In honor of National Yoga Month, we’re recommitting to a daily practice—one of the best ways to build balance, mobility, and strength to use both on and off the mat—and challenging you to join us. This week, international yoga teacher and LUXYOGA founder, Benjamin Sears, gives us a twisting, lunging, heat-building sequence andpractice plan. Use it as a foundation to take your home practice to the next level. Follow along on Facebook @YogaJournal and #practicedaily.
Freedom is crucial to establishing a home practice. By freedom, I’m talking about the feeling that comes from discipline, which helps you walk the long road toward skillful intuition. Building your intuition will help you practice in a way that serves the moment. Knowing yourself is the first step to knowing how to serve yourself and others.
While establishing a home practice isn’t easy, I stick by three things that make it more accessible. First, start out with a plan or a set sequence to follow. This will help you establish a routine. To really reap the benefits of a constant yoga practice, keep at it for a sustained, long period of time. (It may take weeks and months for you to build a strong home practice that you can draw on, in all areas of your life.) Second, fire up your breath. It’s pretty simple: life force helps keep you grounded and in the moment. And finally, set a time to practice and stick to it as best you can. I know life is busy and things come up, but practicing around the same time each day should help reinforce your routine.
This sequence is well-rounded, in that you get small backbends, lunges, twists, and warming flow, without taking you too far in any one direction. You can do it in a limited amount of time without needing counterposes or a long unwinding practice at the end. The Pigeon Pose at the end of each practice down-regulates your nervous system to prepare you for Savasana. Or, keep going on your own and build into more hip openers, forward folds and twists, or carve your way into backbends—then unwind. This sequence will be a good base for pretty much any yoga practice. Make it more challenging with the lunge variations as the week progresses and you’ll see how easy it is to vary your routine with simple tweaks.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Days 1–7: 6 rounds, or 4 minutes
This Pranayama balances the right and left nadis (psychic channels), calms the nervous system, and helps control cravings and mood swings. On a simple level, it makes sense to start any physical activity with breathing—efficient breathing makes for an efficient body and this exercise combines breath activation and awareness to calm you for the poses to come.
HOW TO Sit cross-legged or kneeling with your spine straight. Use a block or blanket under your pelvis to sit forward of your sitting bones, which will help extend your spine. Your perineum is your third foot—this is your base for seated meditation. Place your left hand in Gyan Mudra (make the “OK” sign), with your hand in your lap. Place your right hand in Vishnu Mudra (bend your index and middle finger and push them behind the lump of your inner thumb knuckle. Exhale completely. Block your right nostril with your thumb, inhale through your left nostril for 3 counts. Hold your breath, lift your chest and bring your chin to your chest—apply Mula Bhanda and hold for 12 counts.
Release your thumb from your right nostril and exhale for 6 counts. Inhale through your right nostril for 3 counts—hold as directed above, then exhale only though the left nostril. This constitutes 1 round, do 6 rounds or set a timer for 4 minutes. Always finish with an exhale through the left nostril.
See also The Science of Breathing
Days 1–7: 5 fingers of each hand
This type of wrist prep is crucial to maintaining healthy wrists because it strengthens and stretches all of the ligaments, tendons and muscles, before you move into weight-bearing poses. (This is also a great breath awareness exercise.)
HOW TO Turn on your deep Ujayi breathing—inhale and exhale with your nose, drawing air through your constricted throat. This is how you’ll breathe for this entire practice. Make a very slight snoring sound without straining your vocal chords. Sit up tall. Extend your left arm at shoulder height, palm facing away. Stretch your fingers apart as wide as possible, and down toward the floor. Important: keep strong lines of energy through your fingers the whole time. Hold just your left pinky finger with your right hand. Take a huge inhale, stretching your torso upward, exhale and gently pull back on your pinky, while reaching out through your other fingers. Let your wrist flex backward so that you feel a strong stretch in your wrist, forearm, and possibly even into your shoulder and chest. Move onto your fourth finger and take one long breath in/out for each finger. Then switch hands and repeat. Keep your breath up and use this exercise not only to prepare your wrists but to tune your breath to your movements.
