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Are you having one of those days where you’re so preoccupied that you never find time to make it onto your mat? Actually, that’s probably what you experience a lot of days. But you don’t need to wait until you have time for an hour-long class to experience the benefits of yoga. Even a 15-minute yoga practice, when practiced unhurriedly, can help you become stronger, more flexible, less anxious, and closer to the person you know yourself to be.
This 15-minute yoga practice includes a little of everything—shoulder openers, hip openers, twists, core work, and subtle backbends. It will help you stretch, build strength, and relax so you can rest. All you need is a yoga mat and enough space to unroll your mat.
A 15-minute yoga practice for strength, flexibility, and calm
There’s no need to rush. You gave yourself these 15 minutes, so take it slowly as you move from pose to pose.
Start on your hands and knees with your knees directly under your hips and your wrists directly under your shoulders. Spread your fingers wide and press down firmly through your entire hands. Hug your fingertips into the mat and start to move your spine. You can do Cat and Cow by taking your belly toward the floor on an inhale and rounding your chin to your chest on an exhale, or you can simply take a few rounds of breath as you move in any way that feels good to you. Sometimes I like to make a circle with my spine, or shift my hips side to side, or draw my hips to my heels on the exhale. Anything goes here as you begin the practice as long as it feels good in your body. Take this time as an opportunity to check in, notice how you feel, and connect to the rhythm and sensation of your breath. Stay here for at least 4 to 5 rounds of breath.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
From Tabletop, tuck your toes under and press your hips up and back to Downward-Facing Dog. Make sure your hands are still firmly grounded. Try to push your hips up and back to lengthen your spine. If your hamstrings feel tight, keep a little bend in your knees. Peddle your legs, shift your hips side to side, and take 3 to 5 breaths here.
From Down Dog, shift your shoulders forward over your wrists to Plank (the upper position of a push-up) and stay here for 5 breaths. Plank builds strength in the core of your body and also in your arms and legs. Make sure your hips are almost as high as your shoulders. Don’t let your hips sink toward the floor.
From Plank, slowly lower yourself to your belly. The slower you go, the harder it will be. Notice your breath and your body. Stay present and mindful. Don’t let yourself go on auto pilot. You can bring your knees to the mat first if that feels better for you.
Prop yourself up on your elbows in Sphinx Pose. Press your hands, elbows, fronts of your hips, and the tops of your feet firmly into the mat. Feel the back of your body engage as you lift your chest. Take 3 breaths here.
From Sphinx, lower your chest and forehead to the mat, slide your hands alongside your chest, and tuck your toes. Push yourself straight up to Plank and then back to Downward-Facing Dog. Step your feet together and lift your right leg straight behind you in Three-Legged Dog. Lightly step your right foot forward and place it alongside your right hand and keep your back knee lifted. Move into a gentle twist by leaning onto your left hand and reaching your right hand up to the ceiling. Keep your right knee stacked over your right ankle. Push down firmly through your right foot and your left hand. Press your left heel toward the wall behind you. Take 5 breaths here.
Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
From Lunge Twist, bring your right hand to the mat and lower your left knee. Bring your hands to your right knee and lift your chest in a low lunge. Bend your right knee a little more to let your hips sink toward the mat to stretch the front of your left thigh. If it’s comfortable, reach both arms toward the ceiling. Keep breathing in and out through your nose and hold this pose for 5 breaths. Take your time. You have the entire 15-minute practice.
Place your hands alongside your right foot. Step back to Down Dog and repeat on the second side. Come back to Down Dog.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
From Down Dog, take your feet almost as wide as the mat. Walk your hands back to your feet and fold forward over your legs in Standing Forward Bend. Hang here and, if you like, take hold of opposite elbows and sway side to side. It’s fine to bend your knees if your hamstrings feel tight.
