Rise above stress and take change in stride with this sequence for cultivating contentment from Mukti Yoga teacher Heather Archer.
WHEN LIFE EBBS AND FLOWS, it can be challenging to stay connected to ourselves—particularly if we’re tempted to ignore or escape the negative feelings that can come with change and upheaval. Yet staying with all of our musings and physical sensations during times of change— welcome or not—enables us to move with more equanimity through ups and downs.
When we accept that we can’t always control external situations, it can be empowering and help us focus on what we can control: what goes on within us. Whatever you’re going through, I hope this sequence will help you trust that you can ride the waves of life with a feeling of contentment, knowing that you have everything you need within you to move through changes and challenges with grace.
PRACTICE TIPS 1 Before you begin, find a quiet space and connect with your breath.
2 Set an intention for this practice: state it clearly and in the present tense.
3 Do 3 to 5 rounds of Sun or Moon Salutations led by the breath. Then, come to Balasana (Child’s Pose) and move through the following sequence.
1 KNEELING BODY WAVE
From Balasana, keep your arms straight as you round your spine in a wave-like motion. Inhale as you round forward in one fluid movement, melting your hips toward your wrists and lifting your heart into a modified Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) on your knees. Exhale; draw your navel in, keeping your arms straight as you flow back to Balasana. Repeat one movement per breath, 5–21 times. On the last round, tuck your toes, lift your hips, and come to Down Dog.
2 DYNAMIC MALASANA Garland Pose
Walk your feet forward, taking them as wide as your mat, toes turned out. Lower your sit bones toward the floor, lifting your head, heart, and hands in Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal). Press your elbows into your inner knees and stay here for 3 breaths. Then, on an inhalation, press into your feet to rise up to stand, stretching your arms overhead. On your next exhalation, lower back down. Repeat 5–21 times. On the last round, hold the full squat for 3 breaths, then step back to Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
3 ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA, VARIATION Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Take your feet as wide as your mat, and walk your hands back a hand’s length, shortening your Down Dog a bit. On an inhalation, transfer more weight into your right hand; on your next exhalation, reach your left hand to the outside of your right leg (above or below the knee). On each exhalation, deepen the twist; try to keep your hips level. Stay here for 3–5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
4 HUMBLE WARRIOR
From Down Dog, step your right foot between your hands and move your back (left) foot a few inches to the left, spinning your back heel into the earth. As you inhale, reach your arms overhead. As you exhale, interlace your fingers behind your back and fold forward over your right leg, engaging your core on the way down. Continue to ride the breath back up and down, repeating 5–21 times before coming to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat on the other side.
5 FOREARM PLANK WITH KNEE TAPS
From Downward-Facing Dog, lower to your knees and forearms, keeping your elbows in line with your shoulders. Press into your wrists, thumbs, and pointer fingers, stepping one foot back, and then the other, into Forearm Plank. Broaden your collarbones as you hug your outer arms in. Inhale here, and as you exhale, tap your knees to the mat. Engage your lower belly by drawing your navel upward and in. On your next inhalation, lift your inner thighs, returning to Forearm Plank. Repeat 5–21 times, tapping your knees to the earth on each exhalation. On the final tap, gently lower your hips and belly to the mat.
6 SPHINX POSE
From your belly, make sure your shoulders are right above your elbows and your forearms are parallel with one another. (If there’s any tension in your shoulders, slide your elbows forward a bit more.) Press down into your elbows to move your shoulder blades down your back, lengthening your neck. With your legs hip-width apart, press your pelvis into the earth and lengthen your tailbone down toward your heels. Roll your outer thighs down toward the earth and energetically push your rib cage forward through your arms. Feel your lower back and sacrum broaden and lengthen. Stay here for 3–5 deep, fluid breaths.
7 SALABHASANA Locust Pose, variation
From your belly, place your chin or forehead on your mat and interlace your fingers behind your back. Press down into the tops of your feet, engaging your legs. As you inhale, lift your head and heart away from the earth, feeling your rib cage move forward and up as your shoulder blades move down and toward one another. Keep your lower ribs and hips on the ground, gently lifting and lengthening your hands away from your low back. Hold here for 3–5 breaths. Feel free to repeat 2–3 times, lifting your heart and/ or legs away from the earth. Then, come into a wide-kneed Child’s Pose, followed by Downward-Facing Dog.
