Fear, failure, self-doubt and anxiety are just some of the emotions that get in the way of who we want to become. But more important, they get in the way of Who We Really Are.
A consistent yoga practice will bring you back to your true reality: one that is not marred by acne scars or fearful of making a big leap for your dreams. If you’ve vowed to make this year be your year to break free from difficult emotions, begin by detoxing your perspective.
Practicing the following yoga asana sequence is a good first step. You may be putting yourself into shapes you’ve never tried before, which requires open-mindedness, patience and acceptance of exactly how your body looks and feels today. Those three qualities are what you need to let go of deeply-lodged emotional patterns in your body, called samskaras in Sanskrit.
Through mindful movement and breath, you’ll unearth and release what’s physically stuck, opening up new space and flexibility in your mind and body.
A note of caution: Discomfort or tension may arise, but if you feel sharp pain during any of these postures, stop immediately and come out of the pose. If you have serious shoulder or knee injuries, these poses may not be possible and are not advised.
One-Armed Swastikasana, Eka Bhuja Swastikasana I
Physical benefits: Deep stretch for upper arms and shoulders to improve posture, which leads to a more open heart.
- Lie on your stomach and bring your arms to a T, palms face down. (Note: Some people practice with palms face up, but many of my students have found this to be too intense or not possible in their anatomy.) Bend your right knee and roll onto your whole left side, placing your right foot behind you for balance. Press your right palm into the ground in front of you as a counterbalance.
- Allow your neck to completely release and the side of your head to relax to the ground. Or, if it doesn’t reach, use a low pillow or blanket. Relax your legs and keep the hips propped one on top of the other.
- Control the stretch in the left shoulder by using the right palm to roll yourself more completely onto the left shoulder. If any tingling begins in the left arm, you’ve accidentally pinched a nerve, in which case you should roll toward your stomach. (Note: To go deeper, continue to roll on top of the shoulder, perhaps reaching the right arm behind you toward the left arm.)
- Stay for six breaths and roll onto your stomach to release.
- Bring the arms again to a T. This time, bend the left knee and roll onto your right side. Hold this side for the same amount of breaths. When finished, roll onto your stomach and then press yourself into Child’s Pose, noting any sensations in the shoulders.
Gate Pose, Parighasana
Physical benefits: Stretches the hamstrings, side bodies and spine while opening the shoulders. Traditional yogis say it stimulates the abdominal organs and lungs.
- Kneel in the center of your yoga mat, hands on your hips (pad your knees with a blanket if necessary). Step your right leg to the side, toes pointing forward and all four corners of the foot anchored down. Align the inner arch with the left knee and ensure your left hip remains above your left knee.
- Drop your right hip down so that your hips are level. Inhale your left arm up and lengthen the pelvis down to elongate the low back. Exhale and slide your right hand down the right leg as you reach for the ceiling with your left fingertips.
- Take a smooth inhalation to lift the right side body; exhale and root into the outer edge of the right foot as you extend through the fingertips. Breathe into the inner right thigh and soften your shoulder blades down the back.
- Stay for six breaths. Inhale and sweep your left arm back up, then hands on hips. Step your right leg in and pause before practicing the other side.
Revolved Chair, Parivrtta Utkatasana
Physical benefits: Traditional yogis say this stimulates the abdominal organs and heart. Also, strengthens ankles, calves, thighs and opens your chest, shoulders and upper back.
Modification: If your elbow doesn’t hook outside the knee, place your hand there instead and extend your other arm behind you to twist.
- Stand in Mountain Pose, Tadasana, with toes together and heels 2 inches apart. Press palms together at your heart. Exhale and sink your hips low into Chair Pose. Squeeze your inner thighs and feel your sit bones spread as you rock your weight into the heels.
- Inhale and lift the low belly, reaching the crown of your head up. Exhale and twist to your left, hooking your right elbow outside the left knee. Ensure that both of your knees remain glued together, and bring them back into alignment if they move during your twist.
- Soften your shoulder blades down the back as you gently press your palms toward the center of your chest. Inhale and lift your torso slightly away from your left thigh, giving you room to exhale into a deeper twist.
- Relax the back of your neck and continue to stay strong in the thighs. Hold the pose for six breaths.
- Exhale and release the twist, coming to stand in Mountain Pose. Practice the other side.
Half Lord of the Fishes, Ardha Matsyendrasana
Physical benefits: Traditional yogis say this massages your abdominal organs, stimulates digestion and detoxifies liver and kidneys. Also increases flexibility in hips and spine while stretching the oblique muscles.
- Sit with knees bent, both feet on the mat in front of you. Slide the left foot underneath your right leg, bringing left heel alongside the right hip.
- Step your right foot outside the left thigh, and firmly plant the foot into the mat. Flex your left toes and hug your right knee toward your torso until you feel a stretch begin in the outer right hip.
- Turn to the right, placing the right palm about a foot behind you with tented fingertips. Inhale, lift your left arm to the ceiling and, exhaling, twist deeper to the right, placing your left elbow on the outside of the right knee. Soften the tops of the shoulders down.
- Inhale from the base your spine to lengthen the torso, and exhale to twist deeper. Stay for six breaths.
- On an exhale, release the twist. Unwind both legs and straighten them in front of you. Draw the knees back into the chest and repeat on the other side, twisting to the left.
Fire Log, Agnistambhasana
Physical benefits: Stretches hips and groins, a major source of tension and tightness and the center for holding onto stale patterns, say traditional yogis.
- Find a level seat for your sit bones, perhaps on the edge of a cushion or blanket, and place your feet flat on the floor, knees face up.
- Slide your right leg to the ground, laying the knee and ankle down. Use your hands to stack your right leg on top, with your right ankle on top of the left knee. Take care that the ankle is straight and not curved into the crease of the knee.
- If too intense, bring your left heel toward your pelvis. Otherwise, keep your legs stacked like logs one on top of the other.
- Bring your hands to the bottoms of your feet, or foot and knee, and flex the toes. Inhale, lifting from the abdomen. With a long spine, exhale and lean forward while rooting your sit bones down. Inhale and lengthen from the base of the spine, exhale and deepen the bend.
- Soften anything that does not need to be tense. Breathe deeply wherever you feel the most discomfort, and notice what the mind does when it meets resistance. Stay for six breaths before coming out of the pose. Practice the other side.