What better practice to turn to in times of turbulence than yoga? Whether it is self-care, solitude or gratitude you’re seeking, both beginner and experienced yogis can find refuge on the mat.
Some yoga studios have reopened with COVID-19 mitigation measures, but there is still no more safe and convenient place to get your yoga fix than at home. If you can salute the sun while basking in sunlight, even better.
Here is a backyard, beginner-friendly yoga sequence for you or the whole family, designed to bring a balance of strength and fluidity to your body.
Photos by and featuring Lily Allen-Duenas
1. Standing Backbend (Anuvittasana)
Steps 1 and 2 are to be practiced three to six times each, alternating one after the other.
Clasp the hands together behind the back, sliding down to the thighs, to engender a gentle backbend. In the next pose, the arms launch overhead, inducing a strong shoulder opener. Keep a gentle bend in the knees. Inhale here in Anuvittasana, and exhale in the next pose.
2. Standing Forward Fold with Shoulder Opener (Uttanasana Variation)
A backbend followed by a forward fold is perfect for awakening the back muscles and providing lubrication to the spine. Keep the hands tightly clasped together, with the intention of getting the arms as close to the earth as possible. Make sure to keep a soft bend in the knees. Remember that it is in this yoga pose that you exhale and in the standing back bend that you inhale.
3. Standing Side Bend (Urdhva Hastasana)
This standing side-bend is repeated four times in total, changing back and forth from right side to left side two times. To stretch the right side of your body, raise your right hand in the air, clasp your right wrist with your left hand and actively pull your body in the left direction. Make sure you aren’t rotating or twisting, and that you are pulling the body as evenly as possible. Also, make sure that your head stays in between your shoulders. You should feel an intense stretch along your side body, especially in your obliques. Inhale as you reach up, and exhale as you fold to the side.
4. Revolved Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana)
Place your hands in prayer in front of your chest, and then slowly bend your knees and sit back as if you are about to take a seat in a chair. This should activate the quadriceps and glutes. Then twist the body to the left, placing the right elbow on the outside of the left knee. Keep your knees in alignment, and focus on distributing more weight in the heels than the toes. Press palms together firmly to create space between the collarbones. Hold for five breaths and then transition to doing the other side.
5. Ragdoll Pose (Uttanasana Variation II)
Inhale and reach the arms above the head, exhale and fold forward, grabbing a hold of your opposite elbows, and hang heavy. Hold for up to 10 breaths, swinging the body gently from side to side and shaking the head gently in “yes” and “no” motions. Keep a bend in your knees and focus on complete relaxation. Check in with your neck and make sure your head is dangling loosely. Ragdoll is a gentle stretch to the legs, mainly the hamstrings and quadriceps, as well as to the shoulders, arms and the lower back. It’s a very loosey-goosey pose that should feel relaxed and pendulous.
6. Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
To get into Downward Dog from the previous asana, inhale your arms upward and then exhale your arms forward until your hands touch the ground. Place your hands firmly on the mat, fingers spread wide, and then step back into the pose; your hands should be about the width of your shoulders, and your feet should be spaced the width of your hips. Focus your intention on drawing your heels toward the mat. Breathe calmly for five breaths.
7. Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
From Downward Dog, draw your right leg forward and step your right foot in between your hands. Drop your back knee to the mat and untuck your toes. Shift your weight forward, into your front bent leg, and notice the pull that this creates on your hip flexors (the ligaments between the pelvis and your thigh bone). Relax here and commit to keeping your front knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold for five breaths.
8. Low Lunge Arms Raised (Anjaneyasana Variation)
Raise your arms upward, coming out and up from the side until your palms touch overhead. Inhale and look up. Keep your front knee deeply bent at a 90-degree angle. You will only hold this pose for one inhale.
9. Half Splits (Ardha Hanumanasana)
Exhale and lower your hands from Anjaneyasana until your fingers lightly touch the ground. Keeping your fingers tented, shift your weight backward until your glutes are past your heel, and until your front leg is completely straight. Gently continue to lower your chest toward your outstretched leg. Breathe deeply for five breaths.
10. Twisted Low Lunge (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana)
Slowly shift your weight forward on an inhale until you are back in the low-lunge position from 8. Given that your right knee is bent and forward in front of your body, reach back with your right arm outstretched and catch your back foot in your hand. Shift your front foot out toward the edge of the mat a couple of inches, to gain the distance that you need to keep your chest open and to ensure you have enough space to deepen your twist. This is a very dramatic stretch for your quadricep muscle. Hold for three to five breaths.
Repeat poses 6-10 on the left side, then return to Downward Dog to transition to 11.
11. Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
In Downward Dog, move your right foot forward in between your hands. Plant your back heel down at a diagonal angle, so your toes are pointing to the front corner of the mat. Then, reach your arms upward on an inhale, coming from the outside and then reaching the arms upward—making a big circular motion out of the arms before drawing the palms together over the head. Commit to a deep bend in your front knee, making sure your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle to engage your leg muscles. Look up and inhale.
12. Humble Warrior (Baddha Virabhadrasana)
Exhale and lower your arms from Warrior I, and reach behind you to clasp your hands together. Lift your chest and intentionally lengthen your spine. As you exhale, shift your weight more into your front foot, and fold forward, bringing your chest and torso inside of your front leg. Keep your hands launched overhead, with the intention of drawing the arms and hands toward the mat. Hold for three to five slow breaths. Then, on an inhale, lift your torso upward.
13. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Slowly extend your arms outward, parallel to the length of your mat. Turn your back foot out to a 90-degree angle so that it is parallel to the back of the mat. Your front foot will not change position. Focus on keeping your pelvis, torso and chest facing the side. It will only be your head that turns to face forward. Sink into this asana by continuing to bend the front leg until it’s at a 90-degree angle, and on keeping your arms straight and strong.
14. Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
To reverse or revolve your Warrior Pose, which is sometimes called Peaceful Warrior, turn your front palm to the sky as you inhale. Then, as you exhale, draw your top arm overhead until it curves in a beautiful “C” shape over your head, arcing behind your body. Slide your bottom arm down your leg and feel a deep stretch in the obliques.
Return to Downward Dog, and then repeat 11-14 on the left side.
Lily Allen-Duenas is a certified yoga teacher and travel writer. She’s a big fan of avocados and sweet potatoes in any form. You can find her writings on health, wellness and travel at wildyogatribe.com. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 284.