Some of our favorite yoga poses are described in straight lines and boxy angles–Triangle, Plank, and Extended Side Angle poses for example. But the human body is more attuned to spirals and curves. Think about the double helix of our DNA, the path of our limbs as they emerge in vitro, and the way we swing our arms as we walk and run. Even our sports actions are described in curved movements, thanks to the twisting action of the torso: football spirals, tennis ball top-spins, and glove hooks.
Moving in fluid, unpredictable ways helps us stay agile—physically and mentally.
“Moving weirdly helps keep the brain healthy,” says Beret Kirkeby, a massage therapist, yoga therapist, and Prema Yoga Institute teacher. “It’s also oxygenating to our tissue, moves synovial fluid, and helps us maintain range of motion.” If we limit ourselves to habitual and repetitive movements, we may start thinking that anything outside the ordinary is scary or possibly painful, explains Kirkeby. “Moving weirdly is a fundamental part of keeping a flexible mind and body,” she adds.
This sequence by Dana Slamp, Prema Yoga Institute founder, helps you step out of rigid alignment and flow into more creative shapes. The movements play with open twists for better cross-body movement and with retracting your shoulder blades for “slide and glide” across your upper back. Both your inner thighs and outer glutes get some love, since they can become tight when the body is confined to the left and right movements of the sagittal plane. Just apply playfulness as you practice, and stay weird!
Flowing Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
For your warmup, enjoy some gentle spinal twists, Cat and Cow Poses, and circular wrist moves. Release onto your belly. Separate your hands wider than your mat and lift your upper body to a comfortable position. Begin to circle your upper body in a flowing cobra, allowing the head of your arm bones to dip or draw back, and your head to move slowly in circles. Listen to what feels good, get weird, and pause anytime you need to explore a sensation. Explore this movement for 1–2 minutes.
Twisted Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Come to Downward-Facing Dog and bend one knee and then the other a few times. Next, step your feet a little closer to your hands until your heels can touch the ground, or are close enough that you feel stable. Engage your lower abs and reach one hand underneath you to the outside of the opposite calf, shin, or ankle. Peek underneath your supporting arm and get curious about the twist as you spiral your chest open. Hold for 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
From Downward-Facing Dog, come into Plank Pose. Lower your knees, then place the center of your chest right between your thumbs on the ground while keeping your elbows hugging to your sides. Play with lifting your heels to your seat for a Six-Pointed Bow. Press your hands more firmly into the ground if you feel too much pressure on your chest. If your chest and neck feel good, you can reach your hands back to your heels (certainly not required!). Hold for 5 breaths.
Swaying Side Lunge
From Six-Pointed Bow, slide into a Cobra on an inhalation, and then flow back to Down Dog on an exhalation. Step your right foot between your hands and pivot your feet parallel into a side straddle. With or without your hands on the ground, play with bending one knee and transferring your weight to that side. Use your breath to sway over to the other side. Be aware of sensations as you move from side to side. Explore this movement for about 1 minute.
Bound Twisted Straddle
Let your torso hang over your straddled legs for a few breaths. Then bring your feet several inches closer to one another. Hold onto the outside of your left calf, shin, or ankle with your right hand to create a cross-body twist. Now thread your left hand underneath your right arm and hold onto your opposite calf, shin, or ankle. Keep turning your upper body in that same direction, peeking underneath your arm toward the front of your mat. Allow your breath to open up the sides of your torso. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Repeat the twist in the other direction.
Twisted Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
Pivot to face the front of your mat and place your right knee down on a soft surface. Turn your left toes out to the side at a 45-degree angle. Gently guide your left thigh open with your right hand and open your hip and chest. Anchor the outer blade of your front foot while the inner foot lifts away from the ground. Bend your back knee, and reach back and hold your back foot with your left hand, or use a yoga strap or towel to loop around your back foot. Breathe into this open shape. See if it feels good to draw your back foot in, kick your foot back our, breathe across your chest, or move between the different options slowly. Explore this pose for 5–10 breaths.
Fallen Trikonasana (Triangle)
Release the hold of your back foot, and place both hands down. Lift your right leg up into Down Dog Split. On an exhalation, shift forward into Plank Pose and bring your right knee underneath you toward your upper left arm. If you’re appreciating the core work, repeat this 2-5 times. On your final repetition, begin to straighten your left leg underneath you and to the left on the earth as you spin your back heel down. Press down into your feet and lift up through your hips as you open your front body to the sky and reach your left arm into the air for Fallen Triangle. Hold for 3–5 breaths.
Ardha Bhekasana (Half Frog Pose) Variation
Slide your right foot back to Plank and complete a vinyasa, ending in Down Dog. Step that same right foot forward again and place your back knee down on a soft surface before pivoting to a straddle. This time shift your weight onto your left knee. Allow your left foot to pivot off the mat until your left leg and foot are both at about a right angle. Begin to carefully slide your right foot forward–perhaps even off the mat—as you open your inner left thigh in a Half Frog Pose. You have the option of placing your chest down again between your thumbs (like in Six-pointed Bow) to take a little pressure off the hip opening and to retract your shoulder blades on your back. Hold for 5 breaths.
Slowly exit the posture by straightening your arms and carefully drawing your right foot in. Pivot back to a Low Lunge facing the front of the mat. To repeat the sequence on the other side, step your left foot between your hands to move into the side lunge.
Altar Pose Variation
After moving through the sequence on both sides, flow through a final vinyasa. Come to sit and swing your feet onto the mat in front of you in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Place your hands behind you with your fingers pointing to the sides of your mat. Slide your shoulder blades toward one another on your back, then press into your feet to lift your hips to Altar Pose. Continue to breathe mindfully as you make tiny circles with your hips, lift your heels, or even sink your hips (pictured) to open across your chest. Hold for 5–8 breaths.
Self-Massage of the Outer Glutes
From seated, lift your right shin into a Figure 4 shape by crossing your right ankle on top of your left thigh. Hold your top leg with both hands. Circle your thigh bone slowly in the hip joint, exploring your range of motion in every direction. Hold onto your flexed left foot with your left hand or the crook of your left elbow and place your right forearm on the floor to the right side of your mat, shifting to the side of your seat. Explore rolling across the muscles of your outer glutes, massaging out any tension. Take as long as you like, and then repeat on the other side.
Complete the sequence with a traditional seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana) for about 8–10 breaths. Let your shoulder blades relax and slide away from your spine. Take Savasana (Corpse Pose) or Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall Pose) for 5 minutes or more, enjoying sensations of openness or ease.
About our contributor
Dana Slamp is a writer, a certified yoga therapist, and the Founder of Prema Yoga Institute, New York’s IAYT-accredited yoga therapy school. Her background in the arts and spirituality informs all that she creates. Dana has presented at Yoga Journal Conference, Telluride Yoga Festival, and teaches retreats and workshops internationally. She’s delighted to offer the IAY Yoga Therapy Program, an online RYT500 course and more alongside PYI’s diverse faculty at www.premayogainstitute.com. A self-confessed “Dog Mom,” Dana currently lives near Central Park with her dog Cooper. For online classes with Dana, check out Equinox+ and YogaAnytime.