Take a shoulder stretch by interlacing your fingers behind your back. If you can’t clasp your hands easily, hold a strap or towel between your hands. Reach your arms overhead, keeping your fingers interlaced. Take a few breaths here and then release your hands back to the mat.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
From your standing forward fold, walk your hands out to Down Dog and bring your feet hip-distance apart. Shift into Plank Pose. Hold it for a couple of breaths and then slowly lower down to your belly. Place your hands alongside your chest and keeping your hips on the floor as you push your hands down and lift your chest slightly to come into Cobra Pose. Breathe into the stretch.
From Cobra, lower your chest and forehead to the mat, tuck your toes, and push yourself up and back to Down Dog. From Down Dog, step your feet together and lift your right leg into Three-Legged Dog. This time, open your right hip, bend your knee, and stack your hips. Breathe into the stretch. Extend your leg straight behind again in Three-Legged Dog.
Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2)
From Three-Legged Dog, look forward and step your right foot alongside your right hand. Adjust your feet so that your heels are aligned heel to heel, right foot facing directly forward, left foot turned slightly in. Bend your right knee and keep your left leg straight as you rise into Warrior 2. Stretch your arms out at shoulder height and look over your right fingertips. Take a couple of breaths here.
Utthita Parvsakonasana (Extended Side Angle) Variation
From Warrior 2, lean forward and reach your right hand down and place it on the floor inside your right foot and stretch your left hand straight up toward the ceiling in a variation of Extended Side Angle Pose and you’re welcome to come onto your right fingertips or place your right hand on a block. Try to keep your right knee stacked above your heel and open your chest to the left. Breath deeply and lean back slightly to create more openness. Take 5 breaths here.
Bring your left hand down to the floor and shift into a Low Lunge. Place your hands on each side of your front foot and step back to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat Warrior 2 and Side Angle on your left side.
Malasana (Garland or Squat Pose) Variation
From Down Dog, separate your feet as wide as your mat again and walk your hands to your feet. Turn your toes slightly out and bend your knees deeply to come into Squat. Crawl your fingers forward and shift your weight onto your toes and rock a little side to side. This is helpful to get a big stretch throughout your back body.
From a Squat, start to walk your hands back toward your feet and lift your hips to a standing forward bend. Keep your feet as wide as the mat and turn your toes to point forward. Bend your left knee, place your left fingertips a little in front of your left toes and beneath your shoulder, and reach your right hand toward the ceiling. Open your chest to the right side and look up to your right hand. Stay for about 5 breaths. Switch to the second side by releasing your right hand down to the mat, bend your right knee, push down through your right foot and right fingertips as you turn your chest open to the left and reach your left hand up to the ceiling. Stay here and breathe before you release your left hand to the mat.
Vasistasana (Side Plank Pose)
From your standing forward bend, walk your hands forward to Downward-Facing Dog. Reset your feet to bring them hip-distance apart. Shift forward to Plank Pose. Roll onto the outer edge of your right foot and lean all your weight onto your right hand. See if you can stack your left foot on top of your right. If that feels too difficult, stagger your feet so they’re both on the mat or bend your left knee and step your left foot in front of your hips. Reach your left hand straight up to the ceiling in Side Plank and try to lift your hips so that you’re not sagging or collapsing at your center. Squeeze your fingertips into the mat and imagine that you’re turning your hand to the right, like you’re trying to open a jar of peanut butter. That action will help to draw your shoulder blade onto your back and keep the energy from collapsing your right shoulder forward. Take a couple of breaths here.
Mindfully and with control, bring yourself back to Plank and switch to Side Plank on your left side. Slowly come back to Plank
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
From Plank, slowly lower onto your belly. Bend both your knees so the bottoms of your feet face the ceiling. Reach your hands back and take hold of your ankles for Bow Pose. Start to kick your feet back into your hands to lift your chest. Imagine Cobra in the front of your body but also lift your knees away from the floor. Keep pressing your feet back to lift and open your front body. Take a couple of breaths here and then slowly lower back down to your belly.
