Consider the following routine to be your quick-fix for a variety of situations: when you need to shed physical or mental tensions; when you want to nurture your body, but do not feel motivated for an energetic workout; when seasonal blues begin to infiltrate; or when you need to decompress from any type of overstimulation. This practice offers the benefit of inversions, yet the positions are more subtle and accessible. Within 20-30 minutes, you will challenge and then steady the nervous system; further, you will release pressure and tension from the areas of the body that bear the brunt of daily burdens.
Although most of the practices that I offer do not necessitate props or bolsters (they are always optional), today’s routine requires their use for the purpose of gentle inversion. So, gather a yoga block, thick book, firm pillow, or rolled blanket for support; then, come onto your back. Lift your hips slightly, so that you can place your chosen prop under the sacrum (flat bone at the base of the spine). Then, lift your legs to 90 degrees, or perpendicular to the floor. In order to find the proper position, move your legs a bit, forward and back: You want the spot where your lower abdominals engage, but your low back is steady, with the torso relaxed.
Let your arms rest naturally by your sides, and close your eyes. Flex your feet: Press firmly upward through the heels. Feel the slight abdominal engagement, while noting that the bolster has freed and eased your low back. This mini-inversion also places the heart ever-so-slightly about the head: This is a challenge for the body and mind; however, the result is a release of physical and mental pressure. Remain in the posture, breathing deeply, for 2-3 minutes.
In the same position, begin to activate your feet and joints. With your foot flexed, curl the toes tightly as you inhale and bend the knees a bit; as you exhale, lengthen through the knees and point the feet by first pressing through the balls, and then spreading the toes wide. Continue to flex, curl, bend, and inhale; and lengthen, point, spread, and exhale for 1 minute.
Still on your back, slightly inverted by the block or blanket, lower your legs about 30 degrees (i.e., they will be 60 degrees above the floor). The feet are relaxed—no hard flex or point—and the legs are parallel to each other. In this position, begin to vibrate the legs; try to let all the flesh and muscles jiggle and bounce as you rapidly shake the legs. The movement is small, but brisk and purposeful: This activity engages the Second and Third chakras, which help to free your mind and embolden your will power, respectively. Continue to vibrate strongly for at least 2 minutes, working your way up to 3 minutes.
Now, draw your knees in toward your body. As you do so, the pelvis will naturally roll up; use this action to slide the prop out from under your body. With the low back now in contact with the floor, and the knees bent, move your arms out to the sides, slightly below shoulder level. The arms will steady you as you begin a slow twist side to side, knees tucked in toward your chest: Inhale in the neutral center position; exhale the knees to the right; inhale center; exhale as you twist and drop the legs to the left. Repeat this slow, focused twist 24 times (12 times to each side).
When you are ready, help yourself to come into a seated position. Take a few deep breaths to help your body reorient to the upright position. Then, begin to shrug your shoulders, quickly and alternately. Inhale the right shoulder up, and exhale down; inhale the left up, exhale down. Bounce back and forth, shoulder to shoulder, at a rapid pace. Continue for 1 minute.
Remaining seated, place your hands on your shoulders, fingers in front, thumbs behind: Be sure to keep the elbows up, so that the upper arms are parallel to the ground. Start to twist your rib cage and shoulder girdle side to side: Inhale as you twist left, exhale to the right. As you twist, the chin follows the shoulder, which will help to release tension in the neck. Keep your eyes closed, and focus on the sound of your breath: Inhale left, exhale right. Continue for 2-3 minutes.
For the next position, you will need your prop again. Stretch out onto your belly: Elevate the hips, so that you can slide the bolster under the front of the pelvic bones; find the spot where your lower spine feels open, and your breath is unhampered. Turn your head to one side as you lie in this reversed, inverted version of svasana. After 1-3 minutes, turn your head to the other side, and continue breathing deeply, eyes closed, for another 1-3 minutes.
Now, lift the hips a bit, so that you can remove the bolster. Shift your head, so that you are on your chin or forehead. Bend the knees, and reach back to hold the ankles with each hand. This is Gentle Bow: You do not need to lift the upper body, nor do you need to lift the legs into active Bow. Rather, you are encouraging a steady circulation of energy, while subtly releasing the shoulders and hip flexors. Stay here and breathe for 2 minutes.
Now, release the Bow, and slowly press yourself back into Baby Pose; if you like, you may place your forehead on the prop. Or, simply allow your head to relax on the ground. Let the arms lie quietly by your legs on the floor. Again, breathe fully and steadily for 1-3 minutes.
Finally, help yourself into your favorite seated posture. Place your hands in your lap: The back of the left hand rests in the palm of the right; thumb tips touch each other. With your eyes closed and gazing upward to the Third Eye, begin alternate nose/mouth breathing: Inhale through the nose; exhale through open, softly rounded lips; inhale through the open mouth; exhale through the nose. Then, repeat the pattern, starting with a nose breath in, and continue for 3 minutes.
When you have finished, you may move into a traditional svasana for a few minutes. Or, thoroughly “unloaded,” you may be ready for the rest of your day… or for a good night’s sleep.