One Week of One-Pose Wonders
Fall has arrived. It often feels more like a new beginning than New Year’s: that lovely chill in the air, back-to-school time, settling down from summer. It also usually means a big shift in daily schedules, which always takes some getting used to. As you acclimate to the changing of the seasons and all the changes that it brings, you might feel time-crunched and unable to fit in a longer yoga practice in between back to work/back to school. Take heart – when you’re craving connection with your yoga mat, a little yoga is much better than no yoga at all. Even if it’s only one pose.
As the seasons shift, give yourself permission to shift away from the all-or-nothing approach to yoga; just because you don’t have time to make it to class doesn’t mean you have to forego it altogether. A little bit of practice will hold you over until you can settle into that new fall schedule and find more time on your mat.
One-pose wonders are just like they sound — one pose that works wonders. (OK, maybe a teeny bit more than just one, but each pose or sequence will take less than 5 minutes!) None require a warm-up, so each can be done on its own, anytime of day — whenever you need to tap into that uplifting, healing power of yoga but can’t do a longer practice. Each addresses a different part of the body where stress is likely to show up and accumulate, so over the course of a week you’ll hit all the hot spots. And if you have a little more time, you can put them all together for a simple, effective sequence. It may not be 90 minutes of power vinyasa…but it just might do the trick.
Day 1: Balasana – Child’s pose
Feeling overwhelmed? I like to think of child’s pose as the yogic equivalent of curling up in a ball, except that it has more dignity. It’s like giving yourself a time-out (note: not the naughty child version) when you need to regroup. Drop onto all fours and hit the floor for child’s pose. You’ll be glad you did.
- Come to hands and knees.
- Push your seat back to your heels; take a little space between your knees, so that they can support your shoulders.
- Your forehead should be on the floor, arms by your sides with the palms up, or overhead for more of a shoulder stretch (as pictured). If your forehead doesn’t comfortably come to the floor, place a yoga block, small pillow or even a book underneath it.
- Stay. Rest. Breathe. For as long as you need. If it feels good, rock gently from side to side to massage your forehead. When you’re finished, sit up slowly.
Bonus: Flip Your Child
Roll over onto your back and come into Apanasana, knees-to-chest pose. It not only massages the abdominal organs and is great for digestion, but is also a low back release. It’s a good one to do before you get out of bed. I am always, always doing this pose, every day, multiple times a day. All you have to do is get down on the floor and hug your knees into your chest, and voilá – knees-to-chest pose. Lovely. Sometimes I feel like I could stay here for hours.
There are many things you can do with Apanasana: you can hug both knees in together, or one at a time; you can roll around and massage your low back, or rock forward and back to massage your spine; you can take a gentle supine twist to either side; you can transition into happy baby. Give it a try and soothe your spine and your mind.
Bonus: Downward Dog
Most days are incomplete without a downward dog. It hits so many hot spots (wrists, shoulders and back, backs of legs), and is an inversion so gets your heart above your head. From child’s pose it’s easy: come onto your hands and knees, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back as you push the floor away with your hands. Hold for 10 deep breaths and then drop to your knees, back into child’s pose.
Day 2: Cat/Cow
It would be tough to pick my favorite yoga pose, but if I absolutely had to I would probably pick the cat/cow sequence for the instant results it has on liberating the entire length of my back in a very gentle and easy manner. On a day when you’ve spent a lot of time sitting, this feels like freedom for the spine.
- Come to hands and knees. Make sure your wrists line up under your shoulders, and knees under hips.
- On your inhale, drop your belly and lift your tailbone and your gaze. Let your belly be heavy.
- On your exhale, round your back, tuck your tailbone, and arch like a cat. Push your spine towards the ceiling.
- Repeat this sequence 5-10 times, with slow deep breaths.
- Rest in child’s pose for a few breaths afterwards.
Balance Bonus: Opposite Arm/Leg Extension
Sometimes a little balance work is all it takes to restore a balanced outlook. After cat/cow, remain on your hands and knees and extend your right leg behind you, left arm by your ear. Keep your gaze down (head stays lined up with spine) and your core engaged. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat with left leg and right arm.
Day 3: Yogic Squat
For years I’ve been telling my beginner yoga students to do this pose while they watch TV; the longer you can be here, the more you will release tension in the low back and hips. Sitting in chairs makes this pose challenging, especially for those who do nothing besides sit in chairs with a little walking around in between. Think about it: most of the non-Western world hangs out in a squat. And I’m pretty sure they have less trouble with their backs and hips as a result. The squat is a great antidote for the effects of our sedentary society. Find ways you can incorporate hanging out in a squat into your day. Trust me, the TV thing really works.
- Stand with your feet wide apart, toes turned out slightly, hands in prayer position at your heart center.
- Keeping your spine straight, lower your hips down as far as they will go. You may have to take your hands to the floor to help you balance, but you need to take the weight into the heels as much as possible.
- Adjust the width of your feet and toe turnout as necessary, but don’t allow them to turn out beyond 45 degrees. Your knees should line up over your toes. If your heels don’t touch the ground, roll up a yoga mat, towel or blanket to put under them; you need to be able to release them completely so you aren’t taking weight towards the balls of your feet. Make sure any heel support isn’t too high, since you need to work towards lowering it as your calf muscles open more.
