You're rushed -- no news there. You don't have time for a morning yoga routine, but you are determined to get your namaste on. A quick hit is better than a miss, so give yourself three essential poses that cover the main asana groups, tone your body, and calm your mind.
The Magic Three
A balanced yoga routine mixes poses to deliver all the benefits in one condensed package. Standing poses, inversions, backbends, and forward bends: you can get all four types with just three poses if you pick the right ones. So, work on your downward facing dog, tree pose, and cat-cow for stretching, balancing, strengthening, and even immunity boosting.
Start with tree, vrksasana, the initial -- and ultimate -- balance challenge. To assume tree pose, you first settle yourself in tadasana, mountain pose, a bonus! Use your correct placement in mountain pose to segue comfortably into the correct posture for tree:
- Feet about hip-width apart on the mat
- Soles anchored firmly to the floor
- Shoulders back and down
- Slight tensing of the thighs but soft knees
- Arms relaxed by your sides
- Head centered over the body
Stay focused on even breathing as you shift your weight to the left foot, find your stability, bend your right knee, and grasp that ankle with your right hand. As you place the foot firmly against the left inner thigh, visualize yourself as that solidly rooted tree, connected to the earth, hands in prayer position at your heart.
For modified tree, place your hands on your hips, elbows bent, bend the knee and raise the right foot to the side of the ankle or the calf. If you "spot" -- fix your gaze on an object in front of you -- it will help to decrease the wobbles.
Breathe slowly and calmly for five to ten breaths, lower the raised foot, and work on the opposite side.
Tree can help with headaches, poor sleep patterns, sciatica, and low or high blood pressure. It will make your spine, ankles, calves, and thighs stronger, stretch your shoulders, chest, and groin, and rock your balance.
One very important placement to be aware of with tree pose is where you rest your raised foot. Modified tree, with sole of the foot resting lightly against the ankle or calf, is a perfectly acceptable way to work up to the greater balance required to settle your raised foot against the inner thigh at the groin. Hanging that foot off the knee is not. Resting your foot against your knee places too much stress on the knee and could lead to injury. So, let your awareness guide your high or low placement in tree pose.
Downward Facing Dog
Next, knock yourself out in down dog. This pose combines forward bend and a modified inversion to convey a host of benefits. Downward facing dog, adho mukha svanasana, is an all-purpose puppy, serving up a stretch for the hands, shoulders, spine, hamstrings, calves, and arches; building strength in the arms and legs; improving digestion as it relieves headache, back pain, fatigue, menstrual and menopausal discomfort, insomnia, stress, and depression. Down dog also helps with osteoporosis prevention and gives you a nice energy boost.
For beginners, or those with flexibility challenges, resting the palms of the hands on yoga blocks or on a stable chair seat gives you access to the pose and its many pluses. For hotshot advanced students, up the challenge by raising and extending alternate legs to align with the angle of your torso. Hold the pose on each side for about 30 seconds as you continue to breathe evenly and deeply.
Drop to all fours for the feel-good stretch of a twofer: cat-cow. Cow pose, bitilasana, is really the backbend here, but the two poses are typically combined in one fluid motion that eases the kinks right out of your tortured, way-too-sedentary spine. This is a great pose for someone who can't manage a full backbend or for a beginner.
- Get settled in good form with your knees right below your hips and your shoulders, elbows and wrists in a straight line.
- For cow, inhale and lift your tailbone and chest toward the ceiling, which forces your belly down and stretches the spine.
- Return to a nice, squared "tabletop" position and repeat -- or increase the stretch by flowing from cow, a slight dip, to cat (marjaryasna), a small arch upward.
Cow is a chest-opener and a back-stretcher that also stretches the front of the torso and gently stimulates the internal organs. Cat gives your back and neck a stretch as it massages your belly. Win-win.
Shortcut to Body Bliss
Create your own mini-routine with your three go-to poses in a short combination that gives you a warm-up, stretch and strengthen, happiness-boosting inversion, and a balance challenge.
- Start with a salute to the sun; this sequence opens with mountain -- a little extra prep for tree -- and gets your dogs in right away.
- Once you've warmed up with your surya namaskar, go to tree pose and add some focused yoga breathing while resting in this pose (if you can).
- End with cat-cow, working slowly in and out of those stretches to release your spine before a day of sitting in your car and at your desk.
- Then finish in child's pose, balasana. Just ease back into it from your tabletop position for a calm mind and breath, and a refreshed body.
The Savvy Yogi
Yoga isn't a battle that challenges you to carve out time for virtuoso displays of crow, headstand, and pigeon pose. Your practice should be a seamless part of your life, nourishing your body and soul, expanding your breathing, enhancing your energy, giving you the gift of calm. By focusing on just three simple poses, you eliminate the stress of decision-making and open up the space to master and deepen these asanas, the best way to mine them for their real value. However, you can create your own daily trifecta of must-dos from the thousands of asanas and dozens of styles. Just remember to vary the asanas from backbends, forward bends, inversions, and standing poses. It's all about the integration; you, balanced on one foot and in every aspect of your life.