Photo by goce/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by goce/iStock / Getty Images

HEAD TO TOE HELLO

 

SIMPLE ASANA PRACTICE FOR MEETING AND BEFRIENDING THE INNOCENT LITTLE CREATURE BODY

This is either a thirty minute daily practice, or a gentle warm up for a longer physical practice. 

Don’t rush through. Take your time to FEEL into what you are doing. Remember, you are making friends with your body, your self, your practice. Bring your curiosity and kindness. You can weave the metta phrases into the movements throughout, or pick one of the four phrases per activity ("May I be Happy" for feet, "May I be Safe for knees" etc), or just enjoy moving the body with ease and friendliness and wait until the last activity, "Metta Salutations" -- play with different variations and see what feels friendly and enjoyable for you :)

1.       Touching into the Breath

Stand in Tadasana, body alert but relaxed, feeling into feet and energetically pressing down while simultaneously reaching up through crown. Consciously relax shoulders, jaw, buttocks. Allow yourself to settle into stance, and then close your eyes and begin the following conscious breathing practice:

On an inhale draw thumb of your right hand toward your index finger, on exhale, let it extend back out, continue through the rest of the fingers on your right hand and move to left hand to count 8 breaths in total. Repeat for 3-5 rounds.

Consider this a "how are you" for your breath. You are not trying to do anything to the breath, just meet it and say hello

2.       Happy Feet

i.             Stand on left leg, extend right leg back and flip on and off top of the foot/tucking toes under 8 times and then do 8 ankle circles in each direction. Repeat on other foot. Hands can be on hips or extended out to side at about hip height.

Ii             Stand on both feet, left and spread toes. Feel into four corners of the feet (big toe mound, little toe mound, inner heel, outer heel). Release toes but keep engagement of the legs. Breath up and down through the legs imagining they are straws, inhaling drawing from arch up to belly and releasing down as you exhale spreading feet open

iii            Stand on left leg, extend right leg forward and point and flex foot 8 times. Repeat on other side

iv            Stand on both feet, left and spread toes. Feel into four corners of the feet (big toe mound, little toe mound, inner heel, outer heel). Release toes but keep engagement of the legs. Breath up and down through the legs imagining they are straws, inhaling drawing from arch up to belly and releasing down as you exhale spreading feet open

 

3.       Safe and Strong Knees

Bring big toes together, heels a few inches apart (outer edge of feet parallel to sides of your mat). Bend the knees and place hands on lower thighs. Squeeze knees together and make circles, 8 in each direction. Try to ensure you are not rounding the low back when you do this (so stick your bottom out and give it a wiggle to make sure your tailbone is curling a little)

 

4.       Healthy Hips

With feet outer hips distance (or wider) make big circles with your hips. 8 times in each direction. Repeat if you like, Hula-hooping your way to happiness. Beware you make lose all track of time in this one!! But do stay in the feet. Feel the weight shifting around all 4 corners

 

5.       Peaceful Hands

Stand feet hip distance and parallel. Bring arms forward and up to shoulder height. Bend at the elbow and clasp hands. Allow forearms to meet completely. Make a figure eight with your hands and wrists. Don’t worry about the snap crackle and pop. It’s completely natural. Do 16 rotations in each direction.

6.       Shoulders--Opening the Gateway to the Heart

i.             With a softness in knees, roll shoulders up and back 8 times, squeezing blades together each time you roll back. Go slowly. Imagine you are juicing your shoulders. Change direction, and spread open the space between your shoulder blades. Let out a few deep exhales, making even some sounds. It feels pretty darn good.

ii.            Grab opposite shoulders with hands (like you are hugging yourself), drop head in towards arms and curl forward as if you are pulling your rib cage in and down. Notice what arm is on front, coz you’ll switch it up in a minute

iii.         Clasp your hands behind your back, start by bending your elbows, keep the heels of the hands pressing together to protect the wrists (Notice what thumb is on front, coz you’ll switch it up in a minute). If taking a clasp is too much (as it is for many in the beginning, use a scarf or tie as a yoga strap and hold with both hands behind the back, pull on the strap and work your hands as close together as you can with elbows bent, draw head back, and draw upper arms in toward one another and slowly straighten arms…BREATHE, hold for 2-3 breaths.

