Most of you know that I am a yoga teacher. But what many of you don’t know is that yoga literally changed my life: it altered the course of my career, it transformed my body and my diet, and it made me a happier and more fulfilled person. As a result of my practice, my body feels more supple and more open, and I find that my food cravings have shifted away from junk food and toward more healthy, wholesome foods. I’m thinking on a day-to-day basis about how I can be a better, more compassionate, and more grateful human being.
Obviously, I have first-hand experience of the incredible power of yoga. So it may not come as a surprise that I encourage each and every one of you to take at least 5 minutes out of your day to do the 5 yoga poses I’ve listed below (and who doesn’t have 5 minutes to do something that could benefit you this much?!). I recommend doing these postures (in this order) first thing in the morning, before you start your day. You’ll find that they wake you up, make you feel refreshed and alive, and set the tone for your day. If you can’t do them first thing in the morning, do them any other time you have 5 minutes.
1. Sukhasana = Easy seated pose. 1 minute
Sit with your legs crossed at the mid-shin (if your hips feel tight, or if your knees are popping up really high, then sit the hips on a few folded up towels or blankets). Bring your hands together in front of your heart and let your hips relax, melting them down into the floor. Sit right on top of the sit bones (not leaning forward or rolling back), and then start to grow your spine from your tailbone up through the crown of your head — creating space between the vertebrae. Draw your belly and front ribs in, and at the same time draw your shoulders back. Relax the shoulder blades down the back and let the head float on a long neck.
Hold this pose for 1 minute, allowing the mind to settle into the body rather than be drawn outside of yourself. Set an intention for your day. An intention could be something that you would like to invoke today: maybe it’s gratitude, maybe it’s calm, maybe it’s joy. An intention could also be a dedication: someone or something that you would like to dedicate your practice to. Take a few long, slow breaths in and out of the nose as you set this intention.
2. Vrksasana = Tree pose. 30 seconds each side.
Start by standing with your hands on your hips. Shift the weight to your left leg and lift your right knee up into the air. Rotate the right knee out to the right, and then place the sole of the right foot on the inner left thigh. (If the foot doesn’t quite reach the thigh, then bypass the knee joint and put the foot on the inner left shin instead — avoid putting the foot on the knee). Bring the hands to the heart center, and focus the gaze on a point on the floor, about 10 feet in front of you.
Straighten out the left leg completely, and draw the outer left hip into the mid-line of the body. As you straighten the left leg, press the right knee open, keeping the two frontal hip bones facing directly forward. Stand up straight through your spine, growing taller with each inhale. Relax the shoulders. If you feel balanced, you can try lifting the hands up into the air above your head (keeping the shoulders very relaxed). If that doesn’t affect your balance, then try lifting the gaze forward, or eventually up to the ceiling.
Hold the right side for 30 seconds. To come out of the posture, release the hands to the hips, then slowly (and with control) release the right foot the floor. You can shake the legs out in between sides. When you’re ready, take the left side for 30 seconds.
3. Virabhadrasana II = Warrior II pose. 30 seconds each side.
Stand with your legs wide apart, feet facing forward. Spread your arms wide apart, and check to be sure that your ankles are directly under your wrists. Keep your arms wide, and then from the hip socket, roll your right leg forward until your right toes point directly forward. Look at your left leg, and slowly rotate the left foot in until the left toes are slightly in front of the left heel. Your two legs should look like they are pointed forward now.
Draw your belly in and drop your tailbone down. Relax your shoulders. Take a deep inhale, and with your exhale bend your right knee to a 90 degree angle. As you bend the right knee, press the knee open, drawing the right buttock underneath you. At the same time, straighten out your left leg by pressing the outer edge of your left foot down. Sink the hips low, and keep the tailbone drawing underneath you. Notice if you are poking your belly forward: keep the abdomen drawing in toward the spine. Find length in the spine by floating your ribcage high up off your hips. Extend your arms powerfully out away from your torso, keeping the shoulders relaxed and drawing down the back. Gaze forward over your right fingertips.
