Sometimes, you need your yoga before class time, or even before you can get back to your own mat. Think about how you feel after another pointless meeting, or when your body gets too tight in the middle of a run in the warm weather. Your yoga practice doesn’t have to be a full series of Sun Salutations or an Ashtanga Primary Series to help you enjoy its full benefits. Just a few poses can give you the mental and physical release you need.
The hardest part about these brief sessions is that you have to tune your mind into your yoga with more focus and dedication than in a traditional class or practice format. You might not have the easy segue of a seated meditation or the sweet wrap-up of Savasana (Corpse Pose), but you can still immerse yourself into the world of yogic sensation by paying careful attention to your body and mind as you breathe with each pose.
If you’re using your short practice as a warm-up, cool-down or break during high-intensity workouts like cycling, running or swimming, make sure you focus on the stretch in the poses. Releasing overworked muscles not only prevents injury, it speeds recovery and can help you perform better.
If you are doing yoga to refresh your mind, think more about strengthening in each pose. That will help counteract the feelings of being overwhelmed that you might feel if you’re under stress. Think about power flowing up from the ground into your body and radiating out your feet, hands, and head. With a handy set of YogaPaws in your desk drawer, purse, or pocket... you can literally take your yoga break anytime, anywhere.
Here are some poses to take a break with:
Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
Benefits: Sometimes translated as Fierce Pose, this pose strengthens your legs while stretching your calf muscles, making it a great choice for a short practice.
How to do it: Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Bring your arms up straight to reach to the ceiling and turn your palms in toward each other. Exhale and bend your knees, trying to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute, then release.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Benefits: This pose stretches and strengthens major muscle groups throughout your body, so it’s ideal to use as a warm-up or cool down around a workout like running or cycling.
How to do it: Start on all fours on the floor. Exhale and press into your hands and feet, lengthening your tailbone toward the ceiling. On your next exhalation, stretch your knees, letting your heels fall toward or onto the floor. Firm your shoulder blades and keep your head between your arms. Remain in this pose for one to three minutes.
Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Benefits: This balancing pose also releases your hamstrings, where you tend to store tension from stress or from repetitive exercise.
How to do it: Stand in Tadasana. Draw your left knee in toward your belly. Reach your left arm along the inside of your left thigh and grasp the outside of your left foot. If you need to, you can loop a strap around your foot. Extend your leg as much as possible. If you are stable, pull your leg open to the side. Hold this pose for 30 seconds, then bring your leg back to the front, release and repeat on the other side.
Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)
Benefits: This backbend is also a deep quad stretch, opening your body after the tightness of working out or a long day at your desk.
How to do it: Begin in Tadasana. Shift your weight into your right foot, bending your left knee off the ground. Reach back with your left hand to grasp your left foot, or loop a strap around your foot. If you want to deepen your experience of the pose, you can reach back with your right arm and hold the inner edge of your left foot, then reach back with your left hand to the outside of your left foot. Whichever option you choose with your arms, reach your left thigh toward the ceiling. Stay in the pose for 20 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
Bakasana (Crow Pose)
Benefits: This pose works the core of your body as well as the alignment required to hold you up on your hands. Its intensity makes it a good choice for a short practice because is forces concentration in the moment.
How to do it: Begin in Tadasana. Squat down with your inner feet a few inches apart. Place your hands on the floor slightly in front of you, with your shins pressing into the insides of your arms. Hug your torso with the insides of your thighs. Shift your weight forward. If you can, pick your feet up off the ground and balance. Remain in this pose for 20 seconds to one minute, then release.
When you’re practicing yoga during a workout or as a break from the day, try to always bring the practice back to your breath. It’s tempting to rush through our breathing, but keeping it calm and centered will not only relax your mind, but your body will be more refreshed and better able to release tension.