The first month of the year has come and gone, and we find ourselves in that familiar space of ending the old, welcoming the new. There is a lot wrapped up in all the messages about doing better. For me, that can bring a sense of rebellion, at best, or general malaise, at worst. Or perhaps choosing to embrace the malaise is the rebellion.
What I know for sure is that being in a part of the world where it’s cold at this time can evoke a desire to do very little, if anything. Studies have shown that longer nights are correlated with darker moods, and colder days can inspire bouts of creature comfort-seeking behaviors. And when avoiding being out in the cold means less connection to nature, we can get a little disconnected from, well, everything.
All of this makes it an ideal time to cultivate exactly the opposite through a somatic flow that allows us to move in a way that is slow and easeful and deeply connected to our bodies. The term “somatics” has been used to describe practices that elicit a mind–body connection, that inspire us to turn inward and attune to our body’s signals of discomfort or intensity. It’s an approach that cultivates movement that comes from an embodied space, something that can easily become lost when we move through familiar or fast-paced classes.
This is a practice that builds interoception through deep listening and sensing, an excellent melding of our modern understanding of wellness and the ancient practice of self-study and mindful movement. Connected movement reminds us that we move to feel good, embrace all of who we are, and experience the world in visceral ways.
A somatic yoga flow for when you need to move…but slowly
Try this somatic flow to reconnect to yourself whenever you need inspiration to get out from underneath the comfy throw blanket. In each posture, bring your awareness to the muscles and joints that are working together to create each movement. Let it be easy.
Come to seated in a cross-legged position (Sukhasana or Easy Seat), with your right leg on top of your left. Begin slowly rotating your torso in a circular motion, beginning with moving toward the right, noticing the initiation, middle, and end of the circular movement. Rotate 10 times. Switch sides.
Seated with Side Bending
From seated, with your left leg crossed on top of your right, place your right arm down a foot or so from your right hip and reach your left arm alongside your ear for a seated side bend. Feel for an opening along your left side body and all of the body parts that are used to create each part of the shape.
Alternatively, you may wrap your left arm around your back for a half bind. After 3 to 5 breaths, come back upright. Repeat on the other side. To release, extend both legs long and straight into Staff Pose and pause here.
Seated Windshield Wiper Twists
Draw your knees toward your body and place your feet on the mat about hip-distance apart. Slowly lower your knees to the right, then ease them to the left, noticing where and how the movement begins as well as when movement ceases. Don’t force your knees to come closer to the ground than feels comfortable. Repeat 5 times on each side.
Gate Pose to Knee-Down Extended Side Angle
Come to standing on your knees. Extend your right leg straight out to the side and slide your right hand down your right thigh while extending your left arm alongside your left ear to come into Gate Pose. Press down through the outer edge of your right foot as you elongate the left side of the body.
Shift the weight of your body to your left knee as you bring your left hand to the mat underneath your shoulder and extend your right arm alongside your right ear for knee-down Extended Side Angle Pose. Invite a quality of flow as you switch back and forth between these poses 3 times.
From knee-down Extended Side Angle, come to sit on your heels with your toes untucked and the tops of the feet flat on the mat. Revel in the stillness. Then repeat Gate Pose to Knee-Down Extended Side Angle on the other side. When finished, return to sitting on your heels.
From Thunderbolt, alternate backbending with rounding your spine through seated Cat and Cow. Enjoy the sensations of alternating between inhaling and opening across the front of the body as in Cow Pose to exhaling and opening across the back of the body in Cat Pose. After 3–5 rounds, sit back on your heels again in Thunderbolt.
Half Camel Flow
From Thunderbolt, come to kneeling. Often when we come into Camel Pose, we bring our awareness to the low back, giving care and concern to listening to our body for depth of the pose that day. In this somatic flow, bring that same awareness to reaching your bum away from your heels. Notice how the movement is initiated in the hip flexors and all of the muscle groups involved in bringing you to standing on your heels. Bring your hands to your sacrum.
From this place of deep awareness, start to backbend.
Allow your right hand to move toward your right heel while your left arm extends up and back. Then switch.
From Half Camel, come to seated in Vajrasana.
From Thunderbolt, come to all fours, then place your left knee at the top of the mat as you extend your right leg straight behind you into Pigeon Pose (the forward bend is often known as Sleeping Pigeon or Half Pigeon). Remain upright or fold over your left shin and remain there for 5–8 breaths. Move through Downward-Facing Dog or simply come back to all fours and switch sides.
From Half Pigeon, come back to hands and knees. Keep your knees together or bring them apart to any extent and enjoy a long stretch in Child’s Pose by settling your hips on or near your heels and your arms alongside your ears. Notice the connection between your hands and the mat. Stay for 5–8 breaths.
From Child’s Pose, come to seated in Staff Pose with both legs extended forward. Bring your right foot into the inside of your left leg and fold over your extended left leg for Head-to-Knee Pose. You may let your hands land where they land.
From Head-to-Knee Pose, straighten both legs in front of you. Bend your right knee and bring your right foot to the mat. Draw your knee into the centerline of your body. Bring your right hand behind your right hip and your left hand to your right knee or hook your left elbow onto your right thigh. Use your right hand as an anchor in this twist. After 5 breaths, come back to center and straighten your right leg. Then repeat on the other side. To release, bring both knees into the body with your feet on the floor. Lie back in Constructive Rest (with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat)
Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Without a Wall)
Bring a bolster or stack of blankets under your bum, then extend your feet towards the ceiling. Stay here for 5–15 breaths.
From legs extended up toward the ceiling, bend your knees, bring your feet to the mat, and rest here for a few breaths in Supported Bridge. Shift the props beneath your knees to settle into a supported Savasana. Sense the residue of the practice in your body and rest here for as long as you like.
About our contributor
Tamika Caston-Miller is an E-RYT 500 with a special interest in yoga for renewal, transformation, and social justice. Her yoga journey began in 2001 with a home practice. She now holds certifications from YogaOne Studios, Yogaworks, Kripalu School of Yoga, Judith Hansen Lasater, and Paul Grilley. Tamika’s teaching and practice have been informed by chronic pain and injuries, the very human battle between shame and compassion, the quest for ancestral healing, and love for the practice and philosophy of yoga.