When the world disappoints you, hurts you, maybe even destroys a piece of you, your yoga practice can be especially soothing. Movement channels healing qualities like strength, fluidity, calm, power, and resilience. The mere fact that you can turn inward to find peace, space, acceptance, or just a moment of quiet diminishes the surrounding noise so that when you emerge, you do so with a full, indestructible spirit. In chaotic times, I find refuge in this six-pose sequence, which not only uplifts my heart but my entire mood as well.
Typically, before you begin a practice, you might take a few minutes for centering with a few quiet moments or by focusing on your breath. However, in my experience, my mind will generally still be stuck on repeat, preoccupied by whatever is creating the chaos and usurping my vital energy for the day. So for this sequence, you’ll jump right into the action—the idea is that the sooner you start, the sooner you'll discover your hopeful, uplifted heart space and calm your mind.
For this practice, you’ll need a blanket, bolster, and block or substitutes for them.
Something I've found particularly useful when having feelings I cannot control is to imagine trying to throw them out of my body and smashing them to the floor. It also gets my blood flowing and warms my body for the rest of the sequence.
Start in mountain pose with your feet about hip-width apart. On an inhale, lift your arms overhead, and on your exhale, rapidly release your arms as you gently bend your knees. Pitch your torso slightly forward. Repeat these movements, inhaling as you rise into tadasana with arms overhead and releasing with your knees bent on an exhale. After a few rounds, exaggerate the movement by lifting onto the balls of your feet as you inhale and lift your arms. Then exhale into a low chair pose and extend your arms behind your body. Let your body pitch forward organically with this movement.
Repeat as many times as is helpful and gets you warm.
Adding to the theme of purging overwhelming feelings from the body, these warrior II diagonal throws keep your arms pumping while instilling strength, steadiness, and focus in your lower body. Your arms mimic your swirling mind, while the rest of your body reconnects with the familiar feeling of standing solid and ready to connect.
Stand facing the long side of your mat with your feet about a leg's distance apart. Turn your right leg out 90 degrees, pointing your toes toward the top of your mat. Turn your left leg in about 45 degrees, more than you might normally do. Bend your right knee as much as you see fit. On an inhale, lift your arms overhead with your torso still facing the long side of your mat.
As you exhale, briskly, sweep both arms down and across your body, reaching for your left leg (you do not need to touch it). On an inhale, sweep your arms back overhead.
Repeat three to six times. Then relax your arms, straighten your right leg, turn both legs back to parallel, and switch sides.
After shaking out the chaos, now is the time to find more stillness and stand tall, with your heart uplifted.
After completing warrior II diagonal throws on the left side, straighten your left leg and turn your feet so they’re parallel and you’re facing the long edge of your mat. Turn your legs out 45 degrees, so your toes are pointing toward the corners of your mat, and firm your thighs. Lift your arms to a 45-degree angle overhead as you lift your heart.
Gaze up and absorb how it feels to stand tall, steady, and strong. Bask in your power for a few breaths.
It can be difficult to stand securely with your heart wide open in tumultuous times, but sometimes it can be helpful. This next part of the sequence lets you explore rising up and re-entering a safe space in which your heart can dwell.
Start on all fours, using any padding you like. On an exhale, reach your hips back as if you were coming into child's pose, keeping your spine long and your arms reaching out in front of you.
Then, on an inhale, press through your shins, drag your hands along the floor toward you as you bring your torso upright. Press your hips forward as you lift your arms and chest while you simultaneously rise up on your knees. Bend your elbows out to the sides at shoulder height for cactus arms and lift your heart toward the ceiling, coming into a version of camel pose. Feel the openness in your heart for as long as it is comfortable, then return to hands and knees.
Take your time to explore moving in and out of these two positions about three to five times, focusing on what it feels like to lead with your heart.
Alternate nostril breathing is said to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain, inducing a state of harmony and relaxation.
Sit in any comfortable seated position, using any support to facilitate the experience. If you have a blanket or a bolster, rest it on your lap and place your left hand comfortably on top of it. Raise your right hand to your nose and curl your index and third fingers into your palm. Let your pinky rest naturally. Place the tip of your thumb lightly on your right nostril and the tip of your fourth finger lightly on your left nostril. Take three breaths and notice the gentle pressure of your fingers on your nostrils. Then close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril. Close your left nostril and open the right. Exhale through your right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril. Close your right nostril, open the left, and exhale through the left. That’s one round.
If it’s helpful, choose a number to count the duration of your breaths so that they are relatively even and make sure that your breathing remains smooth and consistent.
Repeat for eight to ten rounds. Lower your right hand to your lap. Observe your breath.
Supta baddha konasana (reclined bound angle pose), the final pose of this sequence, is one in which your body can release all tension and merge into the floor or props; observe how the external chaos that was echoing through your interior world has evaporated into a sense of ease and openheartedness.
Though you can practice this pose without props or with minimal propping, I've included a more elaborate prop setup to encourage the upliftment of your heart. Use what you have access to and improvise accordingly.
To begin, place a bolster over a block placed horizontally on its medium setting toward the upper part of your mat. Open up your blanket all the way, then roll it up lengthwise. Sit in front of the bolster with your sacrum making contact with it. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together on the floor. Wrap the blanket around the top of your feet and tuck the sides under your outer thighs, as close to your buttocks as possible. Lie back on the bolster. Move your chin slightly closer to your heart, elongating your neck. Place your hands over your heart and take a few breaths here. Keep your hands where they are or move them to another comfortable position and remain here for five to twenty minutes.
When you are ready to come out, use your hands to guide your knees together while placing the soles of your feet on the floor. Slowly roll to your side. Stay here for a few breaths, then gradually make your way up to a seated position, claiming your seat of power.
Start Where You Are, Find Your Power
The purpose of this sequence is for you to start where you are, moving through whatever feelings and thoughts arise. The vigorous movements at the beginning allow you to settle into the poses that follow and prepare you for stillness in the seated and supine positions at the end. Though life presents us with situations that shake us to the core, we have the power to become unshakable—clear, free, brave, and resilient within—and then guide ourselves forward into the world from our source of inner power.
Photography: Andrea Killam