Open hips, open heart: A smart se­quence to change your outlook on life

Yoga Journal - - Contents - By Claire Cop­ersino

WHEN MY HUS­BAND DIED 15 years ago, my yoga prac­tice be­came a way for me to process my grief—one breath, one tran­si­tion, and one asana at a time. As a re­sult, I was bet­ter able to move through my griev­ing process, rather than get­ting stuck in it. My frag­ile heart did not close its shut­ters. In­stead, it re­mained painfully open in the be­gin­ning—and hap­pily open now.

For many months fol­low­ing my hus­band’s pass­ing, tears flowed ev­ery time I prac­ticed, in pri­vate and in pub­lic. Those tears kept things mov­ing, pre­served the flow of life through me, and over the course of much time, served to trans­mute that pain and loss into a way of meet­ing the world with an open heart.

Dur­ing the course of all of our lives, we will in­evitably ex­pe­ri­ence grief that stops us in our tracks, both lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally. When this hap­pens, it can be tempt­ing to dis­tract our­selves in­stead of pro­cess­ing our emo­tions. But when we em­bark on a reg­u­lar yoga prac­tice, we be­gin to re­lease the stuck, stag­nant en­ergy that re­sults from un­pro­cessed feel­ings. I de­signed this se­quence to help you open your hips—a par­tic­u­larly po­tent area when it comes to un­earthing and re­leas­ing stored emo­tions—and to help you turn your pain and grief into fear­less­ness and com­pas­sion.

1 VAJRASANA, VARI­A­TION Thun­der­bolt Pose Come to a kneel­ing po­si­tion with your knees and feet to­gether. Use your hands to press your inner heels into each other as you slowly lower your seat onto your heels. On an in­hala­tion, raise your arms along­side your ears; on an ex­ha­la­tion, reach your right fin­ger­tips to the floor (to the out­side of your right foot), and bend to­ward your right side. In­hale back to ver­ti­cal, then ex­hale over to the left side. Re­peat 3–5 times on each side, then place your hands in your lap, palms fac­ing up, with your dom­i­nant hand cradling your pas­sive hand for 5 deep breaths.

2 DAN­DASANA Staff Pose Sit with your legs ex­tended straight out in front of you, inner an­kles touching. Flex your feet and squeeze your inner thighs to­gether. Root down through your sit­ting bones to rise up through your chest and the crown of your head, fo­cus­ing on length­en­ing your side waists while plug­ging your shoul­ders deeply into your back, curl­ing the heads of your arm bones be­hind your chest. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

3 PASCHIMOTTANASANA TO PURVOTTANASANA Seated For­ward Bend to Up­ward Plank Pose As you in­hale, raise your arms along­side your ears. As you ex­hale, hinge from your hips to ex­tend for­ward. In­hale to hinge back up with your arms along­side your ears, then ex­hale your hands to the floor about 8 to 10 inches be­hind your seat, fin­gers point­ing to­ward your seat. Point your toes and press your shoul­der blades into your back as you in­hale and raise your seat, legs, and chest. As you do this, lengthen your tail­bone to­ward your mat and gen­tly raise your chin off your chest to com­fort­ably open your throat. Re­peat this se­quence 3–5 times.


Down­ward-Fac­ing Dog Pose Come to Child’s Pose with your arms ex­tended for­ward. Ground your palms into the mat. As you in­hale, hol­low your ab­domen; as you ex­hale, con­tinue to lift your ab­domen, rais­ing your knees off the mat and ex­tend­ing your tail­bone up to­ward the sky. Root the heads of your thigh­bones back, send­ing weight back through your heels. Stay for 5 breaths, then raise your right leg into the air, and be­gin to open your right hip while press­ing your left thigh­bone back.


Wild Thing Pose Con­tinue rais­ing your right leg and be­gin to reach your right foot to­ward the floor on the left side of your mat. Fo­cus on lift­ing some of your weight out of your left hand as you ro­tate onto the out­side edge of your left foot. Lengthen the left side of your body as you lightly touch your right foot to the floor. Ex­tend your right arm to fol­low the right side of your body, and turn your chest sky­ward to grow the ex­pan­sion of your chest. Stay here for 3 breaths. Re­turn to Down­ward-Fac­ing Dog, and re­peat poses 4 and 5 on the other side.


Low Lunge From Down Dog, in­hale to raise your right leg up, then step your right foot to the floor between your hands, stack­ing your knee over your an­kle. Place your left knee on the mat as far back as you can, and in­hale your arms up along­side your ears. As you ex­hale, lift your left foot off the mat, lower your arms be­hind you, and catch your an­kle with your hands. Stay here for 3–5 breaths, then re­peat on the left side. Move through a vinyasa, and fin­ish in Down Dog.


War­rior Pose I From Down Dog, in­hale your right foot for­ward between your hands, and spin your left heel down to the mat so it’s at a 45-de­gree an­gle with the front of the mat. In­ter­nally ro­tate your left thigh, and an­chor your left heel into the mat. Keep your right knee di­rectly over your right an­kle. In­hale to raise your torso to a ver­ti­cal po­si­tion, wrap­ping your front ribs and stack­ing your shoul­ders over your hips. Turn your baby fin­gers to­ward each other, ex­tend your fin­ger­tips brightly, and look up, mov­ing into a gen­tle back­bend. Stay here for 5 breaths, then re­peat on the other side.


