Admittedly, I would love it if yoga wasn’t just for a “rest day.” The yoga practice can be sweaty, challenging and strength-building. However, most people like to mix up their workouts. If you’re somebody who likes to run, spin, hit the elliptical, lift, do a CrossFit WOD and pop in the Insanity DVD all in a good week’s work, then yoga may be your best option for a rest day. The good news is, with this simple sequence, you are also hitting those muscles you just can’t get in other forms of exercise.
Here’s your simple, 30-minute yoga sequence for your rest day!
- Balasana – Child’s Pose
How to do it: Come to hands and knees. Bring the big toes to touch and the knees wide apart. Press the hips back to the heals or as close as they will come. Press the forehead to the mat or as close as it will come. The arms can reach forward or come alongside the body (palms up) for a more restful option. Hold as long as you feel necessary in order to calm your mind and ground your body.
What it’s good for: Child’s Pose is ideally suited to give your back muscles – the #1 complaint area – a simple stretch. This is also a gentle release for tight hips. At the same time, Child’s Pose helps focus your energy. This is a great time to let the day or week fall away from your shoulders as you start to deepen your breath.
- Marjaryasana/Bitilasana – Cat/Cow
How to do it: Rise to all fours. Find the wrists under the shoulders, fingers spread wide, arms strong but not locked out. Find the knees under the hips, reach the feet behind you, tuck or untuck your toes. Inhale, lift the tail bone, drop the belly, reach the heart through the hands stretching out your chest. Exhale, lead with the tail bone as the sit bones reach down, and allow the wave to move through your spine, eventually tucking chin to chest. Focus on the movement in the upper spine rather than in the neck. Take 7-15 rounds.
What it’s good for: This simple posture begins to reverse the tension built in the shoulders from sitting, typing driving and lifting weights. This movement also allows the synovial fluid in between the vertebrae to start flowing, lubricating the spine.
- Kneeling Twist
How to do it: Find all fours with a neutral spine. Walk the left hand forward and toward the center of your mat. Inhale, reach the right arm into the sky. Exhale, thread the arm underneath your body, through the window you created between your armpit and the floor. Come to rest on the right cheek, reaching the left hand as far forward as possible. For a deeper variation, begin to roll toward the back of your head. You may even step the left foot out parallel to the hip for stability and a deeper variation. Hold for 10 breaths.
What it’s good for: Twisting is one of the most therapeutic movements for the body. This gentle twist releases the cervical spine (neck), and begins to expand the intercostal muscles in the lungs, deepening the ability to breathe. This very light twist additionally compresses the organs, generating blood flow and aiding the digestion and detoxification process.
- Classical Sun Salutations
How to do it: This one is much trickier! Sun Salutations involve a series of movements. Here is how the classical version goes:
- Start standing in Mountain Pose with the feet hip width distance apart and the hands in prayer at the heart
- Inhale, reach the arms forward and up above your head
- Exhale, fold forward over your legs, bending the knees if necessary
- Inhale, step the Right foot way back into a low lunge, aligning the left knee just over the left ankle, lower the Right knee down, look forward
- Exhale, step the Left foot back to meet the right, lift the hips up and back into Downward Facing Dog
- Inhale, lift onto the toes
- Exhale, lower the knees to the mat, then the chest to the mat in between the hands, keeping the hips lifted and the gaze forward for Crocodile
- Continue the Exhale, slide onto the belly
- Inhale, turn the tops of the toes down, reach the heart forward, lift the chest for Cobra
Exhale, press to Downward Facing Dog
- Inhale, step the Right foot all the way forward into a lunge, lining the Right knee over the ankle, lowering the Left knee to the mat, gazing forward
- Exhale, step the Left foot forward to meet the Right, fold forward
- Inhale, rise up reaching the hands in front of you then to the sky
- Exhale, hands to heart
- Okay, so that is one-half of one round! Repeat on the Left side to complete a round. Take 5-10 rounds as quickly as possible without compromising alignment in the body. Confused? Here is a video to help!
What it’s good for: Classical Sun Salutations are a fantastic way to warm up and stretch the major muscles before any type of exercise; they are also a great way to wake the body up in the morning or re-energize after a long day of work.
