Our society today often asks us to do more and do it faster. This sustained sense of urgency and stimulation can shift our nervous system into overdrive and lock us into the “fight or flight” response. Learning tools to bring us back into a state of relaxation and ease is essential to our overall health and well-being.
This brief yet potent sequence of gentle movements coordinated with breath is one of my go-to practices when I need to cultivate a sense of grounding and calm my frazzled nervous system. Practice this 5-minute sequence any time of day or, if you’re short on time, choose just one pose out of the group to re-center and quiet your mind.
Standing Forward Bend
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart and parallel to the edges of your mat. As you inhale, stretch your arms up overhead. Exhale, bend your knees generously, hinge at your hips and fold forward bringing your hands to the earth. Bend your knees enough that your belly can rest on your thighs and do your best to distribute your weight evenly between all four corners of your feet. Hold opposite elbows and allow your head to release. Shift your gaze softly to the space between your heels and stay here for 10 deep breaths.
Standing Forward Bend with Dynamic Twist
Continue from the previous pose: release your hands back down to the mat. Bring your left hand directly underneath your nose and come up onto your fingertips. On an inhale, bend your left knee, turn your torso to the right and take your right arm up towards the ceiling. Open across your chest and, if it feels ok on your neck, look up towards your top arm. As you exhale, unwind from the twist and bring your right hand underneath your nose. Inhale again as you bend your right knee, turn your torso to the left and take your left arm up towards the ceiling. Continue to move gently in and out of this twist, switching sides with each inhale. Allow your movements to be fluid and soft with the intention of making this a moving meditation. Move through 10 full cycles, then fold forward over bent knees once more, holding opposite elbows.
Downward Facing Dog
Make your way down onto hands and knees/all fours. Place your hands in line with your shoulders and your knees hip-distance apart. Bring your wrist creases parallel to the front edge of your mat and spread your fingers wide pressing evenly through all four corners of your palms. Take a deep inhale and as you exhale gently draw your lower belly up and in towards your spine. Maintain this connection, step your right foot and your left foot back to a high plank pose with your feet hip-distance apart. Keeping your hands and feet where they are, inhale and as you exhale lift your hips up and back into Downward Facing Dog. Press the top of your thighs back and your heels down. If you feel any strain in the lower back, take your feet wider and/or bend your knees. Continue to press your hands into the mat and lift your hips up and back. Stay here for 10 slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose. To come out, lower your knees to the floor and rest in Child’s Pose.
Cow/Cat on Breath
Once again, come up onto hands and knees/all fours. Place your hands in line with your shoulders and your knees hip-distance apart. Bring your wrist creases parallel to the front edge of your mat and spread your fingers wide pressing evenly through all four corners of your palms.
As you inhale, draw your sternum/chest forward between your arm bones, lift your tail bone and allow your belly to drop toward the floor for Cow Pose. As you exhale, press the floor away from you as your round your spine towards the ceiling and release your head for Cat Pose.
Continue to move in and out of Cow and Cat coordinating each movement with your breath. Consider closing your eyes. Move through 10 full rounds of breath then release your hips back towards your heels for Childs Pose (see next pose for description).
Child’s Pose: 2 Variations
Starting on hands and knees/all fours, bring your big toes together and your knees wider than your hips. Press your hips back towards your heels and fold forward over your legs. If your forehead does not comfortably and easefully touch the mat, place a block or a folded blanket underneath your forehead.
Version 1: Extend your arms forward, but allow your elbows to bend and your forearms to rest down on the mat.
Version 2: Take your arms back alongside your body, bringing your hands towards your feet with your palms facing up.
Allow the full weight of your body to release into the floor. Stay here for 10 full, deep breaths.
This is a breathing technique (or pranayama) that I learned from my acupuncturist and it is, for me, one of the most effective practices to bring me into a state of calm.
Sit comfortably either in a chair with your lower back supported and your feet on the floor or sit cross-legged on the floor with your seat lifted by a blanket or cushion. Sit tall, lifting up through the crown of your head and allow your shoulders to soften down away from your ears.
Bring your left hand in front of your lower belly with your palm facing the ceiling. Place your right hand a few inches above your left with your right palm facing down. I like to imagine a soft, glowing sphere of light in between my palms. Close your eyes and allow your hands to be soft.
As you inhale, slowly draw your right hand vertically up toward the ceiling until it reaches the height of your chin, mouth or nose. The height of the hand is not important, but rather coordinating the lift of your hand with your inhale. As soon as you reach the top of your inhale, pause and as you exhale, release your right hand back to its original position. Continue this practice for 10 – 20 breath cycles. When you are finished, rest your hands on your thighs and sit with your eyes closed for a few more breaths observing how you feel.