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If you’ve been sitting all day, this afternoon practice will feel wonderful! Featuring standing poses to open your hips, twists to help open your thoracic spine, some core work to strengthen your center, a thigh stretch to combat the effects of sitting, a pose to work all your joints, and, finally, an inversion to get your blood flowing and energize you for the rest of the day. This short practice will bring you some internal juice so you can skip the afternoon coffee break.
Come onto your mat on your hands and knees. Have your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Now, walk your hands one hand print forward from this position. Place your hands shoulder-width apart with the creases of your wrists parallel to the front edge of your mat and your fingers spread wide apart. If you are tighter in your shoulders, take your hands a little bit wider and turn them out slightly towards the edges of your mat. With your arms straight and strong, tuck your toes under in the back and lift your hips up and back. Make sure that your feet are hip distance apart. If you have tight hamstrings, bend your knees and press your hands down and forward to lift your hips up and back. Imagine making your body into an inverted V position. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
From Downward-Facing Dog, shift your shoulders forward to an upper push-up position. Keep your hips almost as high as your shoulders. Lift your navel towards your spine. Line up your shoulders so they are stacked directly on top of your wrists, and draw your chest and gaze forward as you push your heels back towards the wall behind you. Stay here for 5 breaths.
From Plank Pose, gently lower to your belly. You can place your knees down first if it feels too challenging to lower down in one straight line. Once you are on your belly, prop yourself up onto your forearms. Place your elbows under your shoulders with your palms flat out in front of you and look to make sure that your forearms are two parallel lines to each other. Keep your feet hip distance apart and point your toes back. Root down through all the parts of your body that are in contact with the floor, your toes, hips, elbows, forearms, hands. Feel the engagement of the muscles that line your spine. Stay here for 5 breaths.
Warrior II/Extended Triangle/Extended Side Angle Poses
You can enter these next 3 poses from either Downward-Facing Dog or from standing. If standing, take a wide stance to face the side edge of your mat. Do all three poses on one side and then repeat the same three poses in the same order on the second side. Start with Warrior II. From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward towards your right hand and place your back heel to the floor and rise up to standing. From a wide standing stance, turn your right foot out 90 degrees and angle your back foot in 10 to 15 degrees. Line up your feet so that heels are parallel and bend your right knee so that it stacks directly on top of your heel with your thigh parallel to the floor. Point the center of your right knee towards the second and third toes of your right foot. Keep your torso perpendicular to the floor and root down through the outer edge of your back foot, keeping your back leg straight and strong. Reach your arms out at shoulder height and look out over your front right hand. Keep your gaze steady and take five breaths here.
On your next inhale, root down with your right foot and straighten your front leg. Moving into Extended Triangle Pose, lift your heart up and reach your right hand as far forward as you can over your right leg. When you can’t reach any further, tilt down and place your right hand wherever it falls naturally, on your shin, ankle, a block or the floor. Reach your left hand directly up to the ceiling. Lean your upper body back in space so that you are one perpendicular line from your right hand to your left hand. In the classic pose, the gaze, or dristi, is up at the top hand, but, if this position stresses your neck, you can look straight ahead or even down. Ground down through the ball of your front big toe and the outer edge of your back foot. The general foot alignment here is the same as in Warrior II, and our next pose, Side Angle.
Take a few deep breaths here and then start to bend your front knee to move into Extended Side Angle Pose. For this final pose in the mini sequence, make sure that your front knee is stacked directly on top of your heel with your front thigh parallel to the floor. Place your right hand on the outside of your right foot, either on your fingertips, or, if you’re very flexible, you can place your palm flat to the floor. If either of these hand positions feel too challenging, prop your right elbow on top of your right knee. From here, extend your left arm up and over your ear reaching your left fingertips away from your back foot. The left side of your body should look like one long diagonal line. Root firmly down through the outer edge of your back foot and reach with your top hand. Make sure that your left arm is rotated so that your palm is facing the floor, and, if you can, rotate it even a bit more so that your pinky finger is facing towards the floor. Take five breaths here. If you came from Downward-Facing Dog Pose, place your palms on either side of your front foot and return to Downward-Facing Dog. If you started in standing position, then root down through your feet evenly and rise up to standing. Rotate your feet in the opposite direction to do the same three poses on the second side.
