If you are feeling particularly anxious or have a stressful situation to contend with, I’ve put together a short 15-20 minute sequence that can help.
Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhanam)
Alternate nostril breathing does require focus and concentration but is excellent for keeping the mind from being distracted by other thoughts and is believed to have an influence on balancing the body’s automatic nervous system.
Find a comfortable sitting position where the spine is upright and you can remain upright and not slumped. For people new to this practice I would suggest an upright dining chair, or for those who have a regular breathing (or pranayama) practice, a comfortable sitting position such as kneeling with a block or bolster to support beneath the sitting bones (Virasana) to bring the hips higher than the knees.
Focus on the breath, maybe just watching the belly rising and falling and bringing your attention to a steady, even inhalation and exhalation.
Take the two fingers closest to your thumb on your right hand in towards the centre of your palm, leaving your ring finger and little finger extended.
Take an inhalation and the take your right thumb up to your right nostril and close it off. Exhale through your left nostril.
Then inhale through your left nostril, then close off the left nostril with the ring finger (and/or little finger of your right hand) and, having released your thumb from your right nostril, exhale through your right nostril.
Then inhale through your right nostril, then close it off with your right thumb and exhale through your left nostril.
Continue to repeat this alternate pattern of nostril breathing for 5 minutes.
Once you’ve completed 5 minutes, after completing an exhalation, release the hand back to your lap and just return to the gentle, steady inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils for a couple of minutes.
Tiger in the Tree Pose
A restorative and calming posture to help you relax and rest.
Kneeling on your mat (you may want a blanket underneath your knees and feet to provide extra cushioning), take your knees wide apart and bring your feet together.
Bring a bolster (or if you do not have a bolster, wrap two bed pillows together into a cylinder using a bath towel to create your own bolster) lengthways in front of you between your thighs.
Folding forward from the crease of your hips, elongate through your spine as you look to extend your chest as far forward as you can before settling down on to the bolster. This will bring you into a supported forward bend, turning the head to one side.
Focus on breathing fully into the belly and also the back ribs. Inhaling, feeling the belly and back ribs expanding and exhaling feeling the belly and back ribs contracting. You may want to focus on adding a count to focus and steady the breath, maybe inhaling for a count of 2, 3 or 4 and exhaling for a count of 2, 3 or 4.
After 2-3 minutes with the head resting on one side, lift the head, tuck the chin in towards the chest and slowly turn the head to face in the opposite direction. Again, settle and focus on the breath for a further 2-3 minutes.
To come out of the posture, lift the head, tuck the chin into the chest and turn the head back to the centre. Gently walk the hands back and come into an upright position.
Chest opening posture
A simple but deceptively effective stretch to open and release the chest, enabling full breathing into the belly and ribs area to release tension.
Take a rolled up blanket or towel and place it horizontally underneath the mid-shoulder blade area and lie back on top of it, allowing the chest to enter into a very minor backbend.
The head and tops of the shoulders should be resting on the mat, and the lower back and pelvis are also resting on the mat.
This posture provides a gentle release for the chest area and enables the diaphragm to open and relax.
Arms can initially be out to the side, but if you’d like to increase the stretch into the chest, you can extend the arms up overhead.
Focus on creating a steady and easy breath, and rest here for around 5 minutes.
You can then either carry on with your day (taking care to come out of the posture slowly, rolling on to one side and then up into a seated position) or if you have five more minutes to spare come into final relaxation for 5 minutes.
If you are coming into Savasana, take your bolster or rolled blanket behind the back of your knees, legs apart out towards the edge of your mat, arms away from the body, palms turned to face up or hands resting gently on your belly. Ensure your shoulders are moving away from your ears and your face is relaxed, with no tension in your jaw. Rest and enjoy being in the present moment whilst your body lets go of any tension and your mind just lets thoughts go past, without any attachment or getting caught up in a story from the past or the future.