Get Into Your Flow: An Energizing Sequence for Busy Days

It is said that time is an illusion. When we’re busy and stressed, however, time becomes incredibly real and a currency we need to parcel out carefully.

Yoga can support us throughout our lives—whether we’re young or old, well or sick, busy or not. Unfortunately, when we’re busy our practice can fall to the bottom of our to-do list. But it’s precisely during those times that a quick sequence designed to soothe our tired minds, release tension, and energize us for the day ahead can be our best friend.

Below is a complete yet succinct 20-minute sequence that can be adjusted to fit almost any schedule. If time permits, repeat poses two through nine three to five times in a continuous flow. The rest of the poses should be done one time through.

Unless otherwise noted, each movement takes one breath. If you are a beginner, take a bit longer with each movement, slowly allowing your body to adjust and gain proficiency. Throughout your practice, keep an eye on your breath: If it becomes hard to breathe, slow down or take a break.

Before you begin: Take a moment to become centered and clear your mind, in any comfortable seated position; you can also stand with your hands in prayer position at your heart. Take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose. Breathe slowly and smoothly, and try to maintain this quality of breathing throughout the entire practice. It can take a while to train the body to move according to the one-breath-per-movement breathing patterns suggested here, so please take extra breaths when needed. Slowly, over time, your stamina will increase and your breath will feel more smooth and even.

To prevent any uncomfortable feelings in your tummy, it is recommended that you avoid doing this practice right after eating a meal. Be sure to hydrate well both before and after your practice.

20-Minute Flow

1. Equal Standing

an-ashtanga-yoga-practice

Stand at the front of your mat with your feet together and arms by your sides. If your heels do not touch, bring your big toes together and let your heels be slightly apart. (If toes touching doesn’t work for your body, stand with your feet hip-width apart.) Soften your shoulders, draw your navel in, and breathe deeply in and out through your nose. Relax your neck and gaze gently down the tip of your nose.

2. Chair Pose

chair-pose

Inhale, bend your knees, and reach your arms up to the sky. Press your hands together in prayer with all five fingers touching. Let your head tilt back and gaze up at your thumbs. Or, if this is uncomfortable for your neck, simply lower your arms to a point where it is comfortable to gaze at your thumbs. Continuing to draw in your ribs, lift your chest up toward your hands, creating a gentle backbend behind your heart.

3. Standing Forward Fold

From chair pose, exhale, and fold over your legs, placing the palms of your hands or your fingertips on the floor outside your feet. If you can comfortably straighten your legs, lift your kneecaps by contracting your quads. This movement helps you to safely lengthen and release your hamstrings without hyperextending your knees. As you start to build heat, and as tension leaves your body, deepen the stretch by drawing your chest toward your thighs. To keep the back of your neck long and free of tension, gaze down the tip of your nose and elongate your spine toward your feet. Drop your head, press your feet into the ground, and lift your sitting bones toward the sky.

4. Standing Half Forward Fold

half-forward-fold

From standing forward fold, inhale, press your hands down into the floor, and lift your chest away from your thighs. Remember that if your hamstrings or back feel tight, you can bend your knees. It may also be more comfortable to walk your hands forward. Gaze gently at the floor, slightly ahead of your hands, and soften your shoulders away from your ears.

5. Plank Pose

plank-pose

From standing half forward fold, exhale, step your right foot back as far as you can and then your left, until your entire body is parallel to your mat (shoulders over wrists, heels over the balls of your feet). Push your hands into the mat softly, engage your belly, lift your thighs away from the mat, and reach back through your heels. Keep your neck long by looking slightly forward. If your shoulders or back feel strained, lower your knees to the floor.

6. Chaturanga/Upward Facing Dog

Continuing to flow with the same exhale you took into plank pose, keeping your body straight and strong like a board, with your belly lifting away from the floor and tailbone drawing toward your heels, bend your elbows and lower to the ground. Untuck your toes. Keeping your wrists under the shoulders, inhale, push your hands and the tops of your feet into the mat, and scoop your chest through your arms and up toward the sky. Keep your legs strong and engaged and squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other. Depending on the strength of your shoulders and back, your knees may or may not lift off the floor. If it’s comfortable for your neck, allow your head to drop back; but if your neck feels crunched, line up your ears with the top of your shoulders. Gently gaze down at the tip of your nose.

7. Downward Facing Dog

downward-facing-dog

From upward facing dog, exhale, tuck your toes under, push into your hands and feet, and raise your hips to the sky, making a V shape with your body. Drop your head to release your neck. Push into your hands, draw your chest away from the floor, pull your ribs in and hug your navel toward your spine. Press into your feet, engage your quadriceps, lift your kneecaps and work toward straightening your legs. If your low back and hamstrings are tight, gently bend your knees while continuing to push back through your heels.

Depending on your body, your heels may or may not touch the floor. If there is strain through your shoulders, you might feel tempted to shorten your down dog. I recommend first trying to bend your knees while pressing your heart back toward your thighs. If your down dog is too short, it will be harder to transition to the next pose, and you may also lose out on some of the stretch in the back of the legs. One way to test out the length of your down dog is to come forward into plank pose again without adjusting your feet and hands. If you need to adjust, your down dog may be too short or too long.