8 VIRABHADRASANA II Warrior Pose II
From Down Dog, step your right foot between your hands. Align your right heel with your left arch (or heel, depending on what’s comfortable), then spin your left heel into the earth. Sweep your left arm forward and up, flowing into Warrior II. As you exhale, sink a little deeper into your right knee, bending it until it approaches 90 degrees. Reach your fingertips in both directions and gaze softly over your right hand. Stay here for 3–5 breaths, feeling a sense of ease even as your body is challenged.
9 UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA Extended Side Angle Pose
From Warrior II, lengthen your waist forward and hug your right hip back and inward. On an exhalation, release your right hand to your inner ankle and your left arm up toward the sky, spinning the left side of your chest open to come into Utthita Parsvakonasana. Simply observe the sensations in your body without judging them. Before releasing, take a deep breath. As you exhale, lower both hands to the inside of your right foot. Then, lower your left knee to the mat.
10 UTTHAN PRISTHASANA Lizard Pose with quadriceps stretch
With your hands on the ground, slide your left knee back and heel-toe your right foot toward the outer edge of your mat. Bend your left knee and reach back with your right hand to grab your left foot. Hold here for 3–5 breaths, breathing deeply into any sensations you feel, then release and heel-toe your right foot back to the center of your mat. If you want a hamstring stretch, shift your hips back, straighten your right leg, and enjoy a few breaths in Hanumanasana (Monkey God Pose) before coming into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge).
11 ANJANEYASANA WITH GOMUKHASANA ARMS Low Lunge with Cow Face Pose arms
From Utthan Pristhasana, release your left shin to the ground. Inhale, raising your arms overhead. On an exhalation, bend your right elbow and place your right palm between your shoulder blades. On an inhalation, internally rotate your left arm and bend your left elbow, bringing the back of your palm up your back and clasping your fingertips, if possible. Hold here for 3–5 breaths, then move into DownwardFacing Dog Pose. Repeat poses 8–11 on the other side.
12 FULL BODY WAVE
From Down Dog, inhale, pressing up onto your toes. Draw your chin in, and round your spine (similar to the fluidity you created in Kneeling Body Wave). Keep your arms and legs straight as you move your hips toward your wrists and lift your heart, coming into a modified Upward-Facing Dog Pose. Keep in mind that in this variation, your knees should never touch the floor. Repeat one movement per breath—inhaling to come forward and exhaling to move back, 5–21 times. Once you’ve finished, rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose) for 3 breaths.
13 FROG POSE
From Balasana, rest on your forearms and begin to slide your knees open wide, stopping when you’ve reached the outer edge of your mat. Be sure to turn your feet out and slide them open until your ankles and knees are in line—forming a 90-degree angle from your hips to your heels. (If your hips and torso are high off the ground, slide a block or bolster under your tummy and ribs for support.) Relax into your hips and surrender here for at least a minute, allowing sensations, feelings, and thoughts to arise. To release this pose, slide onto your tummy, stretching your legs back behind you; rest here for 3 deep breaths.
14 DHANURASANA Bow Pose
From your belly, bend both of your knees and reach back to catch the tops of your feet, grabbing your ankles if possible. Keep your knees hip-width apart, and hug your outer hips in to support your lower back. As you inhale, kick your feet into your hands and push down into your thighs, pressing your pelvis into the earth. As you exhale, keep the back of your neck long, lift your heart, and lift your inner thighs off the mat if possible. Hold here for up to 8 breaths, then release on an exhalation. Rest your cheek on the mat for 3 deep breaths before moving into DownwardFacing Dog Pose.
15 PIGEON WITH BODY WAVE
Inhale your right leg into the air and flex your foot, then bring your right shin forward, aligning your right knee with your right wrist and your right ankle with your left wrist. With your fingertips under your shoulders, straighten your arms. Inhale; lift your heart and lengthen your waist. Exhale; bend your elbows out to the side while folding forward. Continue moving in a wave-like motion, one movement per breath, 3–5 times. On the last round, stretch your arms out in front of you and hold for 10 breaths. Then, step back to Down Dog and repeat on the other side.
16 UNIVERSAL TWIST
Lie on your back and hug your right knee into your chest. As you exhale, use your left hand to guide your knee across your body into a twist. (Your right shoulder will most likely come off the ground as your left knee moves closer to the mat.) Let your right arm rest overhead or out to the side. Use every inhalation to expand your belly and lengthen your spine; use every exhalation to gently deepen your twist. Stay here for 3–5 breaths and then switch sides. To finish this practice, lie in Savasana (Corpse Pose) for at least 5 minutes, allowing yourself to sink into the ocean of tranquility that is within you.