Spinal Rolls in Cross-Legged Position
Days 1–7: 5 revolutions each direction
One of the most challenging aspects of self-practice is just getting started. Spinal rolls will get you moving and help loosen you up to shake off the cobwebs. Movement is motivation.
HOW TO Place your hands on your knees. Roll your spine around the widest circumference you can. Try to touch your ribs to all the edges of your skin. Imagine that there is a tiny dot in the center of your chest and try to move in the widest circle possible. Start moving clockwise for 5 revolutions and then do 5 in the other direction. When you roll from chest forward like Camel Pose into a round spine position, shift your pelvis from anterior (butt sticking back) to posterior (tailbone tucked) tilt. Imagine your spine rolling around itself rather than just circling your base. Inhale to reach your chest forward into the backbend piece and exhale as you begin to round to the side and back.
Day 1–2: 4 repetitions each side
Day 3–4: 5 repetitions each side
Day 5–6: 6 repetitions each side
Day 7: 8 repetitions each side
Build functionally strong abdominals and use these as a great warm up to show how micro-movements can inform bigger awareness and success later in your practice.
HOW TO Lie down on your back. Interlace your hands behind your head with your thumbs supporting your occipital ridge (where your skull meets your neck). Lift your legs and bend your knees. Keep knees over your hips and feet below your knees. Spread your toes wide and reach through the balls of your feet. Inhale, curl your head and shoulders up off the ground. Keep space between the chin and chest, and support your head with your hands rather than gripping with your throat muscles. Holding your breath, curl only your tailbone straight up, keep your legs perpendicular to the ground (don’t crunch legs to face). Exhale, extend your right leg out at about 45-degree angle, roll your right thigh in and reach with the ball of your foot. Keep your elbows up and track them slightly toward your left knee. Pull your lower belly down. Move slowly to reap the benefits—the power of these movements lies in the subtlety. These are not bicycle crunches, but a nuanced way to learn to use your abdominals to decompress your lower back and move your sitting bones together.
NOTE: If your lower back is sensitive, extend your leg straight up, not at a 45-degree angle.
Days 1–7: Hold for 10 breaths
This pose strengthens your lower body and clarifies the relationship between the pelvis and torso to keep you safe in backbends.
HOW TO From your abdominal work lying on your back, bend your knees and put your feet flat on the floor. Reach down and touch your middle fingers to your heels to establish the proper distance from your feet to your tailbone. Keep your palms up and your arms relaxed. (By deactivating your arms and neck in this pose you will generate more awareness and action from your legs and core.) Lift your toes and spread them to strengthen your calf muscles and support your knees. Inhale to telescope your ribs out of your hips and lift your hips up on the exhale, slowly. Keep your tailbone tucked, and rather than lift into your highest Bridge, use the pose to decompress your lower back. Keep your deep breath going. At the beginning of your inhale, increase the tuck in your tailbone and keep inhaling to lengthen your core and torso. Send breath between each one of your ribs. On the exhale, press down with your heels to lift your pelvis further out of your lower back. Enjoy the feeling of your legs waking up. A big piece of progress in your practice will be learning to give yourself breath support in challenging moments. Keep your neck and arms relaxed and do the work with your legs and breath.
One-Legged Dolphin Pose
Days 1–4: Hold for 5 Breaths each side
This pose strengthens and stretches your shoulders and serves as a great prep for inversions, lengthening your back. Feel how proper execution can balance flexibility and strength in the same pose.
HOW TO From your knees, bring your forearms to the ground, one forearm length apart, and parallel to each other. (Note: you can interlace your fingers if your shoulders feel excessively tight or if you have a shoulder issue.)
