We’ve long been a fan of Colleen Saidman Yee, founder of Yoga Shanti in New York, Sag Harbor, and Westhampton, and we were thrilled to have her on the set of our fall photo shoot in Carmel, CA.
We caught up with her on her new book, Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom, and we’re excited to share a yoga sequence from the book with you. Take a moment to hear Colleen’s thoughts on why she wrote her book, then jump into this amazing restorative yoga sequence, part of her chapter on the importance of women and female friendship.
1. Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend (prasarita padottanasana)
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend (a) or Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend with Block (b)
Stand at the front of your mat and step out 3 feet to the right. Take your hands to your hips, inhale, and lift your chest. Then exhale, fold forward, and rest your head on the floor (a) or on a block or two (b), depending on the height you need to make the head and neck comfortable. Keep your legs active. Stay for 3 minutes, then keep your head down as you walk your feet to hip distance apart.
2. Standing Forward Bend with Blocks (uttanasana)
Standing Forward Bend with Blocks (a) to Downward-Facing Dog (b) or Downward-Facing Dog with block (c)
Adapting the height of your blocks as necessary, rest the top of your head on blocks and stay for 3 minutes (a). Keep your head low as you turn toward the front of your mat and walk back to Downward-Facing Dog (b). Stay in the pose just long enough to determine where your head is so you can place a block under it. Position the block under your head, keeping your arms and legs straight and active (c). These postures bring fresh oxygenated blood and energy to the brain, which helps clear up fuzzy thinking. They also create strength in the large muscles of the legs and tone the pelvic floor. Stay for 2 minutes, then take your knees to the floor and get your bolster.
3. Supported Child’s Pose (balasana)
Sit on your heels and spread your knees wide. Pull one end of the bolster into your pelvis, drape your body over it, and turn your head in one direction, then the other, for 1 minute per side (a).
Very slowly come to sit on your heels. Take 3 breaths, then move to all fours, cross your shins, and sit down behind your feet. Straighten your legs to Staff Pose (b).
4. One-Legged Seated Forward Bend (janu sirsasana)
Sit on a folded blanket, bend your left knee deeply, and open it out to a little more than a 90-degree angle with your left foot touching your left inner thigh (if possible). Place your bolster or a chair over your right leg and rest your forehead on the support as you fold forward for 2 minutes. Change legs and repeat. Restorative forward bends cool the head and allay anxiety and irritability. Inhale as you come up to sit on the edge of your blanket in Staff Pose.
5. Two–Legged Seated Forward Bend (pashchimottanasana)
Adjust your bolster or chair so your forehead is easily supported as you fold forward. This pose turns you inward. Stay for 5 minutes.
6. Supported Half Plow Pose (ardha halasana)
Fold three blan- kets and place a chair 2 feet from the edge of the blankets. Lie down with your shoulders close to the edge and your head and most of your neck off the blankets. Swing your legs up and overhead, resting your toes on the seat of the chair and pressing your hands into your back, upper arms pressed against the blankets. (Don’t let your elbows splay out.) Stay for 2 minutes. Come down slowly and slide off the blankets. This pose releases neck, back, and shoulder tension. Place your hands on your belly and watch 5 cycles of breath.
7. Supported Reclining Bound Angle Pose (supta baddha konasana)
Place the bolster lengthwise along your mat and sit on a folded blanket in front of it. Take the soles of your feet together and spread your knees wide, supporting them with blocks. Lie back over the bolster and place another blanket under your head. If you feel too exposed, place a blanket over your pelvis. Stay for 5 minutes.
8. Inverted Staff Pose (viparita dandasana)
Position a chair on your mat about leg’s distance from the wall, seat facing out. Place two blocks at medium height against the wall and set your bolster on the floor near the chair’s front legs. Place a blanket on the chair seat and sit down, then thread your legs through the opening between the backrest and the seat. Place your feet on the blocks, knees slightly bent, and move your buttocks toward the wall until your sacrum rests on the back edge of the seat. Lower your torso and rest your shoulder blades on the front edge of the chair. Release your head back to the bolster (you may need a folded blanket on top) (a). Stay for 1 to 3 minutes with your arms stretched overhead or grip- ping the sides of the chair. This pose opens the throat and chest. Come up slowly by holding on to the sides of the chair and pressing your elbows into the seat, letting your head trail your torso. Then sit quietly, head bowed, for a few breaths. If the pose is too difficult, take Fish Pose Variation by placing a bolster under your shoulder blades; lie back and press your straight legs into the floor for 1 to 3 minutes (b).
9. Supported Legs Up the Wall Pose (viparita karani)
Sit side- ways against the wall; roll onto your back as you raise your legs up the wall. Bend your knees slightly, push into the wall with your feet to lift your pelvis, and place a block under your sacrum about 6 inches away from the wall so your sit bones dangle between the block and the wall. Rest your arms and hands on the floor, palms up, and stay for 3 minutes. This pose helps blood return to the heart, relieves tired legs, and improves digestion and circulation. In my opinion, it also improves sex drive.
10. Final Relaxation (shavasana)
Meditation after Shitali Breath
Sit in a comfortable cross- legged position. Stick out your tongue, curl it, and sip an inhalation of breath through the cylinder you’ve created. If you cannot curl your tongue—it is genetic—stick it out and sip the air that way. Exhale through your nostrils. Practice 10 Shitali breaths, then sit with anything that arises for several minutes. This is a cooling breath and will give relief from the heat symptoms of menopause. The breath is a bridge between the body and the mind. Notice your body and what stories your mind is telling while you do this practice. Sit for 5 minutes.
Chant Om mani padme hum varying from a whisper to full voice and back to a whisper. The translation is “Hail to the jewel that sits in the seat of the lotus.” Then sit in silence for another minute. You can decide where the seat of the lotus is for you, and know that you are uncovering a precious and unique jewel.
We have the power to change the way we view aging, but any shift in perspective needs to start from inside. Stagnation and deterioration are not age-specific. I’ve met as many stagnant twenty-year-olds as seventy-year-olds. Yoga helps us age with grace. By maintaining fluidity and mobility in body and mind, we’re alive to the unfolding mystery and beauty of life. Yoga has taught me to stand aligned with truth and to use my voice to speak it. May this practice support you to do the same.
Colleen Saidman Yee, author of Yoga for Life, is an internationally respected yoga teacher and the owner of Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor, Westhampton Beach, and Manhattan. For 30 years, she was a top global fashion model, represented by Elite and Ford Models. With Donna Karan and her husband, superstar yoga teacher Rodney Yee, Colleen created and runs the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program, utilized in healthcare facilities around the country.