Feel your best: Ease aches and pains; build strength and flexibility
WHEN I FOUND YOGA 11 years ago, I had decades of cycling and soccer playing behind me. My body was tense, perpetually sore, and in some places, wrecked: A bad cycling accident had left me with a broken femur, where it connects with the hip socket. The physical pain, even in recovery, was excruciating. And mentally, I felt way off my game. I turned to yoga to help repair and rebalance my body and mind. The practice delivered: I gained new flexibility that helped correct the asymmetry caused by my injury, and I was able to relieve my nagging chronic pain.
The following sequence is designed to foster greater resiliency and confidence in your ability to walk, run, cycle, or enjoy asana for years to come.
1 Use your breath to build heat and focus. Inhale, visualizing your breath filling your pelvis, low back, and ribs; exhale, visualizing your breath leaving your ribs, low back, and pelvis. Breathe through your nose, eventually adding Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath).
2 Warm up with three rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) A or B—to heat your body and focus your mind. 1 UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA Extended Side Angle Pose, variation From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), reach your arms in opposite directions. Bring your feet beneath your palms. Turn your left foot and leg outward 90 degrees, lining up your left heel with your right arch. On an exhalation, bend into your left knee, making sure it doesn’t move past your left ankle. Inhale to extend your right arm toward the sky. Gaze up or straight ahead, and hold here for 3 breaths. 2 VIRABHADRASANA II Warrior Pose II Inhale to come up into Warrior II with your torso stacked over your hips, your arms extending in opposite directions again. Make sure your left knee stays directly above your left ankle. Continue to slightly draw your left hip up and back toward your right hip, stacking your torso over the creases of your hips. Stay rooted through your back foot. Gaze over your front hand, and hold here for 3 breaths. Inhale to straighten your front leg and come out of the pose. 3 PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA Wide-Legged Forward Bend, variation Place your hands on your hips and bring your feet back to parallel. Interlace your hands behind your back. Exhale to fold forward, and stay in the fold for 4 breaths. On your next inhalation, come up, stopping halfway to release the bind and bring your hands back to your hips. Then come all the way up. 4 PARIVRTTA UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA Revolved Extended Side Angle Pose, variation Return to Warrior II. Come onto the ball of your right foot, squaring your hips forward. Exhale and twist from your belly to bring your right hand to the inside of your left foot. Keep your right hip lifted as you inhale and extend your left arm toward the sky. Keep your left knee in line with your left hip. Stay here for 3 breaths.
5 VASISTHASANA Side Plank Pose From here, with your right hand firmly rooted into the floor and your core engaged, exhale and lift your left foot, stacking your left leg on top of your right. Flex both feet, lift your hips, and extend your left arm overhead for a deeper side stretch. Hold for 3 breaths. Release your left hand to the floor and push back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Stay here or in Balasana (Child’s Pose), resting for several breaths—or take a vinyasa if you want to keep the heat flowing! Then repeat poses 1–5 on the other side. 6 UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA Extended Side Angle Pose, variation From Down Dog, step your left foot forward, coming into Warrior II. Exhale and place your left hand to the inside of your left ankle, pushing your triceps against your inner thigh. Bring your right hand behind your back. Try to bend your left arm and clasp your hands (not shown). With or without the bind, roll your right ribs and shoulder backward. Lengthen from your right hip through your spine. Gaze up and hold for 5 breaths. Exhale; release the bind. Inhale back to Warrior II. 7 UTTHITA TRIKONASANA Extended Triangle Pose From Warrior II, straighten your left leg without locking your knee. On an exhalation, lower your left hand to the outside of your left foot, and externally rotate and extend your right arm toward the sky. Root your feet firmly into the ground with your left hand (or fingertips) beneath your left shoulder. Inhale into your chest, broadening through your collarbones and gazing upward. Stay here for 5 breaths. 8 ARDHA CHANDRASANA Half Moon Pose From Triangle Pose, exhale to bend your left knee slightly, moving your bottom hand about 6 inches in front of your left foot. Align your left shoulder over your left hand and your hips over your left leg, firming and lifting your back leg to hip height. Inhale to twist open, extending your right arm to the sky. Hold for 5 breaths. To exit, inhale to Warrior II. Lower your hands down to either side of your front foot, and move to DownwardFacing Dog—with or without a vinyasa. 9 UTTHAN PRISTHASANA Lizard Pose, variation From Down Dog, inhale your left leg up, then exhale to bring your left foot to the outside of your left arm. Gently lower your right knee to the floor. Square your hips forward. Stay here or lower both forearms to the floor. Feel free to let your left knee splay open, or shift more weight to the outer edge of your left foot. If your forearms are down, curl your back toes under and lift your right knee to stretch the right hip flexor. Hold for 5 breaths. 10 UTTHAN PRISTHASANA Lizard Pose, variation From your version of Lizard Pose: On an exhalation, add a right quad stretch by bending your right leg and kicking your heel toward your right glutes. Reach back for your right ankle with your right hand. Stay here for 5 breaths, then release your right foot and return to Lizard Pose.
11 EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA One-Legged King Pigeon Pose Bring your left knee behind your forearms or hands, and slide your right leg backward. With your hips squared forward, inhale to lengthen your spine, and exhale to fold forward over your left leg. You can keep your head as a natural extension of your spine, or release it to the floor or a block. Stay here for 5 breaths. Then, inhale to slowly come up, and push back to Downward-Facing Dog. Repeat poses 6–11 on the other side. 12 BADDHA KONASANA Bound Angle Pose From Downward-Facing Dog, make your way to seated. Reach for your feet and bring your heels together, moving them toward your groin. Inhale to lengthen your spine. Stay here, or exhale to fold forward over your feet without rounding through your back. With each exhalation, let go of tension in your hips. Stay here for 5 breaths. Release your feet, and if you are in a fold, inhale to come up. 13 PASCHIMOTTANASANA Seated Forward Bend Extend both legs in front of you. Inhale to lengthen your spine; exhale to fold over your legs, reaching the crown of your head toward your toes without rounding your back. Rest your hands on your shins or on the floor, or reach for your feet. Inhale to lengthen, and exhale to fold deeper. Stay in the fold for 5 breaths. Release your feet, and inhale to come up. 14 SUPINE TWIST Lie on your back with your legs extended on the floor in front of you. Bring your left knee in tightly. On an exhalation, twist your torso and left leg to the right. Rest your right hand on your left knee, and extend your left arm on the floor away from you with your palm up. Gaze toward your left hand. Stay here for 5 breaths, twisting deeper with each exhalation. Inhale to come back to center and switch sides. 15 SAVASANA Corpse Pose Extend both legs on the floor and release your hands by your sides, palms up. Take time to get comfortable, relaxing your legs, arms, jaw, and face. Close your eyes, and return to a natural breath. Lie in stillness for at least 5 minutes.