Relax your neck down and squeeze your elbows in to turn on your chest and under-armpit muscles. (This is what I refer to as “wrapping your shoulders.”) Inhale and press your forearms into the ground so your shoulders are slightly rounded in your upper back. Exhale, tuck your toes under, lift your hips and walk your feet in. Walk your feet in slightly closer than hip-width apart, take a strong inhale and on the exhale stretch your right leg back and up. This is not meant to be a backbend or Scorpion variation. Keep your two hips in line and reach back through your right foot to lighten the load on your arms. Imagine that your leg start in your middle back and reach your leg all the way out from there to decompress your back and help you to stretch your shoulders. Breathe. The biggest key to this Dolphin variation is to keep a strong wrap in your shoulders. Use your inhalations to press away from the floor with your elbows and hands and your exhales to reach back with your upper leg. Keep your upper leg straight and your thigh muscles contracted. After 5 full breaths, switch to the other side.
Days 5–7: Add Dolphin; Hold for 10 breaths
Regular Dolphin Pose is deceptively more challenging because with one leg up, the container of the pose is open and less flexibility is required. Follow the instructions from One-Legged Dolphin, keeping both feet on the floor instead.
Add this “variation” on day 5, and repeat for days 6 and 7.
See also 4 Steps To Master Dolphin Pose
Days 1–7: 10 repetitions, hold last one for 5 breaths
Use this pose-to-pose mini sequence to fire up your legs and core and build heat in your body. It’s a great way to get warm when you’re doing a shorter yoga practice and don’t have time for full Vinyasas.
HOW TO Start in Plank Pose with your wrists under shoulders, balls of your feet on the floor. Pull back on the mat with your fingers, press down with your inner hands to protract your shoulders, and reach back through your heels to shift your pelvis to neutral. Suck in your stomach and feel a front of hip and low back stretch. Keep pressing with your hands, start to bend your knees, lift your heels and shift your hips up and back. This will ensure you transition from the hinge of your hips and strength of your legs rather than struggling with your upper body. Keep your knees bent when you reach Downward-Facing Dog. Don’t worry about stretching your hamstrings by smashing your heels to the ground, but instead focus on the greater benefit of the Dog: lengthening your back via hip flexion. To return to Plank, push from the balls of your feet and lead with your hips so that your lower body powers the transition. Inhale to Plank, exhale to Dog to oil your hip joints. Do 10 repetitions and hold the last Down Dog for 5 breaths keeping your knees bent, heels up, shoulders wrapped and pressing away from the floor with your hands.
Hint: I like to imagine pressing beams of light through my palms into the floor to get a rebound lengthening effect up into my back. I know it sounds a little new-agey, but any time you feel like you are sinking or heavy in a pose, press into the floor with more energy and you’ll get more energy from the pose.
Days 1–7: Pair with Vinyasas as needed
Cobra Pose is a great transitioning pose that strengthens your spine, chest, shoulders, core and lungs. It also stimulates the abdominal organs and helps relieve stress and fatigue.
HOW TO From Plank Pose, put your knees down, lie down and check that your hands are under your shoulders close to your chest. Lift your chest up and forward for a nice backbend in Cobra Pose.
NOTE: You may include Vinyasas with Cobra and Down Dog or Dolphin between the upcoming pose flows. If you have more time, take 5 breaths in Dolphin Pose or Down Dog between sides or between flows.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Lunge with Self-Adjust for Back Traction
Days 1–3: Hold for 7 breaths each side
This Low Lunge variation presents a key connection between your hips and low back that will save your sacrum and keep you safe in backbends. It stretches your front of hip and thigh, strengthens and stretches abdominals, thighs, ankles and calves.