War­rior Pose III Stand at the top of your mat with your hands in An­jali Mu­dra (palms to­gether in front of your heart). On an ex­ha­la­tion, take your left foot off the mat and tilt your torso for­ward, while slowly ex­tend­ing both legs straight, left leg par­al­lel to the floor. Ex­tend your ster­num for­ward, draw­ing your shoul­der blades down and into your back. Keep your hands in front of your heart or ex­tend them for­ward. Imag­ine a tether between your left heel and your ster­num, and make it as taut as pos­si­ble as you stay here for 3–5 breaths. Then re­peat on the other side.


From Down Dog, step your right foot between your hands, stack­ing your knee di­rectly over your an­kle. Hug your hips in to­ward each other, squeez­ing your leg mus­cles into your bones and keep­ing your left heel point­ing di­rectly up to­ward the sky. On an in­hala­tion, raise your torso up to ver­ti­cal, stack­ing your shoul­ders over your hips, wrists over your shoul­ders. If you’d like to, gen­tly move into a back­bend, draw­ing your ab­domen in to cre­ate equi­lib­rium between the front and back planes of your body. Stay here for 5 breaths, re­turn to Down Dog, then re­peat on the other side.


Lord of the Dance Pose Cre­ate a big loop with a yoga strap and hold the buckle in your left hand, palm fac­ing up. Hook your left foot into the loop be­hind you and bring your right arm up along­side your ear. On an ex­ha­la­tion, press the top of your left foot into the strap and away from your but­tocks, work­ing your left thigh to­ward par­al­lel with the mat. Fo­cus on an­chor­ing your tail­bone down and lift­ing up your heart. Your right arm can ex­tend out in front of you, act­ing as a coun­ter­bal­ance; or, you can take hold of the strap with your right hand, which will guide your tri­ceps to­ward par­al­lel with the mat. Stay here for 5 breaths, then switch sides.


Hero Pose Come to kneel­ing with your knees to­gether, feet wider than hip-width apart. Press your thumbs into the back creases of your knees and then run them firmly down the cen­ter of your calves as you lower your seat between your heels. Place your hands in your lap, palms fac­ing up, and close your eyes. Take a cou­ple breaths here, then be­gin the fol­low­ing pranayama: In­hale in a smooth, con­tin­u­ous move­ment, and break your ex­ha­la­tions into 3 equal parts with a mo­men­tary pause between each ex­hale. Take any­where from 12–18 rounds of this breath­ing pat­tern, end­ing at the bot­tom of an ex­ha­la­tion.


Co­bra Pose Lie flat on your ab­domen and place your hands un­der your shoul­ders. Curl your shoul­ders away from the floor, feel­ing your col­lar­bones broad­en­ing, and press down into all 10 toe­nails. On an in­hala­tion, slowly ex­tend for­ward through your ster­num as you raise your head and chest off the mat, keep­ing your head in line with your torso. Press your hands into the mat and iso­met­ri­cally move them for­ward to help plug your shoul­ders into your back and open your chest. Stay here for 5–8 breaths, then slowly lower down to the mat and rest on one cheek, arms by your side, for a cou­ple breaths.


Bridge Pose Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet hip-dis­tance apart with your knees stacked di­rectly over your heels. Press your back waist into the mat, and on an in­hala­tion, slowly peel your spine off the mat, rais­ing the heads of your thigh­bones sky­ward and length­en­ing your tail­bone to­ward the backs of your knees. In­ter­lace your fin­gers un­der­neath your back, and scoop your shoul­ders to­ward each other un­der your chest. Keep your knees over your an­kles and step into all four corners of your feet. Stay here for 5 breaths, then re­lease your arms out from un­der your body, and slowly roll your spine down to the mat.


Re­clin­ing Bound An­gle Pose Lie down on your back with your knees bent. Let your knees open to ei­ther side, re­leas­ing down to­ward the mat while the soles of your feet come to­gether. Ex­per­i­ment with how far away your heels are from your pelvic floor; if you feel any dis­com­fort or grip­ping in your hips or knees, place blocks or blan­kets un­der­neath your thighs. Ori­ent your chin to­ward your chest, lengthen your tail­bone, and broaden your lower back. Close your eyes, and rest your left hand over your heart with your right hand over your lower belly. Stay here for 8–10 breaths.


Corpse Pose Slowly raise your knees back up and ex­tend your legs out on the mat. Sup­port any lower back sen­si­tiv­ity by plac­ing a rolled up blan­ket or bol­ster un­der­neath the backs of your knees. Lengthen the back of your neck, guide your shoul­der blades to­ward each other un­der­neath your chest, and let your arms rest a few inches out from the sides of your body, palms re­laxed and open­ing to­ward the sky. Stay here for at least 5–10 min­utes. Set a timer with a gen­tle chime so you can fully re­lease in this fi­nal rest­ing pose.

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