit. Use that connection to feel more stable and make more space for your right lung and kidney. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.
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From Down Dog, come to Plank Pose. Move your right shin toward the front of the mat, placing it on the floor with your knee bent. If needed, use a blanket under your right sit bone to ground your pelvis, helping you find more rise through your torso. Fold forward over your right shin, and place a block under your chest so your lungs are supported; place another block under your forehead to prevent sinking too deeply into the forward fold. Stay here for 5 breaths; repeat on the other side, and finish in Down Dog.
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Lunge your right leg to 90 degrees and spin your back heel to the floor. Take your right hand to the inside of your right foot, and spin it 180 degrees. Find the connection of your right knee to your right shoulder. Push your knee into your shoulder and your shoulder into your knee, rotating your heart skyward. Raise your left arm, stacking it on top of your bottom arm, and feel an opening through your rib cage. Stay here for 5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
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Stand at the top of your mat and bring your feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees to come to a full squat with your toes pointing forward. Sit on a block if needed, which may allow for a deeper stretch in your groins. Bring your armpits over your knees and your hands to Anjali Mudra (Prayer Pose) in front of your heart. Release your hips downward as your chest rises. Stay here for 5 breaths.
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Sit on a bolster or stack of blankets so your hips are higher than your knees, creating space for your kidneys and lungs. Stack your shins on top of one another with your ankles over your knees, so that each foot is just o each knee. Flex your feet to protect your knees and fold forward. As you do this, avoid rounding your upper back. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch the cross of your legs.
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From a seated position, cross your left thigh over your right so that your knees are directly on top of one another. Plug your pubic bone down as you lift up through your sternum, and fold forward. Fit your left knee into your left armpit, and swim your right arm up; then switch the twist, swimming your right arm down so your left knee fits into your right arm- pit. Continue to swim your arms like this, making the connection between armpit and knee each time. Repeat 5 times, then switch the cross of your legs and repeat on the other side.
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From Sukhasana (Easy Pose), place two blocks at the highest height under your shoulder blades. Make an upside down T shape with two more blocks, placing them under your head. Let your arms open wide and your legs lengthen outward. Rest deeply into the earth. Take long, slow inhalations and exhalations in this restorative pose. Stay here for a minute or longer. Option: Try grabbing opposite elbows with each hand and dropping your arms behind your head.
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Remove the blocks and lie down flat on the mat with the soles of your feet hip-width apart. Lift your hips and place two blocks on their highest setting, side by side, under your sacrum. Lift your legs up, and wrap your right leg over your left in Garudasana (Eagle Pose). Then, drop your left foot down to the mat, a few inches to the left. Breathe into your outer right hip, psoas, and IT band. Take 10 breaths here, then repeat on the other side.
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Bring your knees together and sit back on a block between your heels. Lift the skin of your knees, and press the heels of your hands into the heads of your femur bones as you wiggle your waist long. Take your arms into a big V above your head, making cup shapes with your hands. Start to pump your breath in and out in Kapalabhati Pranayama (Skull Shining Breath), giving yourself a total count of 50–100 breaths. As you pump your breath, imagine grace raining down from the universe into your cup-shaped palms.
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Stay seated in Virasana and bring your hands onto your shoulders, keeping your elbows high. As you inhale, twist your torso to the left; as you exhale, twist your torso to the right. Continue to inhale and exhale for 1 minute, twisting your torso to either side with each inhalation and exhalation. Breathe forcefully through your nose at the rate of one second per inhale and one second per exhale. Option: Finish your practice by resting in Savasana.
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Teacher and model Sian Gordon is a yoga teacher and the cofounder of Love Yoga studios in the Los Angeles area. Learn more at loveyogaspace.com