HOW TO From Down Dog, step your left foot forward inside your left hand. (To check if you’ve lunged the correct distance: Place your left knee in your left armpit and bring your left foot exactly under your left knee at a right angle. This is the archetype of the lunge, the universal form that ensures maximal benefit in the personal expression of the pose.) Keep the outer edge of your back foot down and in line with your knee. Lift your left toes, bring your right hand to your lower back and your left hand to your lower belly. Use your right hand to press your tailbone down and forward, and use your left hand to pull your belly up and in. Use your hands to lengthen your lower back and intensify the stretch on your thigh and hip. Kick down with your back ankle and pull back with your front foot. Inhale, reach your ribs upward (not forward), exhale, kick down and pull your stomach in. Take 7 long, even breaths on each side.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Lunge with Arms Crossed Overhead, variation
Days 4–5: Hold for 7 breaths each side
Keep the same distance between your feet as Lunge with Self-Adjust for Back Traction. When intensity rises in a pose, form becomes even more important because the demand on your body has increased. Inhale, tuck your back toes, exhale straighten your back leg. Stay on the ball of your foot and grab opposite elbows with your hands.
Get a good fit: Make sure your elbows are pressed right into your palms. Keep your eyes forward over the horizon, reach your elbows up and pull your belly and ribs back. Limit the backbend so you get a really good thigh and hip stretch. Take 7 long, even breaths on each side.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Arrow Lunge, variation
Days 6–7: Hold for 5 breaths, each side
From lunge position, flip your back foot so the top is pressing into the ground, keep your front foot pointed and bring your hands to your front thigh. Take a powerful inhale, exhale and straighten only your back leg to avoid lifting out of the lunge. Bring your hands up, wrap your shoulders, and use your arms to take the weight out of your legs. Maintain strong pressure down with your back foot, and keep your front toes spread and lifted. Take 5 long, even breaths on each side.
NOTE: If you have more time and are feeling strong, do Lunge with Self-Adjust for Back Traction (from days 1–3) or Lunge with Arms Crossed Overhead (from days 4–5). At any time in any of these poses, please return to the initial pose (from days 1–3) if the progressional variations are too much.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Easy Twisting Lunge
Days 1–3: Hold for 7–10 breaths each side
Twisting poses are excellent for unwinding tight back muscles and keeping the internal organs healthy, thanks to the flush of blood that occurs via compression and release. Lunging twists improve balance and create awareness of your hip alignment, which is crucial to a sustainable practice.
HOW TO From lunge position, shorten your stance so you have 90-degree angles in both legs—front (right) foot under right knee and back knee under hip. Place your right hand to your sacrum, inhale and stretch your left arm up, lengthen your stomach, pull back with your front foot and kick down. Point your back foot, exhale, place your right upper arm over your right thigh, elbow just over the thigh, not on your knee. Make a fist with your bottom hand and place the top hand over your fist. Keep your bottom wrist straight. Press down with your left arm to make space for your twist rather than lying down on your thigh. Important: in order to deepen your twists you first need to learn to extend and support your spine. On every inhale, lengthen your spine and on each exhale you can twist a little deeper. Keep your upper elbow over lower elbow. Keep hips at three and nine o’clock by pressing down with heel and ball of your front foot. Even though your knee is down, your feet are still key to building strength in the pose. To get a good twist, your base needs to be stable, otherwise you will turn rather than twist. Think of your hips and legs as the first floor, your torso/heart as the second floor, and your head/eyes as the third. The foundation comes first: if you want to change where you’re looking, you need your legs underneath you so you can turn your heart.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Open Twisting Lunge, variation
Day 4: Hold for 7–10 breaths each side
Find the same stance as Easy Twisting Lunge with 90-degree angles in both legs. On your first exhale into the pose, reach all the way over your right knee with your left arm, get your ribs over your thigh, and your armpit onto your knee. Press your left hand into the floor, base of hand in line with heel of your right foot. Pull back and press down with your left hand and reach straight up with your right hand. Twist your spine to the right. Rather than opening your right chest, reach up and trace an arcing line up and back with your right fingers so your arm is in line with and leads your twist. Keep your hips at 3 and 9 o’clock.
