Everyday essentials: An eight-step yoga practice by Paula
Research and Enterprise Marketing Officer Paula works in the University’s Department of Marketing and Advancement, but she also teaches yoga and regularly contributes to the British Wheel of Yoga’s magazine, Spectrum.
Paula has shared an eight-step yoga practice which you can try in the comfort of your home and incorporate into your everyday routine.
If you enjoy the routine below, be sure to check out her Facebook page, Yama Yoga, where she is regularly posting yoga activity sheets for everyone to try.
I love yoga, and I’m not alone. Millions of people worldwide enjoy – and benefit from – the challenge of bending, stretching, twisting and balancing.
But, it’s not only about physical achievement. Yoga can help to settle the mind, hushing the busyness of your thoughts to bring focus and a sense of calm.
And, as BKS Iyengar said, “Yoga is for everyone” – not just the super fit, ridiculously flexible or thoroughly Zen. Anybody can do yoga, it’s just a question of working with your body, not forcing it. Yoga shouldn’t hurt.
If you are pregnant, carrying a troublesome injury, recently recovering from surgery or living with a long-term health condition, please consult with your medical practitioner beforehand.
But, if you can sit, comfortable and still, whilst gently bringing your mind to focus – you can yoga.
Plus, these postures, or asana, can be adapted. The spine extension and flexion of Cat can be done in a chair. The long, tall arm stretches of Mountain, likewise.
Part of the fun for me is to try to build yoga into my routine so that if I’m pushed for time, I can at least do something. Starting the day by rolling over into the long stretch of Swan, cleaning my teeth in Half-forward Fold and brushing my hair in Forward Fold – that kind of thing. Have fun, play and explore.
As the old saying goes, “It’s not about being good at something. It’s about being good to yourself.”
So, by all means, work through the sequence or pick and choose to find things you can comfortably fit into your day.
Before you start:
- Wear comfy clothes (eg gym gear).
- Avoid a big meal beforehand, but don’t be hungry.
- Switch off all distractions: the telly, the phone, the family pet, your partner, the children…
- Work on a non-slip surface, barefoot – use a yoga mat, if you have one. You don’t want to accidentally find out that you can do Hanumanasana (the splits).
- Give yourself some time to settle and let go. Find and follow the rhythm of your breathing – that comforting wave of movement, in and out. Really focus on your breath: inhale, exhale – and give yourself permission to let go of the day, just for a while.
From kneeling, stretch your arms forward. Spread your fingers wide. Ease your bum back towards your heels, and your forehead towards the floor. Reach forward whilst easing back, and feel your body lengthen from your fingertips to your tailbone. S-t-r-e-t-c-h and breath comfortably: six rounds, in and out.
From Swan, bring yourself onto all-fours. Straight lines from your knees up to your hips; and from your shoulders through your elbows down to your wrists – a little pressure through the front of your feet into the floor will tone your lower legs. Tuck your tailbone under and busy up your belly, feel your spine flatten out. Look straight down towards the floor.
As you breathe out, tuck your chin towards your chest and arch your spine up towards the ceiling. As you breathe in, return smoothly to the flat-backed starting point. Repeat six times.
Next time you breathe in, go beyond flat back. Look forwards and let your tailbone lift, feel your spine dip and extend. Breathe out and arch your spine. Again, work six times.
- Pad your knees and wrists with a folded towel or yoga mat if they’re uncomfortable
- Avoid locking your elbows
Adho mukha svanasana
From Cat move back to Swan with your knees at hip width, this time tucking your toes under. S-t-r-e-t-c-h.
Lift your knees from the floor. Straighten your legs into Down Dog. Hold steady, breathing smoothly. Ease your heels towards the floor; head comfortable between your arms, looking back towards your feet; feel that you’re easing your chest back towards your thighs.