- With your hands at heart center, use your elbows to gently press your knees open. Lift your chest into your thumbs to lengthen your spine.
- Stay here for 15-20 breaths. Or, try it in front of the TV for longer.
Day 4: Uttanasana – Forward Fold
Frazzled? Fold forward — forward bends soothe the nervous system. Some of the best one-pose wonders are super simple, and it doesn’t get much simpler than this one. For a restorative twist, you can balance your bum against a wall. This version releases tension in the shoulders.
- Stand with your feet parallel and hip width apart. Interlace your fingers behind your back.
- Take an inhale and lift your hands away from your back as you squeeze your shoulders together. Fold forward slowly on an exhale, allowing your arms to come up and over. If your hamstrings are tight or your low back is sensitive, bend your knees as you do so.
- Be sure to let your head and neck completely relax, and keep your knees slightly bent if needed. Otherwise, work towards straight legs to open up the muscles in the backs of the legs.
- Let all your stress pour out the top of your head. Hold for 15-20 deep breaths and come up slowly with an inhale, unclasping your hands once you are back to standing.
Bonus: Neck Traction
Interlace your fingers at the base of your skull. Don’t pull on your neck here — let gravity do the work and provide a nice traction to stretch out the neck. Let your elbows be heavy and feel your neck lengthening.
Bonus: Roll It Up
After you finish folding forward (carefully unclasp your hands if they are still interlaced), bend your knees and bring your hands onto your thighs. Keep your head heavy and roll up to standing slowly, one vertebra at a time, head comes up last. Once you’re standing, reach your arms overhead and come up onto tiptoe for a big lengthening stretch.
Day 5: Trikonasana – Triangle
My favorite standing pose! Triangle opens the hips, stretches the inner thighs, and is very grounding. It’s a stable stretch for the leg muscles that should feel steady and comfortable.
- Stand tall in mountain pose. Step your right foot back about 4 feet, turning the back heel down. If you drew a line from your front heel, it would intersect the arch of your back foot; if that feels too much like a tightrope, then do heel-to-heel alignment.
- Take your arms out to the sides at shoulder height; reach the fingertips away from one another. Take a deep inhale, and on your exhale shift forward from your hips (important: do not bend your front leg!) and reach forward with your front hand, allowing it to drop to your shin. Eventually you’ll be able to take your ankle. Imagine yourself between two planes of glass here; if your bum sticks out, your may need to raise your bottom hand higher on your shin so that you can be more aligned with your tailbone underneath you and your shoulders stacked.
- Line your top thumb up over your nose, and take your gaze towards it. Hold for 5 deep breaths. Lift yourself up, step your feet together and repeat on the other side.
Balance Bonus: Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
This balance pose is so great for connecting to your core and activating the center of your body’s energy. You’re perfectly set up to come into it from triangle: bring your top hand to your hip, and drop your gaze to the floor; engage your core as you lift your back leg and extend your bottom hand forward and to the side (ending up on fingertips). Flex your top foot, and if you feel balanced, you can extend your top arm and maybe even take your gaze towards it. Hold for 5 breaths and then return to triangle. Repeat on the other side.
Day 6: Vrksasana – Tree pose
Tree pose is just what we need in times of transition, like during a change of season (that would be now). Balance poses require that you really be in the moment — if you are not completely mindful you will fall. Having a crazy day? Take time out for tree pose. It will stop your mind from racing, soothe your nervous system and ground you in the present. If you’re having trouble balancing, remember that trees blow and sway in the wind, but stay rooted at the same time — a reminder to be strong yet flexible.
- Stand in mountain pose and gaze softly at a fixed point in front of you on the floor, about 4 or 5 feet away.
- Shift your weight to the left foot and bend your right knee. Reach down with your right hand and grab your right ankle.
- Draw your right foot up and place the sole as high up on the inner left thigh as possible (NOT on the knee joint! big no-no!); press the right heel into the thigh, toes pointing toward the floor. Firmly press your right foot into the inner thigh, and the thigh back into your foot, working to equalize the pressure.
- Press your hands together at your heart center. Maintain your drishti (gazing point). If you fall out of the pose at any point, as trees do fall sometimes, slowly and deliberately go through the process again.
- Leave your hands at heart center, or grow your tree by reaching up overhead.
- Stay in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Return to mountain pose and repeat for the same length of time on the other side.
Day 7: Shalabasana – Locust pose
Locust pose has become my favorite low back therapy. It’s an amazing low back strengthener; you can practically feel those muscles getting stronger as you hold the pose. If your back is cranky after a stressful day, try this backbend to wake those muscles from their stupor.
- Lie on your stomach with your forehead on the floor, and your feet as close together as possible.
- Start to press your hips into the floor as you interlace your fingers behind you.
- On an inhale, lift everything up and tuck your chin in slightly; squeeze your hands together as you lift them away from your back.
- Use your inhales to keep lifting up, and your exhales to hold the lift. Float back down on your fifth exhale. Repeat and hold for another 5 deep breaths.
- Finish with a counterpose — child’s pose or knees-to-chest are good ones.
And don’t forget to add on one of the best one-pose wonders of all, Savasana!
What are you waiting for? Strike a pose — a one-pose wonder. Namaste.
Photo Credit: Larry Stanley, Montana-People.com