On a stressful day, a yoga practice can be your best friend. Next time your head feels like itís ready to pop off your body, unroll your mat as soon as you can. You might need two blocks and a strap or a couple of hard-bound books and a towel.
Start by coming to your hands and knees, and check in with your breathing from this perspective. Note in particular if you are breathing faster or more shallowly than normal. Then inhale, and come into Marjaryasana, or Cat Pose. Exhale as you move into Bitilasana, or Cow Pose. Do this a few more times, linking the breath to movement. Add Balasana, or Childís Pose: inhale into Cat, exhale through Cow and into Childís. After a few repetitions of this, alternate Childís Pose with
Now step or jump from Down Dog to Uttanasa, or standing forward bend. Keep your knees bent; grab your elbows and keep them in line with your ears. Stay here for a breath or two, and notice where you are stiff or tense. Then inhale to rise halfway up and exhale to come back into the forward fold. Now inhale and come all the way up, and then exhale the hands down to your sides. You are now in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose.
A few rounds of Surya Namaskar, in any variation, will feel good. Again, this is a chance to coordinate your respiration with your activity. This will also help to focus your brain on movement instead of replaying the events of the day.
Following your Surya Namaskars, move to Mountain. aise your hands overhead as you inhale, sink into Utkatasana, or Chair, with an exhale. Inhale while holding the pose, and then exhale into Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Bend. Stay here for a few breaths, perhaps pedaling out your legs, before inhaling back into Utkatasana. Inhale here, then exhale back to Tadasana.
From here, make your way to the floor. Take Janu Sirsasana, or Head to Knee Forward Bend, in a slow and focused manner. (Donít rush here Ė I have injured myself coming into and out of this pose too quickly.) Pay attention to your back and make sure you maintain proper form. Hold the position for five to ten breaths. Donít feel you have to reach out to your farthest edge, and use a strap if it makes the pose more manageable. Slip a block or blanket under your bent knee if itís not near the floor. Try to stay without moving. Come up slowly, and repeat this on the other side of your body, and note the difference.
Now straighten both legs and take Pascimottanasana or Seated Forward Bend. If you havenít practiced this pose with variations before, or if youíre up for experimentation, try it three different ways: first, with bent knees, second, with a strap, and third, without props, each time holding for two to three breaths. There will be one that fits your body where it is today. Once youíve determined which variation fits the current day, move into the posture and hold it for again five to ten breaths.
Now, youíre ready to think about Savasana. You might want to preface it with Happy Baby, or with a supine twist. When your body has settled, make your way into Corpse Pose. Focus on your breath, or do a body scan to see where you are holding tension. This is the time for you to actively relax your body and breath, and to check in again with how youíre feeling. Itís a good idea to stay here for five to ten minutes if possible.
This sequence should take twenty to thirty minutes. If you have time, follow it with a gratitude or loving-kindness meditation. Now return to your life, and note the difference!