Place your hands alongside your chest for one more Cobra Pose. Inhale and lift your chest, keeping your hips and tops of your feet pressing down firmly into the floor. Roll your shoulders back and lift the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Draw your outer elbows back and in. Gently lower your chest and forehead down.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
From lying on the mat, make your way to your hands and knees, separate your knees a little bit wider then your hips, and bring your big toes to touch or close together. Draw your hips toward your heels as you come into Child’s Pose. Rest your forehead and elbows rest on the mat. Stay here for 5 breaths.
From Extended Child’s Pose, imagine that your hands are at 12 o’clock. Take a side stretch by walking your hands over towards 2 o’clock. Take a deep breath into the left side of your body. If you want to make the pose feel deeper, stack your left hand on top of your right hand. After a few breaths here, walk your hands over to 10 o’clock and find a big stretch across the right side of your body. If you want, stack your right hand on top of your left hand. Take a few breaths here and then walk your hands back to Child’s Pose.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (Pigeon Pose)
From Child’s Pose, bring yourself to Tabletop and set up for Pigeon Pose. Have your hands outer shoulder distance apart. Move your right knee forward near your right wrist. Shift your right foot in front of your left knee and slide your left knee backward until your hips are closer to the floor. Start to walk your hands forward, stack your hands, and rest your forehead on the back of your hands. Breath deeply into your right hip and rest here for 5 breaths. (If this is uncomfortable in your right knee, please come onto your back for a supine variation by crossing your right ankle onto your left knee and hugging your knees towards your chest.)
When you’re ready to come out, walk your hands back beneath your shoulders, place your palms flat, and lift yourself back to Tabletop. Repeat on your left side.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) Variation
From Pigeon on your left side, come to a seated position. Make the shape of a diamond with your legs. Press your feet together but move them out in front of you enough that you can round forward and aim your head towards your feet in a modified Bound Angle. Don’t worry if your head and feet are far apart, just round your spine and breath into your back body, feeling the stretch from your tailbone all the way to the top of your neck. Feel free to curl your chin deeper into your chest as you bow inward here. Slow your breath and know that your practice is nearing its end. Take a few breaths here.
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)
From your seated forward bend, slowly rise until your spine is vertical. Draw your legs together and extend your left leg straight out in front of you and bend your right knee, opening your right knee to the right side for seated Tree Pose. Place your right foot to the inner left thigh and turn your torso to face towards your left leg. Take a deep inhale and gently walk your hands towards your left foot in Head-to-Knee Pose. Bend your left knee if you can’t easily reach your left foot with your hands. Do not overstretch your low back or hamstrings. Bow your head and try to keep your right sit bone reaching toward the ground beneath you for a deeper stretch. After 5 breaths here, slowly rise and switch to your left side. Stay here for 5 breaths.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
From your seated forward bend, slowly sit up, then come onto your back. Bring your knees into your chest for Happy Baby Pose. Take your knees wide and reach your hands to the outer edges of your feet. If you can’t reach your feet, take your hands to your calves or behind your knees. Rock a little side to side, finding a nice massage for your lumbar (lower) spine.
From Happy Baby, hug both knees into your chest and then gently release your legs all the way down to the floor for Savasana, your final resting pose. Be still for at least a minute or two. Be aware of the natural rise and fall of your inhale and exhale and see if you can make your exhalations slightly longer then your inhalations. Relax the muscles of your face, softening around your eyes and jaw.
When you’re ready to rise, do so with a deeper awareness and mindfulness than you usually do. Move slowly and with your breath, even as you roll up your mat. Take a moment of gratitude here for yourself and for making it onto your mat today, even for a 15-minute yoga practice. It can feel like a major accomplishment on busy days to carve out room for yourself. It’s so important to do that. So cherish that and honor yourself and the fact that you made time for your practice today. You’ll rest well tonight.
About our contributor
Claire Mark is the director of teacher training at Yogaview in Chicago and the co-founder of Chill Chicago, a modern meditation studio. Claire has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1999, and she’s trained with some of the most well-known teachers in the US. Claire’s classes are vigorous and challenging, yet taught with kindness and acceptance. Claire is also a certified life coach, cookbook author, and mom. Learn more at chillchicago.com, yogaview.com, and clairemarkyoga.com.