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Yoga has taught me that every body is meant to be loved and respected as it is now. You are already worthy of love. You are enough. We’re all enough. I started sharing my yoga practice on Instagram and then wrote my book, Big Gal Yoga, because I want everyone, no matter their size or shape, to be able to feel that way too.
The following sequence is all about fostering self-love. I’ve brought these asanas together because they open the heart, increase blood flow to the brain, and invite you to tap into your core strength, increasing confidence, silencing negative thoughts, and alleviating stress.
A Heart-Opening Sequence for Self-Love
Standing Backbend (Anuvittasana)
Stand at the front of the mat, feet hip-distance apart, and arms down by your side. Inhaling, reach the arms up straight overhead, fingertips reaching toward the sky. Exhaling, take the gaze up between the hands. If you are not used to backbends and are still working on the uplift and lengthening of the spine, a good way to support the back from crunching is to place the hands, palms with fingers pointing down, on the lower back. Squeeze the shoulder blades together to open the heart. If you feel comfortable without the hands, they can also be placed palms together at your heart center.
When you are ready: Ground your feet; lengthen your body from your kneecaps all the way to the tips of your fingers. Inhale and reach back with your arms, bringing the head back while moving your gaze behind you. Push the pelvis forward and squeeze the thighs and butt lightly as you arch the torso backward. Remember to engage the thighs and butt and lengthen the spine. Support the weight of the body in the arms as the back arches so you don’t crunch the lower back. Only bend as far as feels natural. Don’t force your back to go deeper than it can at the moment. It all takes time.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Begin in a standing position, facing the long side of your mat. Step the left foot 1–2 feet to the left and the right foot 1–2 feet to the right. Take a wide stance that feels comfortable for you, with your toes pointing ahead. Keep your knees slightly bent so that the knee joints do not lock straight. Place your hands on your hips, or inhale reaching the hands up overhead.
When you are ready: Inhale, and hold for a moment. Exhale, and bend forward at the hips. Drop your torso to bring your chest forward and the crown of your head down towards the floor. Fold as far as you can without discomfort. If you have a bigger belly, you can lift it up and away from you as you come into the pose to give you more room to fold forward. Drop your hands down to any arm variation you like: touching your fingertips to the floor or prop, holding on to opposite elbows, or touching the tops of the feet. Let your torso naturally hang down from your hips, keeping the legs upright and hips aligned with ankles. As you inhale lengthen the spine, and as you exhale fold deeper into the pose. To come out of the pose bend the knees more, and place your hands onto your hips. Use your legs to lift your torso back to an upright position. Step the feet back together into Mountain Pose.
Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)
Begin in a wide-legged stance with your feet about 3 feet apart, lengthwise on your mat. Pivot both of your feet outward as far as feels comfortable, keeping your ankles aligned with each other. Inhale and raise your arms up overhead with your palms facing forward, or begin with your hands placed on top of your thighs.
When you are ready: Exhale and bend your knees so they are aligned over your ankles. Drop your hips down into a hovered seat, with your thighs as parallel to the floor as you can manage so that it feels comfortable but challenging. Bend your arms at the elbows at a 90-degree angle so your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Spread your fingers wide, and press your shoulder blades together to open up your chest. Lengthen your spine, reaching up with the crown of your head.
Plant your feet into the floor. For an extra challenge lift your heels up off the floor coming onto the balls of the feet.
Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
Stand with feet 2–3 feet apart on your mat facing its long side. Pivot your right foot outward so your toes are pointing to the right. Place your left hand onto your left hip. Bend your right knee and lean your torso sideways to the right side. Drop your right arm down, placing your hand onto a prop or the floor about 1–2 feet in front of the right foot and just a couple inches to the right.
When you are ready: Press your fingertips into the prop or the floor and shift the weight of your body over to the right foot. Keep the gaze focused down on the right hand. Lift your left foot 6 inches off the ground, then extend the right leg and establish your balance on your right foot (you can stay here if it feels challenging enough for you. The more you practice, the higher you will be able to lift your leg, until it is parallel to the floor.) Once you find your position for Half Moon Pose, broaden your shoulders, opening up your chest. Push your hips forward. Gaze ahead, focusing on your drishti to help with balance.
Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Begin on all fours, with or without props, placing the hands down with fingers wide, and tucking your toes underneath. Press your palms, fingers, and balls of your feet firmly into the mat.
Inhale and lift your knees an inch or two up off the ground, and hold for a few moments to feel the sensations on the hands and feet.
When you are ready: Exhale; as you lift the butt up towards the sky, drop the chest down towards the mat, and pull your hips up and back, straightening the arms and legs. Drop your heels towards the floor.
Press away from the floor with equal pressure in your hands and feet to lift up with your hips, extending your spine and firming your thighs. Keep your arms straight without locking your elbows, and your head between your upper arms with your neck extended so your head does not hang or turtle into the shoulders.
It’s more important that the arms are straight and aligned with the back and spine than it is to have the legs fully extended and straight. So bend the knees as much as you need until your flexibility increases and you can fully extend them.
Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Begin on all fours, with your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Move your left knee up to your left wrist, and swing your left ankle under your right hip or next to your right wrist. Find out which position works for you.
When you are ready: Wiggle and slide your right leg straight back, inching it farther back and opening the hips. Sink your hips and pelvis down towards the floor, placing a prop underneath your left hip for support if needed. Place your hands in front of your left shin or by the side of your hips, rooting them into the floor. Push your chest out and elongate your spine, lifting up from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
Begin lying on your back with your arms down by your sides. Bend both of the knees into the chest.
When you are ready: Drop both knees over to the left side, and turn the torso and chest over towards the right side, dropping the arms down and out into a “T,” looking at the right hand. Turn your head and gaze over to the right side. Feel the twist all the way from your right arm, across your chest and torso, and down your right hip, leg, and foot
See also The A-to-Z Guide to Yoga Cues
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
To end this sequence, lie on your back and bring your knees against your chest. Rock from side to side to massage your back against the floor. When you are ready, come up to finish in Child’s Pose.
Find detailed instructions on how to access each pose, including props and modifications, in Big Gal Yoga: Poses and Practices to Celebrate Your Body and Empower Your Life. The book is organized as a 30-day challenge, with a new pose introduced each day. That structure is very intentional, so that each of us can start where we are, and develop a yoga practice over time. You don’t need to be a certain weight or have any specific thing happen in order to be ready to start doing yoga. You just need to take the first breath.
Adapted from Big Gal Yoga: Poses and Practices to Celebrate Your Body and Empower Your Life by Valerie Sagun. Published July 25, 2017 by Seal Press.
About the Author
Valerie Sagun, aka Big Gal Yoga, is a yoga practitioner, installation artist, ceramicist, radical self-love enthusiast, and body-positive encourager based in the SF Bay Area. Big Gal Yoga: Poses and Practices to Celebrate Your Body and Empower Your Life is her first book. Look for her on tour (dates, times, and places TBA).