You will need to hand either a yoga strap, rolled up towel or even a towelling bathrobe belt and a folded blanket or small cushion if using a hard surface.
Hold each pose for 30-45 seconds before repeating on the other side.
1. Anjaneyasana (low lunge pose)
Hip Flexor stretch
Come to kneeling with shoulders, hips and knees in line (place a folded blanket under the knees for comfort on a hard surface)
Place the right leg in front of the body at 90 degrees, knee stacked over ankle.
Tuck the tailbone under slightly and draw the navel gently in and up. Creating length and space in the lower back.
Shift the hips directly in front of the back knee, until a stretch is felt across the front of the back hip. If needed, inch the front foot forwards so the right knee and ankle stay aligned.
Avoid tilting the pelvis forwards towards the floor. This creates more of a backbend, adding compression in the lower spine.
Draw energy up from the ground and out through the crown of the head. Lift away from the floor, rather than sinking into it.
Palms come together at the heart center or raise arms overhead, a little wider than shoulder distance apart. Palms face in.
Allow space for the neck, by releasing the shoulders down, away from the ears.
2. Anjaneyasana variation (low lunge pose variation)
Start in the low lunge position (1) with your right foot forward.
Rest your right hand on the front thigh.
Reach back with your left arm and grasp the middle of your left foot (where your laces would be on your shoes). Draw the heel towards the left sit bone until a stretch is felt along the front of the left thigh.
If this is difficult, loop the belt around the middle of your left foot or ankle and draw the heel in towards your left sit bone.
Square the chest to the front. Tuck the tailbone slightly under, lifting the pubic bone up towards the navel.
3. Supta eka pada rajakapotasana (reclined pigeon pose)
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and hip distance apart.
Cross the right ankle, over the left thigh, just above the knee. Avoid resting the ankle bone on the thigh.
Flex the right foot. This will keep the ankle and foot safe in this pose.
Pressing the lower back into the mat, begin to lift the left knee towards the left shoulder.
Thread the right hand through the legs and the left arm around the outside to hold the back of the left thigh.
Relax your shoulders and head fully to the ground. If the head can not relax down without the chin tilting towards the ceiling, place a folded blanket under the back of the head to elevate it slightly. This will help lower the chin, allowing a neutral resting position for the head, bringing the chin and forehead level.
If it is difficult to reach the back of the thigh, loop the belt around the thigh instead and hold it in both hands to draw the left knee in closer.
Release the right knee back slowly away from you without force, working toward squaring the shin with the chest or until a stretch is felt in the right glute.
To advance this pose, take both hands on top of the shin instead of around the back of the thigh and work to release the lower back flat to the mat. The shoulders and back of the head remain relaxed to the floor.
4. Supta Hasta Padangusthasana with belt (Reclined hand to big toe pose)
Hamstring and Calf stretch
Lay flat on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor hip distance apart.
Bend the right knee towards the chest.
Hold the belt in both hands and place it under the ball of the right foot.
Shoulders and upper arms rest on the floor.
Anchor the hips down firmly to the floor and extend the right leg above the right hip. Press out through the heel and flex the toes towards the face, until you feel a stretch at the back of the right thigh and calf.
If the leg cannot fully straighten over the hip, do not force it. Stop when you feel the stretch and continue to gently press out through the center of the heel.
To advance the pose, if the right leg is fully extended directly over the hip, then you can slide the left leg away. Keep the left kneecap and toes facing directly up. Press out through the left heel. You may now be able to draw the right leg further towards the head, working up the belt.
5. Parivrtta Supta Hasta Padangusthasana with belt (revolved, reclined hand to big toe pose)
IT band and TFL stretch
Lay flat on your back. Arms extended out to the side at shoulder height.
Bend the right knee above the right hip.
Use the left hand to guide the knee across the body towards the floor.
Keep the right shoulder blade anchored down and the chest open to the sky, drawing the right side of the ribcage gently down towards the floor.
Loop the belt under the ball of the right foot and begin to extend the leg straight out in line with the hip. Press out through the heel and flex the toes slightly until you feel a stretch in the outer right hip.
Do not force the right leg straight. If you cannot fully extend the leg, keep the leg slightly bent and press out gently through the right heel.
6. Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) with diaphragmatic breathing
Sit sideways a little away from a wall. Swivel on your hips and come to laying flat on the floor. Extend your legs straight up on the wall.
Keeping your hips slightly away from the wall will create more space to breathe and relax. It can also help to place a folded blanket at the base of the spine to elevate the hips a little and release the back down fully to the floor.
If this position is uncomfortable you can modify it by resting your lower legs on a chair or any surface that allows the legs to rest at approximately 90 degrees.
Place your hands on your belly.
Allow the hips and the entire back to sink to the floor.
Close your eyes, bringing your awareness to your breath.
Close your mouth, keeping the teeth slightly parted to relax the jaw.
Inhale through the nose for a slow count of four. Encourage the inhale down to the belly. Feel the belly expand into your hands.
Exhale through the nose or mouth for a slow count of four, allowing the belly to soften and the navel to fall back towards the spine.
Keep the neck, shoulders and upper chest relaxed. Stay here for a few minutes, mentally counting the breath in and out. This helps to draw your attention inwards.
Breathing at a slow even pace in and out promotes relaxation, switching your nervous system response from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’.
This is a very restorative pose, to relax the body, provide relief for fatigued legs, help promote drainage from any excess fluid build up in the lower legs and improve circulation. The pelvic floor muscles can also fully relax in this position.
Variation: pelvic floor engagement
After a few minutes here, you can begin to incorporate some pelvic floor exercises, working with the breath.
It is important to be able to fully relax the pelvic floor muscles, as well as strengthen them. The pelvic floor muscles can become too tight, which can cause its own problems. Practising the following pelvic floor awareness exercise helps to both strengthen and fully relax the pelvic floor muscles.
To understand how to contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles imagine a zipper that starts from your coccyx, runs underneath the body to the pubis and up to the navel.
We start with the zipper done up. Inhale for a slow count of four through the nose, and down to the belly. Imagine the zipper beginning to slowly open. Think about releasing the zipper on your jeans after a big meal allowing the belly to expand.
On the inhale, the diaphragm contracts moving down away from under the ribs, allowing the lungs to expand and fill with air.
Now exhale for a slow count of four. Imagine, slowly doing the zipper back up from your coccyx to your pubic bone and up to the navel.
Gently contract the anus (as if stopping the passing of wind), vagina, and urethra (as if stopping the flow of urine). The navel contracts back gently towards the spine, imagine doing up a pair of pants that are slightly too small!
On the exhale, the diaphragm relaxes back up under the ribs, helping to expel the air from the lungs.
Repeat this exercise for 15 rounds (one inhale + one exhale = one round).
This blog post was written by Sophie Tsavalos. Sophie is a founder and yoga instructor at The Studio SE6, a boutique yoga and pilates studio in Catford, London. Visit her website thestudiose6.com for more information.
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