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We all have those days. You know. Days when you’d rather stay in bed and binge-watch Netflix or read or sleep or sigh or hide instead of getting up and doing or facing anything.
When sadness, depression, boredom, regret, resentment, fear, or all the other things we could be feeling appear, it’s rarely about what’s happening in the moment. It’s typically about something that happened in the past, which you cannot change, or some imagined future scenario, which hasn’t actually taken place.
Yet on these days, it’s almost always better to do something rather than nothing. Heading to your yoga mat can help bring you back to the moment at hand, which is the only place life actually occurs. It can also help you experience your emotions by being present with them so that you can most past them rather than letting them hijack the rest of your moments that day.
This simple, slow yoga sequence can help bring you back to your breath and your body, both of which can anchor you in the present moment and whatever is actually taking place for you there. (Spoiler alert: You’re going to make it through whatever that is.)
A yoga sequence to help you on a bad day
Start by lying on your back. Take a few deep, slow breaths and say to yourself, “May I be peaceful, may I be happy, may I be at ease.” Or choose a saying or even a single word of your own, whatever you desire, whether trust or calm or ease or patience or…anything. Even if it seems difficult to say this to yourself, starting this practice with a gentle mantra can help shift your mind space to a more contented place.
Draw your right knee into your chest. Interlace your fingers around your right shin and move your right knee toward your right shoulder. Move your leg slightly to the right to avoid your rib cage and abdomen. Press your left thigh and left heel into the ground. Keep your shoulders evenly rooting towards the floor as well, making sure you’re not leaning to the right. Stay here for 5 breaths and then try the left side. Bring both knees into your chest and wrap your arms around your legs, giving yourself a big hug. You can grab opposite fingers, wrists, or elbows. Try to keep your legs side by side, not crossed at the shins or ankles, and press your low back and shoulders towards the floor. keep your head on the mat, not lifted. Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths.
Reclining Spinal Twist
From knees to your chest, start to rock side to side. After a few rocks, let your knees fall all the way over to the left side. Reach your right arm and hand out to the right at shoulder height. Relax your shoulders and the muscles of your face, and see if you can slowly soften your right shoulder down towards the floor. If it’s comfortable, turn your head to the right. Notice your breath deepen and open your rib cage. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Slowly make your way to a seated position and cross your legs with your right leg in front of your left. Stack your shoulders over your hips and breathe.
Reach your arms out at shoulder height and then lean over to the right side bringing your right hand to the floor. As you lean to the right side, bend your right elbow. Sweep your left arm up and overhead while still reaching your left sit bone down toward the floor. Feel a stretch on the left side of your body. Extend your left fingertips all the way over to the right side of the room and keep you left palm facing down towards the floor. Try not to collapse forward with your head or round forward in your spine.
Take 5 breaths here, then rise up, place your hands behind your back, lean back, and lift and shift your legs so now your left leg is crossed in front of the right. It might feel like the “weird way,” but keep your legs in this position for the second side. Repeat the same actions you did on the right side.
Rising up from the seated side stretch, place your hands behind your back and tip back enough to easily switch your legs so your right shin is crossed in front of your left. Then slowly start to walk your hands forward. This is a gentle hip opener; you should not feel this in your knees. If you do feel this in any way in your knees, back out. If it feels OK, continue to walk your hands forward, but keep your sit bones grounded on the mat. Soften your shoulders and keep the muscles of your face relaxed. Take about 5 breaths here, then slowly walk your hands back, place them behind your back, tip back slightly and switch the crossing of your legs one last time. Repeat this hip stretch on the second side.
Come forward onto your hands and knees. Place your hands so they are shoulder distance apart, fingers spread wide with the creases of your wrists parallel to the front edge of your mat. Look back at your lower legs and line up your knees and feet so they are hip-width distance apart. With your next inhale, create a backbend through your spine, drop your belly toward the floor, and lift the crown of your head and your sit bones toward the ceiling.
On your exhalation, round your spine in the opposite direction. Draw your navel toward your spine and chin to chest, gazing inward as you direct your tail bone toward the back of your knees. Repeat these two positions moving with your breath for the next 5 to 10 breaths.