High Lunge Twist/Pyramid Poses
From the top of the mat step your left foot to the back of your mat and keep your hands on the floor on either side of your right foot. Place your left palm on the floor a few inches away from your front foot. Keep your front foot pointing directly forward and have your knee stacked directly on top of your heel with your thigh parallel to the floor. Keep your back toes tucked under and your back leg straight and strong. Turning your chest to the right, lift your right hand up to the ceiling so that you’re twisting. Find length across your chest, and, as you root your front palm down, firmly reach your top hand up with your fingers spread wide apart. Take a couple deep breaths here. If it doesn’t bother your neck, shift your gaze upward, otherwise keep your neck in a neutral position.
For Pyramid Pose, bring your right hand to the floor and step your left foot forward so that your feet are now about 3 – 4 feet apart in length. Keep your feet hip-width distance with your front foot still pointing forward and your back foot angled out at 45 degrees. Ideally you’ll want both legs straight, if it’s difficult to touch the floor on either side of your front foot, you can place blocks under your hands. Try to square your hips towards the front of your mat and root down evenly through the four corners of each foot. Fold your torso down over your front leg and feel the stretch in the back side of your front leg.
Take five breaths here and then step your left foot to the front of your mat to switch to the second side.
Start by standing at the top of your mat with your feet together and your arms by your sides. On your next inhale reach your arms up to the ceiling and then swing your right arm under your left crossing at the elbows, and, if possible, double cross back at your wrists so that your palms are together with your thumbs facing towards your nose. Drop your shoulders away from your ears gently and focus your gaze on a stationary point in front of you. Bend both knees and lift your right leg up and cross it over your left leg, like you’re sitting crossed legged in a chair. From there, if you can, double cross your right foot behind your left ankle. If you can’t double cross the legs, don’t worry about it just try to focus on balancing and rooting down through your left foot. This posture works all the major joints in your body, so sit your hips down a little lower and squeeze your arms and legs together tight. Hold this pose for five breaths and then switch to the second side.
Start by standing at the top of your mat with your toes side by side. Bend both knees and slide back like you’re sitting in an imaginary chair. Bring your hands into prayer position in front of your heart center. Inhale and lift your chest up, and, as you exhale, twist to the right and hook your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Push your right hand into your left hand so that your thumbs are lined up at the center of your chest. Try to keep your knees aligned and avoid having one knee slide in front of the other. Draw the weight back towards your heels and slightly lift your toes off the ground. Take five breaths here, and then switch to the second side.
Take a seat on your mat. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor about 8 to 12 inches in front of your hips. Lean your upper body back so that your upper body and thighs create the shape of a capital V position. Reach your arms directly out in front of you so that your arms are parallel to the floor. Lift your heart and keep your gaze steady. From here slowly lift your feet up off the floor. Keep the balance steady and have your shins parallel to the floor. If this feels okay, try straightening your legs and pointing your toes so you are now in a V shape with your legs and torso. Spread your toes wide apart and try not to strain the muscles of your face or neck. Take a few breaths here and then place your feet to the floor to pause before doing a second set. If you feel up for it, do this pose three to five times. It’s great for building core strength.
Forearm Plank and Side Forearm Plank Poses
This next set of poses are wonderful to build core strength. Come onto your stomach on your mat. Prop yourself up onto your forearms and interlace your fingers. Make sure your elbows are just shoulder distance apart, not wider. Tuck your toes under and lift yourself up by pressing down firmly with both arms and your toes. Lift your body so that you are parallel to the floor, checking to make sure that your hips aren’t lower or higher then your shoulders. Lift your navel towards your spine and direct your tailbone towards your heels. Keep your neck in line with your spine and gaze at your thumbs.
