Sometimes when establishing a personal practice, simple sequences to follow can help to get you started. Do not in any way feel locked into a sequence you are following. This is your practice. Use the sequence to get you going but linger or deviate as the call comes. If you do not have the props called for in a sequence, improvise. And remember, your personal practice doesn't replace your in person class with a live teacher. This is when you practise what you have learnt, remembering particularly how your teacher has taught you to modify and keep yourself safe.
Caution: don't overdo spinal flexion in these movements, especially if you know you have spinal osteoprosois. Gross sensation is not needed.
Yoga has a whole science of breathing technique called pranayama, which involves technical practices that manipulate the breath. Postural practice is also entrains the breath to the movement, another key practice in yoga. But at the heart of it all is what the body already knows how to do, and does without our input. This yoga sequence explores how breath is the primary mover of the body.
If you lay down with your knees bent and your feet on the floor and become very still, you might notice that the body moves with the breath. There is shape change just in the expansion of the lungs as you inhale. If you are utilising the diaphragm to breathe, it draws downwards and displaces the contents of the belly creating a swelling belly. The crua of the diaphragm, fingers of muscle that reach down and attach to the lumbar vertebrae, tug at the lumbar spine slightly, causing it to increase its curve a little with the inhale and settle back with the exhale. You might even notice the pelvic floor swelling and releasing.
So in a very real way, the breath is the primary mover of the body, needing no doer, just the body breathing itself. How wonderful to just add a little intention to enhance what the body already knows how to do, working with the breath to create our movement.
Start your practice in "Supta baddhakoṇāsana" - place a bolster length ways on your mat. with the buttocks on the floor, lay the body along the bolster. (see picture). You may find that you need a small cushion under your head to keep the back of the neck long. Bring the soles of the feet together. You might use supports under the knees so they do not drag down. Spend 5 minutes mindfully attending to the flow of the breath in the body.
Come up into a comfortable sitting position with sufficient height under buttocks that you can sit on the sit bones, knees level with, or ideally lower than the hips. Spend a minute just re-tuning to the breath.
Inhale, raise arms over the head, Exhale drawing prayer hands down in front to the heart, repeat 3 times.
Inhale arms into "I surrender" (upper arms straight out from shoulder, right angle in elbow, fingers towards sky, palms face forward) drawing arms back a little to expand chest, and extend spine.
Exhale, curl forwards, flexing the spine.
Repeat several times.
Place thumbs into the thigh creases with the palms down on the thighs, Raise shoulders up and roll back. repeat several times
Turn the hands over placing little fingers into thigh creases. Reverse the roll of the shoulders, repeat several times.
Observe how you move as you come to a standing position. Place the feet hip width apart. Stand a moment observing how the body feels in standing. See if your pelvis is in a neutral position or do you have a postural habit of tilting it forwards (flattening the lower back) or back (arching the lower back). what does it feel like to place the pelvis in different positions?
Exhale and soften through the knees, inhale and raise the hands overhead.
Exhale soften the knees and lower the hands to the heart.
Repeat raising and lowering the arms with the breath feeling that the breath is moving you.
Change the movement so that you roll a little further down each exhale, curling in (please observe the caution at the top of the post). Keep the knees soft and as you get lower and lower let them bend generously, and let the feet yield into the earth. Each inhale find the returning push and uncurl to arms overhead. let the head release down first on the exhale, and be the last part of the "spine" to uncurl on the way up.
Repeat several times until the rolls are going all the way down, and then add in rolls to the right, the left and down the centre.
Sequence the vertebrae individually. Let the breath move you.
Finish in uttanasana, the standing forward fold, and then come into all fours.
Make several rounds of upward and downward facing cat (cat/cow). On the inhale, let the tail rise and allow this to flow through the spine until you are looking forwards. On the exhale let the tail come down and let this flow through the spine until you are looking down or back towards the knees. Let the breath lead. And please observe the caution at the top of this post.
Come back into a neutral spine. engage a little hug in the centre of the body without blocking the breath.
Inhaling, as if expanding from the navel, reach the right arm forwards, simultaneously reaching the left leg back. Exhaling, as if drawing back into the navel, bring the hand and knee back to floor. Next round of breath, repeat on other side. Repeat several times seeing if you can experience the breath expanding and releasing and the movement following the breath.
Rest a few breaths in child's pose feeling the flow of breath. Doing nothing, feel how the breath is moving the body.
How can you follow the breath to rise up into downward facing dog pose?
Be high on your toes with bent knees, tail high. exhale long and slow and bring the right heel towards the floor, inhale heel back up knee bending. Next long slow exhale, other heel, and so on. repeat several times.
Practise bringing one foot forwards between hands then step back into downward dog again. Practise with the other foot. If you are already adept at bringing the foot forwards skip this step, otherwise just practise this skill a few times.
From lunge bring the other foot forwards, yield then rise to standing.
Make a few rounds of sun salutes, whatever version you like. Feel the flow of breath and let it initiate every movement. Revise the sun salute here.
Practise any standing pose you like.
Rest a moment.
Take as much height under the buttocks as you need in sitting with the soles of the feet together. Knees should be below the height of the hips and the pelvis in neutral. If this is impossible, just spend some time with hands supporting you behind.
Otherwise, spend a few breaths in upright position, and then exhale by exhale allow yourself to lean forward over the feet, only as far as you can keep a long, neutral spine. Spend a few breaths at your limit, perfect just as you are, breathing.
Insert here any seated or lying twist or move directly to the next position.
Following the breath, rise up into bridge pose on your inhale breath and lower on the exhale breath. Repeat several times.
Make sure you leave time for relaxation at the end. Omit anything but this. Set yourself up either lying flat on floor for a traditional practice of supported with a low pillow and something under the knees.
(Author, Tina Shettigara)