I’ve never been good at having a consistent morning yoga practice. I often feel groggy in the morning and in need of breakfast. Add to that the inevitable stiffness of being over 50 and the probability of falling out of bed and into a yoga practice becomes negligible.
I usually eat my bowl of fruit, home-made granola and yoghurt (yeah, I know, it sounds impossibly healthy but something has to offset all the biscuits.) sitting cross-legged on the floor looking out at the garden. So there I am in a yoga pose of sorts. I drink some of my tea, start to feel a little more human and then feel ready to stretch and mobilise a little. So over the past couple of months I’ve been doing a short sequence which seems to loosen me up.
Just a note on the photos. I’ve changed position and put a mat on the patio so the view behind me is the one I normally see whilst I’m doing this. Thanks to D for taking the photos this afternoon. He is sitting more or less where I normally sit to have breakfast.
I’m already in that cross-legged position, but drop both my shins onto the floor, rather than tucking my feet under the opposite shin. (Sukhasana for those who like the Sanskrit names.) From there I bend forward from the hips and place the top of my head on the floor. This lengthens the muscles and fascia along the spine right from the sacrum to the skull. It also gets muscles around the buttocks. It often feels like I’m pouring all the tension out of the top of my head into the ground. I hold this for five to ten breaths, which I try to make as long and even as possible.
From there I come back upright. Whichever foot is in front I use the arm on that side to grasp underneath it, and bend to that side. I aim for length in the spine rather then flopping over. I raise the other arm straight up and hold for five breaths. This gets the oblique abdominal muscles, and the muscle which goes from the lumbar spine to the crest of the pelvis, quadratus lumborum.
Then I add a twist, taking the upper shoulder and arm back as far as possible. Sometimes I’ll do five breaths here too, but often only three. I then change my legs over so the other one is in front and repeat from folding forward.
Now I bring the soles of my feet together which is called either bound angle pose or cobbler’s pose. (Baddha konasana.) This pose has always been hard for me: my hips have never opened to the side well. I do three variations, for five breaths each. First I open the feet like a book, lean down with my elbows into my inner thighs and use the weight there to ease them downwards.
Secondly I bring my spine up, chest forward and try to find a lowering of my knees using the muscles of my legs. This is the classic version of this pose. For me it is an exercise in equanimity – because my progress is imperceptible. In seven or so years of practising yoga my knees have maybe dropped a couple of inches towards the floor.
Finally I try to hinge forward at the hips, aiming my chest for the soles of my feet.
Next comes diamond pose, or star pose. (Tarasana I think.) I take the soles of my feet away from me so that my knees are each forming about a right angle or a little more. Again I hinge forward, trying to lengthen the spine initially, but then at the end lower the top of my head onto my feet.
I find it helps to put my hands on the floor under my feet to assist me in both lengthening forward. Once I’m there I aim for twenty-five breaths, trying to relax into the pose. It gets the glutes, tensor fascia lata, piriformis and it’s friends in the hip, plus back and neck muscles again.
Because this is a difficult and stressful pose for me I try to come out of it slowly, engaging the muscles in my hips and buttocks which have been stretched. This helps to strengthen them in this stretched position and ‘teaches’ them that it’s OK to extend that far.
Finally I place my hands behind me and lift my bottom off the floor, arching my lower back and pushing my chest forward and up as a counter-pose to the forward bending. I return my legs to a comfortable seat and rest my hands, palms up, on them. A few more sips of tea and I’m ready for a short meditation – usually about half an hour, but sometimes only five minutes. Afterwards I feel ready for the day, whether that brings a few hamstring stretches before bed or a full-on vinyassa practice.
Interestingly Jess posted a few days ago on the subject of doing what’s possible and letting the body be the teacher; a theme which would resonate well with my Thai Massage teacher. Globie, back on the road to recovery after more surgery on his shoulder posted today on much the same theme. I’ve had this post in draft for a week or so but today seemed right for getting the photos done and publishing it. Perhaps this week is the week of the possible.
I was beating myself up for not being one of those people who leaps out of bed and cracks out an Ashtanga primary series practice before breakfast. But now I’ve remembered that possibly the main purpose of yoga poses is to prepare the body for meditation. I put this sequence together intuitively and these are the poses which work for me currently. Someone else might find them useful, or they might need a completely different set to work out the aches, pains and stiffness of their morning body. Others might have a view on what I’m doing and even whether it’s right for me.