A Short Self-Care Practice for Busy Days
Do you have a self-care yoga routine—a sequence that you turn to regularly for emotional and physical support? It’s all too easy for many of us to overextend ourselves throughout the day, and one of the biggest obstacles to self-care is simply not having enough time. But how long does a little R&R really take? I’ve discovered that when I deny myself self-care, it’s often because I can’t stop doing and just allow myself to be.
How long does a little R&R really take?
Below is a simple self-care-focused asana practice that you can do in as little as 10 minutes, or as long as 30 minutes. I invite you to follow your intuition, holding each pose for as long as you’d like (the hold times I've listed are merely suggestions). This routine was born from a time when I personally needed to surrender to gravity—to lie down on the earth and relax into pure being.
Prepare for Your Practice
Unroll your mat, or spread a soft blanket on the floor in lieu of a mat. Have another blanket and a bolster (or a thickly rolled blanket) handy. These props, plus a willingness to surrender a small portion of your day, are all you need.
A Simple Self-Care Sequence
Crocodile Pose with a Rolled Blanket
Fold a blanket in half widthwise and roll it up lengthwise. Arrange the roll in a horseshoe shape, and lie facedown on the curve of the roll so that it supports your upper chest; allow the rest of the roll to support the sides of your rib cage. Stack your forearms and rest your forehead on them. Let your legs rest a comfortable distance away from each other, feet turned either in or out. Soften your jaw, shoulders, and hips, and notice the movement of your breath. Every time you inhale, become aware of how your belly expands and presses into the ground, the sides and back of the rib cage expand, and even the lower back rises and expands. Every time you exhale, notice how your belly draws in toward the spine, the ribs draw in, and the lower back descends toward the earth.
Turn inward and allow your breath to become smooth, even, and quiet. Try to rest your mind in your breath for the remainder of this practice, accepting that you will be distracted from time to time. Just draw your attention back to your breath each time it wanders. Remain here for three to five minutes.
Knee to Chest
Roll over onto your back. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Bend your left knee and draw it in toward your belly, hands hugging the back of your thigh or the top of your shin (you can also wrap a strap around the back of your thigh if that’s more comfortable). Stay open through your upper body, and soften through your shoulders. Your right leg can remain bent, or you can lengthen it along the floor. If your right leg is extended, make sure it is perpendicular to the hip socket (most of us will need to move the leg in toward the midline a little to find this alignment) and in a neutral position (not turning out or in). Press your right thigh into the earth as you continue hugging the left leg toward you, deepening the stretch in your right hip flexors. As a variation, you can straighten your left leg for a hamstring stretch. Breathe here for one to two minutes, and then switch sides.
Supine Child’s Pose With Happy Baby Option
Now, hug both knees in toward your chest and separate them (hands either behind your thighs or on your shins). As you soften through the hip joints, imagine that you could breathe into the space you are creating in the hips. Remain here in stillness, or place your hands on your knees and draw circles with them (first clockwise, and then counterclockwise).
Eventually, if you feel open enough, come into happy baby by taking your hands to the backs of your thighs (if they're not there already) and opening your knees to a 90-degree angle (so the soles of your feet are facing the ceiling). Keep your hands on your thighs, or move them up to your calves or the outer edges of your feet. Remain here for two to three minutes, and then lower your legs until your feet are on the floor with your knees bent.
Extend your legs, and reach your arms overhead. Stretch the entire length of your body, from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. Hold that stretch and keep breathing deeply. After a few deep rounds of breath, on an exhale allow your body to become like jelly as you release all effort, allowing your arms and legs to remain where they are, but limp. Then, each time you inhale, re-engage a full body stretch; and each time you exhale, allow the body to soften completely. Notice how this dynamic between effort and ease unfolds in your body. Repeat five times.
Supported Heart-Opener Over a Bolster
Place your bolster or a thickly rolled blanket lengthwise on your mat or your open blanket, and sit (with knees bent) directly in front of it. Use your hands for support as you lie back onto the bolster. Allow your body to become heavy, surrendering its weight into the support; let your shoulders melt toward the earth and your chest expand. You can extend your legs or draw the soles of the feet together for a reclined bound angle pose (baddha konasana). Observe your belly rising and falling as you breathe. Remain here for five to seven minutes.
Simple Kneeling Twist
Come to a kneeling position, and then sit back on your heels (toes pointed, not tucked under). If sitting this way isn’t comfortable, place a block at medium height between your feet for extra support. Once you’re settled, rest your right hand on your left hip crease, and place your left palm on your lower back. Lengthen through your spine, and broaden through your chest. Then, initiating the twist from the navel center, begin to rotate your upper body to the left. Soften your gaze and keep it in line with your heart as you twist. Then, if it feels comfortable for your neck, you can turn your head to the left. Every inhale is a chance to grow taller through the spine, every exhale a chance to go a little deeper into the twist.
After three breath cycles, return to center and repeat on the other side.
Once you’ve completed on both sides, sit with a neutral spine, and place your right palm over your heart center and your left hand over the right. Acknowledge your heart, and say these words quietly to yourself: I am worth this time. I am enough, and I do enough. Repeat these words until you start to feel that they could be (or are) true.
If this practice felt nurturing for you, repeat it whenever you desire.
Kathryn is an associate editor at Yoga International. She found her way to yoga one starry night in Portugal at Monte Sahaja (the ashram of advaita master Mooji). Now she lives at the Himalayan Institute, where she continues her studies. She views yoga primarily as a healing practice that can re-awaken a sense of wonder, purpose, and (to quote one of her teachers, Rolf Sovik) "relentless optimism."