Hold for five breath cycles (roughly 30 seconds).

8. Warrior 1

From downward facing dog, inhale and step your right foot forward between your hands, toes pointing straight forward; then bend your right knee and spin your back foot down, toes slightly turned in. Depending on your body, you may need to take more than one step forward in order to place your foot between your hands. You can also choose to grab hold of your ankle and pick your foot up, placing it between your hands. If this doesn't work for you, don’t sweat it—just get as close as you can, and then step or scoot your foot forward as needed.

Direct your hips to face the front of your mat as you lift your arms toward the sky, pressing your hands together if possible. Tilt your head back, gaze at your hands, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and lift your chest toward your fingertips. (If letting your head fall back is uncomfortable for your neck, simultaneously decrease the angle of your arms and head until you can comfortably gaze at your hands. If this variation is uncomfortable for your shoulders, arms can be kept shoulder-distance apart, palms facing in.)

Hold for five breath cycles (roughly 30 seconds).

Continuing the flow, inhale, pivot all the way around to face the back of your mat, and exhale into warrior I on the left side.

Hold for five breath cycles (roughly 30 seconds).

9. Warrior II

From warrior I on the left, inhale and open your hips to the right, bringing your hips and chest to face the side wall; open your arms into a T, and gaze over your left hand. Exhale and settle into the pose.

Hold for five breath cycles (roughly 30 seconds).

Continuing the flow, inhale and pivot on your feet; exhale, come into warrior II on the right side.

Hold for five breath cycles (roughly 30 seconds).

Continuing the flow, place both hands on either side of your front (right) foot. Repeat poses five through seven: plank, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog.

10. Bridge Pose

Lie down on your back. Take a few deep breaths with your legs straight and your arms by your sides. Feel the effects of the practice so far. Then, still breathing deeply in and out through your nose, bend your knees and place your ankles under your knees, legs hip-distance apart. Place your arms by your sides, palms down. Inhale, press into your feet, and lift your hips to create a downward slope from knees to chin. You can either remain here or shimmy your shoulders underneath you, bringing your shoulder blades and hands closer together. Your hands can stay shoulder-distance apart, palms down, or you can interlace them. Keep your neck relaxed without strain or tension.

Hold for five breath cycles (roughly 30 seconds). After you come down, take a few breaths. Repeat up to five times as time permits.

11. Seated Forward Fold

Taking long, steady inhales and exhales, hug your knees into your chest and rock back and forth a few times, massaging your back. On an inhale, rock up to a seated position and straighten your legs out in front of you. Exhale here, and with a tall spine, inhale and hold the outsides of your feet. If your feet are out of reach, or if your lower back or hamstrings feel strained, bend your knees. Exhale, keeping your spine long and reaching through the crown of your head, folding forward more deeply if you can. If your legs are straight, flex your feet and engage your quadriceps to release your hamstrings. Gaze gently toward your toes. If this strains your neck, relax your neck, and allow your head to gently hang down toward your legs as you soften your gaze.

Hold for a minimum of 10 breath cycles (roughly one minute).

12. Marichi’s Twist C

From seated forward fold, inhale and sit up slowly. Exhale sitting up tall, then inhale and bend your right knee, bringing your right foot as close to your right hip as possible while leaving a fist’s-distance between your right foot and left leg. Twist to the right, taking your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Keep your hips facing forward and twist from the center of your belly. Look back over your right shoulder.

Hold for five breath cycles (roughly 30 seconds). Switch sides.

13. Legs Up the Wall Pose

Sit next to a wall, placing your right hip flush against it. As you lie down, swing your legs straight up the wall and lie flat on your back with your arms by your sides. Close or soften your eyes and let your back body dissolve into the floor.

Hold for 15 breath cycles (roughly one and a half minutes).

14. Seated Cross-Legged Pose

From legs up the wall pose, bend your knees and lower them to the right or the left, and press into your hands to sit up. Lean your back against the wall, bend your knees, and cross your ankles. Place your hands, palms up, on your thighs, and softly gaze down toward the tip of your nose as you lift your chest and drop your chin to your sternum. Bring all of your attention to the sound of your breath. If your knees are uncomfortable, sit on a block or folded blanket.

Sit and breathe a minimum of 10 breath cycles (roughly one minute). You can also stay here and meditate or take long, slow, deep breaths as long as time permits.

15. Take Rest

Lie on your back, arms and legs straight, feet hip-distance apart, arms a few inches away from your body, palms up. Close your eyes and allow your breath to return to normal. Hold for a minimum of 20 breath cycles (roughly two minutes); or, as time permits, stay as long as you’d like.

When you are done, open your eyes and ease yourself back up to a seated position. In just 20 minutes, you have completed a full practice and given your body and mind a treat. This practice can be done in the morning, at lunch, or while the kids are napping. Or it can be squeezed into any 20 minutes of the day most convenient for you.

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Shanna Small

Shanna Small

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional... Read more>>  

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