The fact is, our bodies age, and at some point suffer injury or stop responding exactly the way we’d like them to. When that happens, there are two options: we can fight and resist our physical limitations and annoying “spots,” or we can find a way to work with them.
At the core of this work is unconditional love. If we can learn to love our bodies through aging, injury, and illness, we’ll inadvertently increase our compassion for ourselves—and for others.
When your body doesn’t respond the way you’d like it to, it may be due to physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual issues. Before practicing this sequence, ask yourself: Where do I feel limited in my body?
If you are working with a limitation caused by an injury or chronic, physical pain, have a licensed yoga therapist create a personalized sequence to address your body’s specific needs. Otherwise, depending on your answer to the aforementioned self-inquiry, choose one spot to work with as you practice this Forrest Yoga sequence. Focus your attention there, and get curious—particularly about your attitude. What is your intent for yourself and for the area of your body that you’re focusing on?
In every pose, try to maintain an attitude of curiosity about the spot you’re working with—sending your breath to, or toward, that space in your body. If you ever feel sharp pain (especially in your area of focus), back out of the pose into a modification where you can comfortably breathe without pain. There’s a good chance you’ll be amazed by what happens when you work with this combination of breath and attention.
Baddha Konasana with Kapalabhati Pranayama (Bound Angle Pose with Skull Shining Breath)
From a comfortable seat, bend your knees, and pull your heels toward your pelvis. Lower your knees to the sides, press the soles of your feet together, and place your hands behind your hips. Lift your ribs as you inhale. Then, complete 50 to 100 breaths, snapping your abdomen back toward your spine with each sharp exhale—releasing and relaxing your belly with each passive inhale. After your final exhalation, inhale, and retain your breath for as long as is comfortable. If your back rounds, sit against a wall.
Baddha Konasana, variation (Bound Angle Pose)
From Baddha Konasana, reach your right hand to the side, resting your fingertips on the ground. Inhale and stretch your left arm up and overhead. Exhale and sidebend to the right, reaching your top arm over your ear. Hold for 3 breaths, then repeat on the other side. Return to the first side and as you exhale, twist toward your right thigh, placing your hands on the floor (shown). As you inhale, traction your ribs forward over your right thigh, pulling your hands toward you isometrically. Hold for 3 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
See also How to Build a Home Practice
Abdominals with a Prop
Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place a block or a rolled-up mat or blanket between your thighs. Inhale and press your low back into the floor. Hold your breath, scoop your tailbone up, and squeeze the prop. Exhale and curl your head and shoulders up off of the floor, sending your elbows toward your thighs. As you inhale, lower your head and shoulders back down to the floor. Repeat 5–8 times. For more of a challenge, lift your feet from the floor and bring your knees above your hips—or straighten your legs.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, variation (Bridge Pose)
Leave the roll or block between your thighs, bring your arms to your sides, and walk your heels toward your sitting bones until they reach your fingertips. Press your feet into the mat, and lift your pelvis toward the ceiling. Leave your arms where they are, or slide them away from your torso. Either way, keep your arms relaxed, but work your legs. Inhale, and move your ribs toward your face; exhale, and press your feet down, squeezing the roll lightly. Lengthen your tailbone toward the backs of your knees. Hold for 8 breaths. To come out, inhale, and curl your pubic bone toward your navel. Exhale, and bring your upper, middle, and lower back—and then finally, your pelvis—down to the mat.
Come to your forearms and knees, with your knees directly below your hips, shoulders directly above your elbows. Press your forearms into the floor, keeping your palms flat on the mat. Curl your toes under, then exhale. Lift your knees away from the floor, pressing your heels down. If your hamstrings are tight, work with bent knees; otherwise, straighten your legs. Inhale, and press your forearms into the floor, moving your shoulder blades away from your ears and spine. Exhale, and relax your neck. Hold steady in this pose for 8 breaths, sending your breath into the area you decided to focus on at the start of this practice. To come out, lower your knees to the floor.
Come back to your forearms and knees on the mat. Leave your right forearm where it is, and slide your left hand backward, lifting your forearm and stacking your left elbow over your left wrist. As you inhale, expand your ribs away from your shoulders. Press evenly through your right forearm and left hand. As you exhale, straighten your legs, and press down through your heels. Hold for at least 5 breaths, focusing on your area. Then, repeat on the other side.
Classic Sun Salutation
Stand at the front of your mat in Tadasana with your hands in Anjali Mudra. As you inhale, stretch your arms forward and up and then overhead. As you exhale, fold into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). As you inhale, lengthen your spine, and step your left foot back into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge). Exhale, and step back into Plank Pose, then lower through Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) to the floor. Inhale to Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose); exhale, and press back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). From Down Dog, inhale to Anjaneyasana with your left foot forward, then exhale and bring your right foot to meet your left, folding forward into Uttanasana. Inhale to come back to Tadasana. Repeat 3–5 times. In Forrest Yoga, we first wake up each joint and muscle individually, and then we start to flow with Classic Sun Salutations.