Now, walk your Dog. Lift your right heel; lower it towards the floor. Lift your left heel; lower it towards the floor. Keep walking your Dog – letting your hips smoothly swing and your spine sway. Finish by easing both heels towards the floor again for a long s-t-r-e-t-c-h.
- If you’re not a Dog person, return to Cat. Stretch your right leg back, toes tucked under on the floor – push your heel away. Then, work your left leg. Repeat three times, both legs.
From Down Dog, walk your hands back towards your feet into Forward Fold, feet hip width. Hang for a moment in Rag-doll. Knees bent, holding your elbows, your head in the loop of your arms. Sway, from your hips, left and right. Now, straighten out your legs. Bring your hands to rest on your legs or the floor – wherever you can reach. Hold steady for three breaths.
- Hands to floor is not essential, just see how far you can go.
- If the Forward Fold is not for you, try Half Forward Fold. Back parallel to the ceiling, palms to thighs. Legs straight. Looking straight down to the floor.
From Forward Fold, bend your knees. Place your palms either side of your spine in your lower back. Lead with your head to standing.
Hands at your sides and feet, hip width apart. Knees unlocked. Shoulders low, settling in the centre of your back. Look straight ahead or close your eyes. Six long comfortable breaths, standing steady as a mountain.
From Mountain, breathe out, bend your knees, ease your bum back, and busy up your belly. As you smooth your way down into Chair, sweep your arms forward and up, either side of your ears, palms parallel. Inhale, and return to Mountain. Work with your breath, in and out of Chair, a few times. Can you comfortably hold the last Chair for three breaths?
- If raising your arms is uncomfortable, bring your hands to your hips
- Try to keep your knees directly above your ankles as you drop into Chair – so really push that butt back!
Make your way, mindfully, to the floor. Inhale – stretch your arms overhead. Breathe out, bend your knees, hinge from your hips into half or full Forward Fold and hold for three breaths. Bring your knees to the floor into Cat and have a good s-t-r-e-t-c-h in Swan. Return to Cat and, then, sit yourself on the floor, in Staff. Sit tall and straight. Legs together. Toes pointing straight up to the ceiling. Hands resting lightly on the floor beside your hips. Now try drawing your toes back towards your shins, perhaps feeling your heels lift from the floor. Take three long steady breaths.
- If sitting in Staff is uncomfortable, bend your knees a little or perch on the front edge of a yoga block or firmly rolled towel.
…and finally, rest.
Savasana is a must at the end of every yoga session. It’s a firm favourite and the reason most people join my classes, I’m sure…
Settle yourself comfortably on your back. Draw your thighs to your belly and hug your legs to you. Tuck your chin, with your forehead towards your knees. Curl up small.
Return your head to the floor and roll the full width of your back, from left to right. Settle comfortably in Savasana, eyes closed.
Mindfulness – even the simple breathing exercise suggested here, is good for you. The NHS says that it can improve your mental wellbeing.
You can do this exercise at any time, not just lying down. Find yourself a quiet space, and make sure you’re comfortable.
As your body rests, return to where you started: find and follow the rhythm of your breathing, that comforting wave of movement, in and out. Really focus on your breath – inhale, exhale – and give yourself permission to let go of the day, just for a while.
After a few rounds, focus on your exhalation, and each time you breathe out, tell yourself to “relax”. Each time you breathe out, repeat the gentle instruction: “relax”.
Return to the day slowly, don’t rush to sit up. Roll onto your right-hand side, blink your eyes open, then smoothly push yourself to seated.
- Settle your head on a yoga block or firmly rolled towel, if that’s more comfortable.
- If your lower back is uncomfortable, bend your knees. Feet wide and knees together.
- I tend to set my alarm so that I know how long I’m resting. Try five minutes – longer if you need it…
Health and Wellbeing
Wellbeing means being in a positive physical, social and mental state. Wellbeing is important to us as happy, healthy people who achieve harmony in their work / life mix are more creative, productive and help to create a great place to work.