Hold for 30 seconds, then inhale and start to straighten out the right knee. Turn both feet back to center (feet parallel) before taking the second side. Hold the second side, bending into the left knee, for 30 seconds.
4. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana = Bridge pose. 2x, 30 seconds per pose.
Lie down on your back and bend your knees, placing your feet under your knees. Your feet should be hip distance apart, with your toes facing directly forward (make sure your toes aren’t turning out). Place your hands down by your hips, palms facing down.
Without lifting the hips, drop your belly button down toward your spine and feel the low back lengthen on the mat. Draw the tailbone toward the backs of the knees. Press into your heels, and lift your hips up into the air. Clasp the hands under the back, if possible, and straighten the elbows. Walk the shoulders closer together so that you feel your breastbone lift up toward your chin. Make sure that your toes continue to face directly forward (not out), and press the inner arches of the feet down. When you do this, you should feel you inner thighs spin down toward the floor. Continue to lengthen your tailbone forward toward the backs of your knees.
Allow the back of the neck to feel long, and gaze down the nose. Hold for 30 seconds, then release and let the hips drop back to the floor. Do not hug the knees into the chest. Rest for 2 deep breaths, then press back up into a second bridge pose. Hold for 30 seconds. When you come down after your second bridge pose, hug the knees into the chest and round the back into the floor.
5. Supine twist with knees bent. 30 seconds each side.
Keep the knees hugging into the chest, and spread your arms out to the side in a T-shape. Inhale, then as you exhale allow the knees to drop to the right hand side of the body. Keep the knees stacked, and let the weight of the knees fall toward the floor. Soften both shoulder blades down the back. If it feels good, you can let the right hand rest on the knees to encourage them to descend toward the floor. Keep the left arm extending out, and if it’s ok on your neck, look over the left shoulder. Close your eyes, or softly focus the gaze on one point. Take steady, deep inhales and exhales through your nose.
Hold the first side for 30 seconds. Then inhale the knees up to center, and with your exhale drop them over to the left hand side. Repeat the above instructions on the left hand side, holding for 30 seconds. Inhale the knees up to center, and if you have time, finish with savasana (described below) for at least 3 minutes.
Bonus pose: Savasana = corpse pose. At least 3 minutes; up to 15-20 minutes.
Lastly, I highly recommend lying down in savasana (corpse pose) for at least 3 minutes after you are finished. Savasana is considered one of the most important poses in yoga, and for good reason: it is perhaps the only time that most of us actually give ourselves permission to be still and rest (outside of sleeping).
To take savasana, lie down on your back and stretch your legs out in front of you, allowing the legs to completely relax and flop open. (If having your legs straight hurts your lower back, bend your knees and step your feet wide apart, letting the knees fall on top of each other). Allow the hands to drop down by your sides, palms facing up. Close your eyes. Take a deep inhale, and then exhale all the breath out. With that exhale, soften the whole body — particularly the shoulders, the throat, the jaw, and the tongue. Allow the jaw to drop back toward the throat. Relax the cheeks and the muscles around the eyes. Soften the space between your eyebrows. Allow the mind to relax — if you find that thoughts present themselves, just let them go and bring the mind back to the mat. Eventually, it will feel as if you are hovering on the edge of sleep in a kind of hazy state of relaxation. This is a good savasana!
Stay in savasana for at least 3 minutes, or as long as 15-20 minutes.
To finish your yoga practice:
When you come out of the pose, hug the knees into the chest and roll to the right hand side of the body. Press up to sukhasana (easy seated pose), and pause with hands at your heart center for a moment. Set the emotional tone for your day: invoke compassion, peace, gratitude, or anything else that will help you be more centered and joyful. Then blink your eyes open.
I hope you enjoy this 5-minute sequence of postures! Try doing them every day for a month and notice if you feel a shift physically, mentally, or energetically.
As always, I wish you great health and great joy.
Photo credits: Most photos in this post are taken from Yoga Journal online.