Before you begin your practice, find your breath. Here’s how:
If you don’t already know your breath count (the length of your inhalation and exhalation), take a moment to find it.
Do this by lying on your back or sitting comfortably in a chair with a long spine. Inhale into your lower belly, feeling it fill the ribs and then the chest before exhaling from the chest down. Then, draw in your belly at the end of the exhale. Repeat this three-part breath several times, focussing on creating a slow, smooth inhalation and exhalation.
Once you feel relaxed, count the number of seconds it takes to inhale completely. Attempt to exhale for the same count, so that your inhale and exhale is even. (For reference: most people have a four- to six-second inhale.)
Loosens the spine and gently warms up the hips
Begin on the floor in table top position with your knees under your hips. Your wrists should be just slightly in front of your shoulders.
On an exhale, tilt your tailbone down, draw your belly button towards your spine and arch your back up. Press into your palms and spread your shoulder blades towards the outer edge of your back. Hold here and breathe.
On an inhale, tilt the tailbone up, curl your toes under, let the lower belly fall, lengthen through the crown of the head and move your sternum forward. Pause.
After a few breaths, with an inhale, reverse back to Cat Pose. Exhale and move back to Cow Pose. Inhale to return to Cat. Repeat this sequence several times, using your breath to choreograph each transition.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Opens the hips and shoulders while stretching the hamstrings, calves, and arches
From table top position, curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back to come into Downward Facing Dog. Relax your ears away from your shoulders. press through the ball of your index fingers as you push your sit bones up and back.
Simultaneously reach your heals towards the mat to stretch your calves. Feel free to slowly peddle your feet in this pose—bending one knee at a time and shifting your weight into the straight leg as you rotate your hips opposite of your bent knee towards the ceiling to stretch your IT band.
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Opens psoas and hips
Come into a low lunge. You may need to place a blanket, a soft pad, or a doubled-over yoga mat under your lowered knee for comfort. Make sure your ankle is aligned under your knee so that the front bent knee creates a 90-degree angle between your upper and lower leg. Place your hands on your hips or rest them on your front thigh.
Single-Leg Frog Pose (Eka Pada Bhekasana)
Opens the quadriceps
Lie face down on your mat bringing your left elbow up underneath your shoulders. Bend your right knee and point your toes to the ceiling. Reach back and draw your right heal into your right gluteal. If you cannot reach your foot, use a strap, a long tube sock, or a supportive friend. Whatever you do, though, do not force it! When you feel resistance, stop.
If you have your heal, press your right hip point into the mat. Not feeling it enough? Bring your knees together. Hold and breathe. Then, repeat on the left side.
Pigeon (Eka Pada)
Opens the hip joint; lengthens the hip flexor; and stretches the thighs, glutes, and piriformis
From Downward Facing Dog, bring your right knee towards your right wrist and then rotate your right ankle towards your left wrist. Step your left foot back as far as you can. Internally rotate the back leg to help square your hips. Before folding forward over the front leg, lengthen your spine through the crown of your head and draw your right sit bone back. Fold over your front leg, hinging at your hips to rest your upper-body weight on your forearms or stacked hands. This may feel intense; Don’t forget to breathe. Again, hold for six breaths and then repeat on the opposite side.
Legs-up-the-wall (Viparita Karani)
Opens hamstrings and lower back; promotes venous drainage and helps circulation; relieves swollen feet and legs
Simply find open wall space and sit down with one shoulder against the wall and sweep your legs up the wall pivoting on the sit bones so that your bum faces the wall. Recline the upper body back on your mat. Feel free to adjust how close you are to the wall (the closer you are, the more intense of a hamstring stretch you get). You can also place a blanket under your pelvis, back, and head in this pose. Let your palms face up to facilitate on opening in the shoulders. Gently draw the crown of the head away from the wall, lengthening the spine.
Stay here for at least five minutes. Focus on breath count with each inhalation and exhalation.