- Tree Pose
How to do it: Stand at the top of your mat with the feet hips width distance apart and hands at the hips. Look at one spot on the floor in front of you. Shift the weight into the Right leg, turn the Left knee and toes out to the side. Lift the Left leg up the Right leg any amount, either to the chin or to the inner thigh, avoiding the knee. Press the left foot into the Right leg, forming a strong connection to help with balance. Begin to bring the hands to the heart or up to the sky. Lift the gaze any amount. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
What it’s good for: Tree Pose is the most approachable balancing posture. Balancing helps with coordination, focus and mental clarity. The fast-twitch muscles on the standing ankle will kick into gear, making them stronger. This helps to keep you balanced in any activity you perform. Tree Pose is great practice for the aging population to help them maintain equilibrium.
- Crescent Lunge Flow
How to do it: This will be a series of postures to help awaken the body.
Cresent Pose – From standing, bring the hands to the hips, step the Right foot back. Find the Left knee over the ankle, rise onto the toes of the Right foot, lifting the heel toward the sky. Shift the Right hip forward slightly, squaring the hips forward. Reach the tail bone to the Earth to avoid overarching the low back. Find your balance by engaging the inner thighs. Reach the arms to the sky. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Twisted Crescent – Release the Left hand to the Earth. Reach the Right hand to the sky directly above the shoulder, twisting your chest to the Right. Gaze at the Right hand. Inhale, sweep the hand over the ear, allow the fingers to brush the Earth, making a wide circle with the arm. Exhale, reach the hand behind you, continuing the circle. Take 3-5 circles with the arm. Step the Right foot forward. Repeat on Left side.
What it’s good for: Crescent pose is a balancing posture that helps stretch the frontal hip points and work the core. Twisting releases the spine further. Taking circles with the arm opens the shoulder joint, and following the arm with the gaze is a great stretch for the neck.
- Warrior 2 Flow
How to do it: From standing, step the Right foot way back and turn both feet to the Right. Reach the arms wide, and step the ankles beneath the wrists. Lightly turn the Right toes in, about 15 degrees, and allow the Right hip to shift forward the same amount. Turn the left toes straight forward. Bend into the Left knee up to 90 degrees for Warrior II, reaching the arms straight out to the sides. Inhale, turn the Left palm up, slide the Right hand down the Right thigh, reach up and back for a side stretch called Reverse Warrior. Exhale, shift the top of the body forward, bending in the front hip. Bring the left hand to the Earth or – if that’s too much – bend the Left elbow and place it on the Left thigh for Extended Side Angle. Hold for a breath or two, then repeat the flow from Reverse Warrior to Extended Side Angle. Take 5-10 rounds. Step forward. Repeat on Left side.
What it’s good for: This sequence is often called Dancing Warrior. It begins to stretch the outer Left hip, builds stability in the legs, and allows the upper body to be fluid. You will start to feel some heat in the body in this sequence.
- Pigeon Variation
How to do it: Come to a wall, lining your mat up perpendicular with the wall. Come to seated with the Right hip directly up against the wall. Gently, begin to turn to the Right, swinging onto the back and extending the legs straight up the wall. Bend the Right knee. Place the Right ankle on the Left thigh just above the Left knee. Flex the Right foot, and place the Right hand gently on the Right inner thigh, opening it to the side. Begin to bend the Left knee until you feel a stretch in the outer Right hip. If the hips or shoulders start to lift off the mat, you’ve gone too far. Hold 10-15 breaths. Repeat on Left side.
What it’s good for: Stretching the outer hip releases the low back. This pose is a great counter pose to nearly any Yoga pose as it relaxes the hips, lightly stretches the hamstrings, releases the back and relaxes the shoulders.
- Legs up the Wall
How to do it: Easiest pose in the book! Just reach both legs up the wall and relax. You can tie your thighs together with a strap for an even more relaxing option. Lie on the back for 3-5 minutes as you deepen your breath and allow the mind and body to fully relax.
What it’s good for: Reaching the legs above the heart will drain stagnant fluid and lactic acid from the legs. This pose stimulates the lymphatic system, reduces cramping and fatigue in the legs, and creates a relaxing feeling in the body. If you are too sore to do anything else, this is your pose!
This sequence will take 30 minutes to an hour. It can be done anywhere and without the use of props. Enjoy! You are your own true teacher.
Photo via Flickr user sugarmelon.com