1. Start with Pelvic Tilts
Some days, it’s just not possible to put in a full hour and a half of yoga. But most days will allow for this 10- to 15-minute sequence that stretches the back, hamstrings, and hips, problem areas for many people. Think of this sequence as your maintenance plan. It will keep you running smoothly until you can get in for a full tune up. Over time, you will see the positive effect that consistently doing these stretches has on your longer practice sessions.
Start Easy With Pelvic Tilts
I can’t say enough good things about pelvic tilts. They are just amazing. Often I don’t even realize that my back is stiff and hurting until I lie down on my mat. The first few pelvic tilts reveal any traces of low back pain, but after 10 to 20 rounds, the pain is gone. Do them slowly and keep going until the movement feels fluid and good.
2. Cat-Cow Stretches to Warm the Spine
Continue warming up the back with 5 to 10 cat – cow stretches. If the movement feels familiar, it’s because the pelvis is moving in essentially the same way as in the pelvic tilt (see previous step). The cat to cow stretch extends that movement along the entire spine, helping to awaken and invigorate your whole body.
Be sure to pay attention to your breath as you move between these poses. Inhale when you arch the back and exhale when you round the spine. Initiate each movement from your tailbone and let it ripple up the spine. Move your head last of all.
3. Downward Facing Dog is Good for Your Whole Body
Press back into downward facing dog. Pedal the legs, bending one knee and then the other, reaching each heel towards the floor in turn. Bend your knees and reach your butt up high. Then slowly straighten the legs. Take any other movements that help you settle into the pose. When you feel ready, hold the posture for 5 to 10 breaths.
4. Lunge to Stretch Your Hips and Hamstrings
Step your right foot forward next to your right hand, coming into a low lunge. I like to drop the back knee down to the floor at first for a nice stretch in both hips. Then straighten the back leg if you want to begin to work into your hamstrings, which run along the back side of your thighs.
5. Straight Leg Lunge
Restraighten the back leg if you have dropped that knee to the floor. Slowly straighten the front leg as you forward bend over that leg. Try to keep the front foot flat on the floor and don’t force the leg to come straight. Go back and forth between a bent and straight front leg several times. You can also use blocks under your hands if they don’t easily reach the floor when you straighten the front leg.
Repeat on the Left Side
Step back to downward dog. Then step the left foot forward next to the left hand and take your lunges on that side. Come back to downward dog when you are finished with the left leg.
6. Mountain Pose and Raised Arms Pose
Walk the feet to the front of the mat until you are standing in a forward bend. Bend the knees and slowly roll up to stand in mountain pose – tadasana. From here, I suggest doing several half sun salutations. If you have the time and the inclination, you can do full sun salutations here instead.
From mountain pose, take the arms out to the side and up to the ceiling. Press the palms together, coming into raised arms pose – urdhva hastasana. Slide your shoulders down, away from your ears.
7. Standing Forward Bend – Uttanasana to Work On the Hamstrings
This is the rest of the half sun salutation. Swan dive down into standing forward bend – uttanasana. Come up to flat back – ardha uttanasana with the fingertips on the floor or your hands on your shins, and then forward bend back into uttanasana. To get a good hamstring stretch, do this slowly.
While in this forward bend, I like to do a few variations to bring myself deeper in to the pose. You can try taking a yogi toe lock with your fingers hooked around your big toes to deepen your forward fold. If that’s easy, try slipping your upturned palms under your feet. Another good one is to bend the knees and bring the palms flat next to your feet. Then work on straightening the legs while keeping the palms flat. Make sure you are bringing weight into the balls of your feet so that your hips stay directly over your ankles. When you do this pose at home, you can take as much time as you want to hang out, a chance you don’t often get in a class.
Complete the half sun salutation by coming back through raised arms into mountain pose. Do five or more half sun salutations.
8. Pigeon Pose – Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
For your hip opener, do pigeon pose, placing padding under the seat as necessary. I recommend staying in a forward fold in pigeon for 10 to 20 deep breaths to give your body time to release. If you do this every day, you’ll really notice a difference. If you prefer, take eye of the needle pose instead. This is essentially the same stretch, but done lying on your back. It can be gentler if pigeon is too intense.
9. Yogi’s Choice – Make it Your Own
Ask your body what position it really needs today. Tune in to what feels tight and focus your attention there. Don’t even worry if your position isn’t a conventional yoga pose. If you’re ready to wind down, happy baby or a supine twist are good options.
If you are feeling energized, take this opportunity to work on a pose that you want to improve, perhaps an inversion like headstand or an arm balance like crow. Just spending a few minutes a day on a difficult pose makes a huge difference as you gain confidence and work on your strength and flexibility.
10. Rest in Corpse Pose – Savasana