A Gentle Yoga Practice
Back in January I wrote about the power of gentleness: If you want to make changes, you have to be gentle with yourself.
This 30-minute practice with mantras and affirmations will help you treat yourself gently.
Begin standing in Mountain Pose. Bring your hands to your heart. Press down into your feet to feel your connection to the earth. Reach up higher through the crown of your head to feel your connection to the heavens. Close your eyes (or let your eyes gaze downward), and begin to slow down your breath. Take several breaths here, each one a little deeper, and begin to quiet your mind. Repeat to yourself this mantra: I am gentle and kind to myself.
Move into Crescent Moon. This pose helps to open up the side body. With your feet together, raise your arms overhead (but relax the shoulders down). With the thumb and forefinger of your left hand, encircle your right wrist. Press down through your feet as you begin to lean (or side bend) to the left, opening the right side of the body. Breathe. Keep your heart open. Stay here for five to seven breaths, then repeat on the left side. I am gentle and kind to myself.
Tree Pose. Step closer to the wall, so you can put a steadying hand on the wall if necessary. Start by standing tall, rooting down through your feet. Bring hands to heart center. Then bring your right foot into kickstand pose with the right heel at the left ankle.
Stay here, or, if you feel stable, continue bringing that right foot up, either to the calf muscle or the inside of the thigh. Remember to keep your belly button lifted, and your standing leg pressing down. Slowly let your gaze and arms lift up towards the sun. Stay here for 5 – 7 breaths, then repeat other side. Repeat to yourself this mantra: I am free from guilt and shame.
Warrior II. Step the right foot back for Warrior II. Let your right foot be at a 45 degree angle, with the heel reaching away from you. Let the left foot turn so the toes point straight ahead. Open your hips and shoulders to the side, and bring your arms to shoulder height. Press down through your feet, lengthen your spine, and relax your shoulders. Reach your fingertips away from each other. Take 5 – 7 breaths, then lower the arms, turn the feet, and repeat on the other side. I am free from guilt and shame.
Pyramid. From Mountain Pose, step back with your right leg. Let your stance be shorter than it is for Warrior II. Turn your feet so your toes point straight ahead. Bring your hands to your hips. Take a few breaths here, in preparation, and feel your weight evenly distributed between both feet.
Take a deep breath in, and lift your gaze and your heart, in preparation for folding forward.
Fold forward, stopping halfway down, with a flat back. You can release your hands to the floor, or place them on blocks. If you feel an uncomfortable pulling sensation behind the right knee, keep it slightly bent. You can stay here, at the halfway point, or fold all the way over that right leg. Stay for 5 – 7 breaths. To come out of the pose, press your feet down, and on an inhale, slowly rise up. Step your feet together and return to Mountain pose. Repeat this sequence on the other side. Repeat to yourself this mantra: I am worthy of compassion.
Chair. From Mountain pose, bring your feet and legs together. Bend your knees into Chair pose. This pose is also called Lightening Bolt or Fierce Pose. Be sure you can peek down and see your toes (if the knees are moving forward of the toes, that can strain the knee joints). Keep your weight in your heels, and squeeze the legs together. See if you can sink deeper. The arms can lift overhead, or you can keep hands on hips. Stay here for 5 – 7 breaths. Repeat to yourself this mantra: I am worthy of kindness.
Bound Angle. Come to sit on a folded blanket. Elevating the hips is a good idea for beginners or anyone with tight hips. Bring the soles of the feet together, but don’t “force” the feet in close to the body—they can stay a comfortable distance away. Let your arms relax, and lengthen the spine to sit up tall. Breathe here for 3 – 5 breaths. You have the option to put a block under each knee. You can stay upright, if that feels good, or you can begin to fold forward. Stay for another 5 breaths. I am worthy of tenderness.
Seated Forward Bend. Staying on your folded blanket, stretch your legs out in front of you. Let your legs relax and bounce the knees, wiggle your toes, roll your legs in and out. Then gently engage the muscles of your legs and flex the feet. Draw your spine tall. On an exhale, begin to hinge forward over your legs. Stop when you feel that your back is beginning to round. Breathe. On your inhales, think about lengthening your spine, on the exhales, think about lowering your spine. Keep the shoulders relaxed. Stay here for 5 – 7 breaths. If you have tight hamstrings, you can place blocks under your knees. Repeat this affirmation: I choose to treat myself gently.
Bridge. Roll down to your back (move the blanket aside). Take a few breaths to get oriented to the floor, maybe hugging knees to chest and rocking from side to side. Then bring the feet flat to the floor, hip distance apart. Bring a block in between your knees (this helps to keep the legs engaged). Let your feet be close enough so that your fingertips brush the back of your heels. Press down through your feet and begin to roll up, lifting the hips into Bridge. Your arms can stay alongside the body, or you can roll the shoulders under and clasp your hands. Take deep breaths here, staying for 7 – 9 breaths. Lower down slowly from bridge pose, one vertebra at a time. Repeat this affirmation: I am gentle and compassionate with myself.
Reclined Twist. Hug your knees to your chest. Bring your arms out into a T position (shoulder height) with the palms down. Let the knees drop to the right, and turn your gaze to the left. Stay here for 5 breaths. You can always let your knees rest on a blanket or a block, if they don’t reach the floor easily. Try to keep both shoulders on the floor. If the knees don’t reach the floor, place a block underneath them. Let this be a “feel good” pose. Gently bring the knees back to center, then let them drop to the left and turn your gaze to the right. Stay on each side for 5 – 7 breaths. Repeat this affirmation: I am thankful for the compassion shown to me.
Savasana. Stretch out onto your back. If you have a bolster (or a big pillow), place it under your knees. Bring your arms alongside your body with the palms turned up. Close your eyes. Take a breath to scan the body, sending relaxation to every muscle. Stay here for 5 minutes, or as long as you like. Repeat to yourself this mantra: I am happy, healthy, and deeply at peace.
Roll to your right side and make your way to a comfortable seated position, with hands at heart center. Make the symbol of the lotus bud, representing all the possibilities that are inside you. Smile. May you be happy, healthy, and deeply at peace.