NOTE: This one may put strain on the shoulder if the twist is not sufficient. That’s how it goes in yoga—if one piece of the machine is not doing its job, another may have to over compensate. If you feel shoulder pain, stay in the previous variation. That’s how you will improve safely.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Long Twisting Lunge with Knee-to-Armpit, variation
Day 5: Hold for 7-10 breaths each side
From lunge position, take a slightly longer stance than the previous two twists from days 1–4. Inhale, lengthen your ribs and belly up, exhale and twist until you have your right armpit over your left knee. Make a good seal by pressing your knee into your armpit and your arm into your leg so you have solid leverage for your twist. Keep your foundation strong so that your spine can twist, instead of letting the other elements spill to create the illusion of a deeper pose. Keep your feet active by spreading your toes and pushing down into the floor with all four corners. Imagine that your twist continues infinitely, like a double helix. Keep your hips at three and nine o’clock.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Bound Twisting Lunge, variation
Day 6: Hold for 7–10 breaths each side
If you were able to get your armpit over your knee without your hips tracking out of 3 and 9 o’clock, then you’re ready to work on your bind. With your left armpit over your right knee, bend your left arm so your left hand moves back towards your left hip, under your right leg. Move slowly, a little bit each breath cycle, no forcing. Inhale, place your right hand on top of your left hand and gently coax your left hand through your legs, palm facing out. If you’ve gotten this far, reach around your back with your right hand and bind your hands, or maybe even hold your right wrist with your left hand. Keep your hips at 3 and 9 o’clock.
Twisting Lunge Flow: Extended Revolved Twisting Lunge, variation
Day 7: Hold for 7–10 breaths each side
This lunge variation combines the Open Twisting Lunge with the Long Twisting Lunge. If you were able to get your hand on the floor in Open Twisting Lunge, and your knee in your armpit in the Long Twisting Lunge, you’re likely ready.
From the longer lunge stance, place your left hand to the outside of your right foot just like in open twisting lunge and reach your right arm over your head, essentially extending the diagonal vector of your body. Press your front knee forward into your armpit to keep your hips from shifting out of line, keep your back foot pressing down and free your belly from your thigh. On every inhale, pull your stomach in and up to make more space, on every exhale press your knee into armpit and armpit into knee—these equal and opposite forces will keep the energy contained in the center of the pose and help your spine to twist. Wrap your top arm by rolling your tricep toward your heart. Keep your hips at 3 and 9 o’clock.
Challenge Pose Flow: Triangle Pose
Days 1–7: Hold for 7–10 breaths each side
This Triangle variation strengthens your legs, stretches the lower back (your QLs and Lats), and teaches proper pelvic positioning.
HOW TO From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward as if for Warrior II, but take a slightly smaller stance. There are many wonderful variations of Triangle Pose, but for this particular one, make sure your stance is slightly shorter than your Warrior II. At the beginning of your transitional inhale, tuck your tailbone, and keep inhaling to pull in your belly and stretch up without losing the tuck. Exhale and reach out to place your right hand on your right shin, not toe, not floor. Place your left hand on your sacrum and use your palm to self-adjust making sure your butt isn’t jutting out, just like in Lunge with Self-Adjust for Back Traction. This should give you a nice stretch in the left side of your lower back. Reach your left arm straight up. If you lose the left-side low-back stretch stretch, check in with the initial instructions you may have lost. Feelings are intelligence in yoga. Use the sensory feedback you receive from the stimulus of the poses to sustain the benefits of the poses. Keep your feet active. Press away from the floor with both feet to keep your hips underneath you. Gravity is always pushing you—push back and your poses will stay dynamic. Always pay attention to the edges of your poses.
