After having a terrible sore throat and bad cough at the beginning November, I tried to persevere on with teaching yoga as best I could but my own practice was more of a challenge. I felt short of breath, weak and overall just a bit feeble and not like rolling out my mat. How best to practice then when you’re not feeling well? It’s best to accept that you probably can’t (and won’t want to) do what you normally might do! This month I’ve put together a short seated and lying down sequence (around 35-40 minutes) that can help to clear your head, requires minimal actual effort but will still enable you to bring some stillness to the mind and a gentle stretch for the body.
Knees together child’s pose
Bringing the knees together in child’s pose can help to clear the head and sinuses. You may want to have some tissues at the ready. To come into the pose, start in a kneeling position and then release the bum to the heels and fold forward at the crease of the hips (rather than from the lower back). Extend the spine as long and far forward as you can, leading with the chest. Once extended, then you can release the chest and head down towards the floor. You can either have arms stretched out in front, elbows bent and head resting on the top of the hands or hands back alongside the heels, whichever feels most comfortable for you. Stay for 5-10 minutes. To come out, use the hands to press down into the floor and bring the upper body back to an upright position.
Sit on a cushion or thin foam block to raise the hips up slightly to allow a forward tilt to come into the pelvis. Bring the soles of the feet together and have them a good distance away from the body. If the knees are quite high in the air, you may want to use yoga bricks or cushions to provide some support under the thighs. You may feel a stretch into the inner thighs / groin area. You can begin to fold forward. In Butterfly pose, you can allow the upper back to round as you take the hands forward on the floor in front of you and begin to yield into the posture. Come to a position that allows for a comfortable but not over-exerting stretch and stay there for around 5 minutes. You may find that as you’ve been there for a minute or two the body begins to yield into the posture a bit further. To come out, again press weight into the hands to slowly come back to an upright position. Extend both legs in front of you and lean back onto your hands with them placed behind you.
Half Butterfly Pose
Still sitting up on your block as before, have both legs extended out in front of you and bring a slight forward tilt into the pelvis. Bend the left knee and bring the left foot onto inside of right thigh. As in Butterfly, you can maintain a flat lower back and allow upper back to round as you fold forward to a position comfortable for you that will provide a stretch into the back of the right leg. Stay for 5 minutes. To come out, bring the left foot flat on the floor to lift left knee and then extend the left leg out and place both hands back behind you to rest there for a few breaths before switching to the opposite side and repeating for 5 minutes.
Supported Sphinx with breath visualisation
Using a bolster for support, from a lying flat on your belly position, bring the bolster in underneath your ribs. Take your arms over the bolster to bring your forearms to the floor in front of it, flat on the floor. You might wriggle your upper body forward away from your pelvis for a few breaths initially and once you’ve created some space, you can then look to press down into the forearms to lift the chest and take the shoulder blades down the back. Legs are a comfortable distance apart and tops of the feet flat on the floor. Ensure gaze is forward down towards the front of the mat. Once comfortable you can visualise sending the breath up and down the spine – on the inhalation, feel or imagine energy and breath flowing down your spine from the top to the tailbone and on the exhalation the reverse, with the energy or breath flowing back up from the tip to the top of the spine. Repeat this for as long as you can maintain focus, but ideally around 5-10 breaths. You can then either continue with this practice or continue with normal full belly breathing as you stay in Supported Sphinx for 5 minutes. To come out, roll the bolster forward
and out from under your ribs, then bending the elbows, turn the fingers towards each other and come to lie flat with head resting on the tops of your hands. You may rock the pelvis from side to side to release the lower back. Stay here for 1-2 minutes and then move back into a knee apart child’s pose for 1-2 minutes.
Nadi Shodhana / Alternate Nostril Breathing (only if you’re not too stuffed up!)
Nadi Shodhanam 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. It’s really helpful if you have anxiety or feel anxious ahead of a stressful event or are just feeling in need of a little break from it all.
Find a comfortable sitting position where the spine is upright (think plumbline – ear over shoulder, shoulder over hip) and you can remain upright and not slump down – this may be kneeling with a block to sit on (Virasana), sitting cross legged, again with a cushion or block to bring the hips higher than the knees, or sitting on an upright chair. Hands are resting gently in the lap.
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 as you 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.