From a neutral hands and knees position, walk your hands one hand print forward. Keep the same hand alignment as you had in Cat-Cow. If you have tight shoulders, widen your hands a bit and slightly turn your hands outward toward the edges of your mat. Once you have your hands set, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back. Root your hands down and forward, like you’re trying to push the front edge of the mat away from you. Keeping your arms straight and strong, hug your outer upper arms in toward your ears.
Start to pedal your legs, bending one knee and straightening the opposite leg, to feel a stretch in the backs of your legs. If you have tight hamstrings, please keep your knees bent in Down Dog. If your legs feel open, you can straighten your legs and reach your heels toward the floor, but don’t worry if your heels don’t touch the floor. Stay in the pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
From Down Dog, lower your knees and make your way to a seated position. Bring your legs into a diamond shape, drawing your feet together and knees out to the sides. You want to let your heels slide further away from you than usual so it’s a more relaxed stretch. Slowly start to lean forward. Relax your shoulders and the muscles of your face. Take 5 breaths here, then slowly rise upright so your spine is vertical.
From seated, shift your weight onto your right hip and swing your left leg straight behind you. Bring your hands slightly in front of your shoulder and move your right knee to touch the inside of your right wrist. Shift your right foot slightly forward so that it’s in the midline of your mat. Now, slowly situate your hips so they are facing forward. If your hips are floating in space and they feel too tight, place a block or blanket under your right hip to support the pose.
Take an inhale as you lift your chest and then slowly exhale and walk your hands forward. You can lower down onto your elbows and stack your palms, resting your forehead on your hands, or you can walk your hands all the way forward towards the front of your mat and rest your forehead on the floor. Keep an even weight between your right side and left. breath into your right hip, and if you feel any discomfort in either one of your knees come out of the pose. To release, walk your hands back, place your palms flat under your shoulders, and tucking your toes under in the back, lift your hips up and back into Down Dog. Repeat on the second side. You can hold this pose up to a minute on both sides.
From seated, draw your knees together. Extend your left leg straight out in front of you, rooting your thigh and heel towards the floor and keep your left foot flexed. Step your right foot over your left knee and plant your right foot flat on the floor. Place your right hand behind your back and lift your left hand up toward the ceiling. Inhale here and on an exhalation, twist to the right, hooking your left elbow to the outside of your right leg. Root down through your sit bones evenly. Lift your heart and crown of your head toward the ceiling; as you exhale, press your elbow and knee against each other, taking yourself deeper into the twist. Hold here for 5 breaths and then repeat on the second side.
Come onto your back and have a block close to the right side of your mat. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor, heels close to your hips, and feet hip-width distance. Push your feet into the mat and lift your hips up. Grab your block and slide it underneath you so that it’s supporting your lower spine. The block has 3 different heights to it: low, medium and high. It can also go length-wise or width-wise to your spine. Try out different positions with the block, choosing the one that makes you feel open in your chest without feeling any strain in your low back. The block should be placed low enough that it supports your sacrum, but do not rest on the low curve of your spine.
Once you’ve placed the block in a comfortable spot, lift your chest slightly to bring your shoulders underneath you a little more. Rest your arms by your sides and breathe here. This is a supported pose so you can stay here longer then you would if you weren’t using a block. Focus on your breath and come back to the mantra from the beginning of the practice: “May I be peaceful, may I be happy, may I be at ease.” Repeat this a few times in your mind. To come out, push down with both feet evenly, take the block out from underneath you, and lower your hips all the way to the floor. Place your hands on your belly and let your knees fall into each other. Rest here for a breath or two.
Draw your knees into your chest and take your knees wide. Reach your hands up to your outer feet and rock side to side gently on your back. If it’s difficult to reach your feet, you can place your hands at the backs of your knees. Keep your head on the mat and take a few breaths here.
Release your legs down to the floor. Separate your feet wider than your hips and shake your legs out gently. Extend your arms by your sides and rotate your palms so they’re facing up. Lift your chest up slightly and walk your shoulder blades so they are flat beneath you. Close your eyes and relax your low jaw away from your upper jaw. Start this final rest with a few deep breaths—in through the nose, out through the mouth. Feel the support of the ground beneath you and consciously give yourself permission to rest here, taking a moment of gratitude to yourself for getting out of bed and onto your mat today. Every day is not easy, and when we have hard ones, it’s so much more difficult to move. Hopefully these kind postures have helped you set (or re-set) your day on the right course.