Challenge Pose Flow: Interlock Warrior OR Easy Extended Warrior
Days 1–7: Hold for 7–10 breaths each side
From Triangle Pose, bring your right hand onto your sacrum, then your left hand to the floor, step slightly larger so that again you have an archetypal right angle, similar to your Warrior II stance: knee in armpit, front leg at a right angle. Inhale to prepare, exhale and bring your right arm under your right leg and up onto your back, placing the back of your right hand on your back. Reach around with your left arm and bind. Feel for getting the same side of lower back stretch in this pose that you got in Triangle by keeping your hips underneath you. Your feet are the key to success. Press down with the heel and ball of your front and lift your inner back arch/ankle. Don’t be tempted to sink into the pose—the sweetness and the good, safe stretch only comes if you stay committed to the strength aspect.
Hint: At the end of an exhale, apply Uddiyana Bandha (the abdominal lock) for a moment, then inhale to lengthen your back even more.
HALF BIND OPTION This interlock variation makes breath and leg commitment paramount to your practice. Use this pose to learn to access the support of your own legs and breath in challenging situations.
HOW TO If the bind isn’t available to you, place your right hand on the floor inside your front foot, press your right knee into your shoulder and bring your left arm into a half bind.
Challenge Pose Flow: Pigeon Pose
Days 1–7: Hold for 20 breaths each side
This pose stretches muscles that inhibit hip mobility and unwinds the back. It also teaches acceptance.
HOW TO From Interlock Warrior bring your hands down as if for Plank Pose. If possible, line up your front (left) foot with your knee for a Wide-Angle Pigeon. Come up on the ball of your back foot and reach back through your heel to square your hips. Strongly flex your front foot, then point your back foot and reach a strong line of energy through your back foot as you lie forward over your front leg. Send your chest out and over your leg and use a long belly to extend out of your hips. Become interested in your own rate of release, rather than trying to bash through the tension — that won’t work and you’ll extinguish the pose before you can reap the benefits. Instead, breathe deeply into your pelvis just for the sake of breathing and feeling. There is more than one way to go deep into a pose and and sometimes the less visible action is more powerful. Every breath can take you deeper into awareness without having to take you further into the stretch.
Your challenge for pigeon as the week goes on is to improve your relationship to yourself in the pose. One of the most powerful aspects of repetition is the opportunity to refine the way you approach an obstacle, until it is no longer an obstacle. The way to turn your effort into grace is to raise your skill. My final tip for pigeon is to imagine that it’s the best feeling in the world — this means you need to set your self up in a way that gives you enough intensity, but not too much.
Days 1–7: Set timer for 5 minutes
Lie on your back with your shoulder blades tucked, palms and feet relaxed, and inner gaze soft. I like to set a timer for five minutes to enjoy the release without worrying if I’ve relaxed long enough. (A good rule of thumb is 5 minutes of Savasana to every 30 minutes of practice.) To exit, first roll gently with an exhalation onto your right side. Take two or three breaths. With another exhalation, press your hands against the floor and lift your torso up, slowly. The head should always come up last.
See also Your Most Restful Savasana Yet
Meet Our Expert: Benjamin Sears
Benjamin Sears is the founder of LUXYOGA, an immersive wellness and lifestyle experience in the South of France. Recently named the world’s premier yoga retreat, LUXYOGA has embodied Benjamin’s vision of balanced living for a decade, and is a singular integration of expert instruction with world class cuisine and personalized service in one of the most beautiful locations in the world.
Benjamin has studied with the masters to earn multiple certifications across diverse systems, and believes that the day one stops learning is the day one stops teaching. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA, staffed the Bikram Yoga College of India Teacher Training after receiving his certification, completed the Dharma Mittra Yoga 500 hour Training, two Forrest Yoga Advanced Trainings, and continues his studies in Ayurveda, anatomy, bodywork, and energy healing. Benjamin leads seminars worldwide, facilitates teacher development, and is a sought-after mentor in the international yoga community.
As a competitive athlete who stumbled upon yoga as a last resort to heal, his therapeutic teaching style helps real people live better through yoga. Benjamin’s ability to connect the poses to your body and the practice to your life in a practical and poetic way empowers students to appreciate the present and develop an action plan to progress. He recognizes that the students do their own work and hopes to help them stay safe and enjoy the process.