Utthita Parsvakonasana, variation (Extended Side Angle Pose)
From Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II), bring your left forearm to your left thigh. Take your right arm overhead, reaching it behind your back so that your hand clasps the top of your left thigh. As you inhale, press your left forearm into your thigh, and lift your ribs up. As you exhale, relax your neck, and drop your left ear toward your left shoulder. Hold for 5–8 breaths, sending breath to the spot you’ve been focusing on.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, variation (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose)
From Virabhadrasana II, pivot on the ball of your right foot to come to a high lunge. Place your hands on the mat, set your back knee down, and heel-toe your front (left) foot into the space between your right wrist and hip, making a 45-degree angle with your left shin. Extend your right leg straight out behind you, and come onto your forearms. As you inhale, feel your back ribs expand. As you exhale, fold forward, and feel a release in your left hip. Hold for 5–8 breaths, then repeat poses 8–9 on the other side.
Ostrich Warrior I
From Tadasana, step your right foot back, turn your foot out slightly, and bring your right heel down as you bend deeply into your front knee, coming into Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I). Clasp your hands behind your back, and as you inhale, lift your ribs; as you exhale, bow forward, bringing your left shoulder inside your left knee. Draw your palms overhead to a place where you can still breathe comfortably. If your hamstrings resist, rest your torso on your front thigh. Hold for 5–8 breaths, relaxing your head, neck, and shoulders, and sending your breath and attention to your area.
Anjaneyasana, variation (Low Lunge)
From Virabhadrasana I, turn your back heel up. Release your hands to the mat, framing your front foot. Set your back knee down. As you inhale, lift your torso and arms overhead; as you exhale, reach your right arm across your body so your upper arm rests on top of your left thigh. Make a fist with your bottom (right) hand, and cup it in front of your chest with your left. As you inhale, press your right arm into your left thigh, and lift your chest. As you exhale, release your neck, and twist deeper into the pose. Hold for 5–8 breaths, then repeat poses 10–11 on the other side.
From Virabhadrasana II with your left leg forward, place your right hand on the floor on a diagonal, about 6 inches from your right foot. Place your left hand against your left, inner thigh, halfway between your hip and knee. As you inhale, press forward on your left thigh to traction your hip. As you exhale, arc your head and chest toward your back leg, opening up the left side of your waist. Hold for 5–8 breaths, breathing into your spot.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, variation (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose)
Starting in Pigeon Pose, sit down on your left hip. Move your shin forward so it’s parallel to the front edge of your mat, then grasp your foot with your right hand. Inhale, and pull your chest forward toward your foot; exhale and lower your chest down toward your foot. Hold for 5–8 breaths, then repeat poses 12–13 on the other side. If you feel discomfort in your hips or knees, lie down onto your back, and move into a reclining Pigeon Pose, bringing your legs to a Figure 4 position. Breathe!
From Virabhadrasana I, stretch your right arm and the fingertips of your right hand skyward on an inhalation. As you exhale, bring your right elbow across your body to the top of your left thigh. Make a fist with your bottom (right) hand, and cup the fist with your left hand, keeping your elbows in a straight line. Inhale, and press through your back foot to lengthen through your spine; exhale, and press your right arm into your left thigh to deepen the twist. Hold for 5–8 breaths. Find your spot.
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, variation (Pigeon Pose)
Starting in Pigeon Pose, keep your torso upright and walk your hands to the left until they frame your front left knee. As you inhale, lift up a little in your chest, and lengthen your torso over your thigh; as you exhale, drape your torso down over your thigh, and relax your neck. Rest your head on a block for support. If you feel comfortable, move your right elbow to the outside of your left leg, making a fist with your right hand and cupping your left hand over the top to press into a twist. Hold here for 5–8 breaths, then repeat poses 14–15 on the other side.
See also Style Profile: Ashtanga Yoga
Baddha Konasana, variation (Bound Angle Pose)
Lie down on your mat with your knees bent, and join the soles of your feet together. Lift your feet toward your chest, and clasp your hands around the outer edges of your feet. As you inhale, press your back ribs into the floor; as you exhale, pull straight down on your feet, bringing them closer to your chest. Hold for 5–8 breaths.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Lower your feet to the floor, and straighten your legs. Rest on your back with your arms alongside your body, hands by your hips, palms facing up. If you feel discomfort in your low back, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor to encourage a posterior tilt in your pelvis. This will remove any compression from the lumbar spine or sacroiliac joint. Relax here completely for 7–10 minutes.
See also Listening to Your Body
About Our Pro
Teacher and model Erica Mather is a certified Forrest Yoga instructor and mentor in New York City. Her online program, Adore Your Body, is a system designed to help students overcome body-image challenges. Learn more at ericamather.com.