The rigors of our daily stresses can get to even the most mentally tough of us. Stress impacts our immune system, cuts into our energy reserves, and generally saps our otherwise joyful spirit. Avoiding exercise during stressful times makes it all worse. Tight muscles and sore tendons get even more tight and sore. Let’s face it, being stiff no matter what time of the day can add to overall grumpiness.
Getting to a yoga class is definitely a solution, but why does it always seems so difficult? You have to be on time, grab your mat, change your clothes, and actually get in the car. I have a longstanding battle with myself wondering when I will actually commit to yoga and use the 10 classes I bought on Groupon four months ago! Instead of hemming and hawing and being in a state of flux, take action now. And I mean literally right now. Simply move your ottoman and do these five poses below (yes, I count breathing as a pose AND an epsom salt, lavender-infused bath as well), and get on your way towards a more relaxed and fit state of mind.
Start by sitting on your knees and sit back onto you heels with your back straight. Close your eyes and inhale deeply in through your nose, making a “whooshing sound” in your throat as you exhale (don’t exhale through your mouth — everything through your nose). After 10 breaths with your eyes closed, do 10 more with eyes open. Eyes should be fixed on a spot, but not interested in nor looking at anything. Focus simply on the breathing.
Move to a standing position. Breath in (same as above) as the arms come up above the head and exhale, and your body folds down over straight legs to the floor. Breathe in as you straighten your back and look up, creating an L shape with your body and then add another deep exhale to pull your body further into your straight legs. Placing your hands flat on the floor, jump or walk your legs out to a plank or push-up position. Slowly lower your body to the ground, feeling the strength build in your arms. Next, coordinating with your breath, inhale deeply as you arc your back and neck up into Cobra Pose, and exhale as you straighten back down to plank or push-up position. Push into your palms flat on the ground and rise into Downward Dog pose — butt up in the air, palms flat into the floor, and heels down touching the floor as well. Hold here for three full and deep breaths. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve just completed one Sun Salutation. Now do five more for a total of six before progressing to the next pose.
From a standing pose step your right leg back two to three feet. Keep your left toes pointing forward and your right foot angled inward. Both legs at first are stick straight. Next, after stepping back sink deeply into your front leg — your left — until there is a perfect bend 90 degrees. Adjust the width of your stance at this point to achieve that close-to-perfect bend. Finally — all the while enjoying the rhythmic and deep breathing that is the essence and cornerstone of yoga — raise both arms straight out shoulder length and turn your torso slightly and your head to look out over the extended left arm. Extend even your fingertips to improve length and strength in the arms. Hold this pose for three deep breaths, then repeat on the other side (with the right foot now the lead foot and leg).
From a standing pose walk your right leg out two to three feet out to the side. Raise both arms up shoulder length and straight, inhale deeply, and fall forward with a straight back, head up, with eyes focusing on one steady spot, until your body folds as far into your legs as possible. Grab your ankles, let your head fall naturally downward, release any tension in the neck, and breathe deeply into your hamstrings for five breaths. This can be a deep, deep pose, so in order to not put terrible strain on the hamstrings — especially if they haven’t been stretched for the entire winter! — tighten and flex the quadriceps muscles in the front of the legs. To raise up safely out of this pose, tighten the glute and quad muscles and raise up with a straight back, bringing the head up to focus on a steady point. End with arms straight up in the air, step the right leg back to meet the left, inhale deeply, then release the arms down as you exhale. If you are eager to try this again, weave in a couple more sets of this pose, being careful to ease in and out of it each time.
Epsom Salt, Lavender-Infused Bath
If you do this routine in the evening or before bed, add the final pose: full-body relaxation (continue the yoga breathing) in a warm epsom salt, lavender-infused bath. Epsom salts help the body work through stiffness, expel lactic acid, and improve soreness of any type of physical activity.
You may not have had the pleasure and satisfaction of going to a jam-packed, competitive yoga class, clad in your matching tights and sports bra top, but if you do the above five poses — including really paying attention to your breathing and rewarding yourself with a warm epsom-salts detoxifying bath — you might just have more satisfaction and results in putting your mind at ease and improving the fitness, however gradually and slowly, of your body.