OPTIONAL: With clasp of hands or strap, bow forward on an exhale, bending the knees and reaching the clasp/strap to the ceiling while SLOWLY bringing the legs towards straight without rounding in the low back. Stay for at least 3-5 breaths. Inhale, push through heels to rise back up to standing.

iv.          Repeat ii above with opposite arm in front

v.       Repeat iii above with opposite thumb in front

 

7.       Mobilize the Head and Neck for Clear View

GENTLY DOES IT with head and neck. As you work all the way up in the top of the body STAY CONNECTED TO FEET.

i.                    INHALE reach up through crown, allowing shoulders to slide down the back, EXHALE turn head to left. INHALE to center and EXHALE turn head to right. Do this 3-5 times to each side. 

 

ii.                  INHALE reach up through crown, allowing shoulders to slide down the back, EXHALE turn head to left. INHALE hold the position and ON EXHALE see if there is any more space to twist. Don't force--explore what is available. Then on an INHALE lift chin up and on an EXHALE draw chin toward collarbone. Do 3-5 of these side nods and then return chin to level, and return to center. Repeat on the other side

 

iii.                Imagine you have a marker on tip of your nose and start making spiral on opposite wall. Start very small and go slowly. When reach maximum, do three big circles and then start making circle smaller until comes back to still point. Stand still a few breaths and repeat on the other side.

 

8.       Whole Body Squeeze and Stretch 

i.             Warming up the middle--Torso Twist

Take a wide stance, outer hips distance or wider and begin swinging arms, bringing twist into upper body. Let one arm tap its opposite shoulder while other taps low back, around the level of your kidneys. Do about 32 swings (16 to each side)

ii.            Opening up space in the middle--Standing Crescent

Begin in TADASANA (with feet hip distance and parallel, soft knees, not bent but not locked, tailbone reaching towards heels, front ribs flowing down towards navel, shoulders back, crown of the head reaching up—this is a lot of effort just by itself, so look for the balance of effort and ease)

INHALE reach arms out to sides and up, EXHALE bend the knees as you clasp left wrist with right hand

INHALE reach up with the arms as you press down into the feet and EXHALE crescent to the right, contracting right side and expanding left side.

INHALE to center, EXHALE repeat crescent on same side--stay connected to feet. 

INHALE center and EXHALE crescent to same side a third time. Hold for a round of breath

INHALE center, EXHALE release clasp and arms come down by the sides.

Repeat on the opposite side

It is important in this pose to keep it a side stretch and not a back bend, so if you feel this in your low back, check in with your front ribs, invite them in and down, draw navel in and up and send your tailbone to heels—this should level for pelvis and take crunchiness out of your low back

8. Metta Salutations: This is a half Sun Salutation in which each time you come to the hands at the heart phase, you offer yourself one or all of the four phrases.

Begin in TADASANA, arms by your sides.

INHALE arms out to the sides and up bringing palms together overhead (or forward of the head if the shoulders are tight--don't strain to bring arms overhead as this defeats friendliness of metta practice--keep it easeful) 

EXHALE bring joined palms through the midline of the body, bending at the knees to keep the low back in its natural curve as you bow forward, bring fingertips to the floor coming to UTTANASANA (standing forward fold). Bend the knees as much as you need to keep the back safe and happy.

Take a round of breath to let head and neck unwind, explore straightening the legs but don't push into the backs of the knees--no forcing, no pushing, just meeting the body where it is and exploring what's possible to create some easeful opening.

INHALE bend the knees to look forward as you bring hands to the hips, drawing shoulders back and on an EXHALE push into your strong legs to come up to standing.

INHALE extend arms out to the side and up and EXHALE bring hands to the heart: Pause and connect with breath, feel the energy and aliveness of the body. Offer yourself the metta phrases.

Repeat as many rounds as you like. If you are doing one phrase per salutation, then try to do 8-12 rounds, so you get to each phrase at least three times. 

SAVASANA: HOORAY!!! Lie down with block under your hips and eye pillow. Consciously invite your body to relax, moving through feet, legs, hips, belly, ribcage, arms, hands, shoulders, head and neck. Offer your body some appreciation and gratitude for helping you with metta practice. Then let that go and try to release yourself to the hammock of the breath for 5-10 minutes

Bon Courage Yogis

 

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