Hold it here for five breaths and then shift to Forearm Side Plank. Roll over onto your right forearm and the outer edge of your right foot. Stack your left foot on top of your right foot and root down through the outer edge of your right foot to lift your hips up a bit. Raise your left hand up towards the ceiling and look directly out in front of you. If you have no neck issues, shift your gaze up towards your top hand. Hold here on your right side for five breaths and then switch to your left side. After you’ve done the left side, come back to center in Forearm Plank Pose, take a breath, and lower onto your belly to rest.
Wide Low Lunge /Half Splits Poses
From Downward-Facing Dog, lift your right leg up behind you and take a big step to the outside of your front right hand. Place your back knee onto the floor, and, while leaning over towards your left hand, place your right hand onto your right knee and twist to the right. Your right foot should be turned slightly out the the right, about 15 degrees. Drop your hips towards the floor and feel the stretch in the front of your left hip. If this feels easy, bend your back knee and reach back with your right hand and take hold of the outer edge of your left foot. Lift your heart up and draw your right shoulder back in space while drawing your left foot closer in towards your hips. Take a few deep breaths here.
To release, slowly let go of your back foot, and moving towards Half Splits, toe-heel your right foot towards the midline of your mat. Shift your hips back in space and wiggle your right heel forward a couple of inches until your hips are stacked over your left knee and your right leg is straight out in front of you. Turn your chest slightly to the right so that you’re squared over your right leg and start to fold forward evenly over your right leg. This pose opens the back side of your front leg and will help stretch your hamstrings. Take about five breaths here and then shift to Downward-Facing Dog Pose to switch sides.
L-Pose or Handstand at the Wall
Move your mat to the wall and line up the short end of your mat flush against the edge of the wall. For L-Pose (which is a great modification of handstand), come onto your hands and knees with your toes tucked under at the edge of the wall. Line up your hands so that they are shoulder distance apart. Spread your fingers wide and align your hands so that the creases of your wrists are parallel to the short edge of your yoga mat. Lift your knees up off the floor coming into a short down dog with your heels at the edge of the wall. Firmly press down with your hands and keep your arms straight. Keep your gaze at your feet and, as you come into this pose, keep looking at the wall – do not look down or forwards.
Start to walk your feet up the wall until you create an upside-down “capital L” position with your body. You should have your arms and torso perpendicular to the floor and your legs parallel to the floor. If you have tight hamstrings, bend your knees. Continue to root down with your hands firmly and try to move your chest towards the wall. Stay here for five breaths, and then walk your feet down the wall to rest in Childs Pose.
Don’t be surprised if this pose feels very challenging. I think it’s actually harder than Handstand physically, although Handstand is more challenging mentally. If you’d like to try Handstand, turn around and face the wall. Start the same way, on hands and knees. But, this time, keep your hands one full hand print away from the wall. Line up your hands so that they are shoulder-distance apart and have your fingers pointing forward. Keep your arms straight and your gaze on the floor, looking between your thumbs during the whole pose. Tuck your toes under in the back and lift your hips up to that short downward facing dog. Shift your shoulders forward so they are stacked directly on top of your wrists, and, keeping your gaze forward with your arms straight and strong, step one foot in slightly and kick up with the opposite leg. Think “hips over shoulders” to try to get yourself all the way up. Once you get your legs to the wall remember to keep your gaze between your thumbs on the floor, and hug your legs together reaching your heels up the wall. Stay here for just a few breaths. To come down keep your hands rooted and arms straight. Lower one leg down at a time and rest in Childs Pose.
Legs Up the Wall
Keeping your mat at the wall, move your body so that you’re sitting on your mat with one hip right up at the edge of the wall. Slowly swing your legs upward so that you’re lying down on your back with both legs going directly up the wall. You can place your hands on your belly or have your arms out in a cactus position. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Stay here for a couple of minutes of relaxation and surrender. To come out, bend your knees and roll over to the right side and stay curled up on your right side for a few breaths.
For this final resting pose, relax completely on your back. Take your feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Move your arms a bit away from your body with your palms facing the ceiling. Adjust your shoulder blades so that they are flat beneath you. Close your eyes and relax your jaw. Stay here for a few minutes allowing yourself to receive all the benefits of your practice.
See more of Claire Mark’s daily sequences: