Getting Started in Yoga

Eight poses for calm, energy, and clarity
By Brian Leaf, MA

“You have no idea how much your life is going to improve as a result of this. Food tastes better. The air seems fresher. You’ll have more energy and self-confidence than you ever dreamed of.” When Jerry Seinfeld uttered these words, he was talking about a shower head—but never mind that. He could just as well have been talking about yoga.

The best way to learn yoga is to do it, so let’s get started. Here’s a short sample yoga practice. The sequence helps you relieve stress, get energized, and focus your mind. We all have the potential to release fear, trust ourselves, and live freely.

You can record yourself reading the following directions and then play them back as you practice, or if you can’t say the word buttocks without giggling, you can download a recording of me guiding the practice at misadventures-of-a-yogi.com.

So now, find a comfortable spot and get yoga-ing.

1. Alternate Nostril Breathing

Sit in a chair or on the floor with a blanket or pillow underneath your bum. Close off your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale slowly through the left nostril. Then close off your left nostril with your ring finger, and exhale slowly through the right. Then inhale through right, switch fingers, and exhale through left. Repeat this for a few minutes. This breath balances the right and left hemispheres of your brain. You can practice it anytime, even in your chair at work. If you get a strange look from your colleagues, just explain that you are balancing your hemispheres.

2. Skull-Shining Breath

Exhale sharply out through your nose as if blowing out a candle (with your nose), and then let the inhale come in naturally. Repeat for ten breaths. Then take one deep, relaxed breath. Repeat the process two times. This clears your mind—and your sinuses.

3. Cat Lift and Round (also called Cat/Cow)

Begin on your hands and knees, so you look like a coffee table. Inhale as you look up, allow your back to arch down, and then slowly exhale as you look down, rounding your back up. Repeat ten times. This practice gently warms up the spine and nervous system, and relaxes the upper back and shoulders.

4. Mountain

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel to each other. Press the crown of your head up toward the ceiling with chin parallel to the ground. Beginning with your arms at your sides, inhale as you slowly raise your arms out to the sides and up overhead (as though flapping your wings), and exhale as you slowly lower them.

Repeat this four more times, slowly moving your arms up and down, coordinating your breath with the movement.

The next time your arms are overhead, hold them there. Press your feet into the ground. Press your crown up toward the ceiling—chin parallel to the floor. Press your fingertips up toward the ceiling, simultaneously relaxing your shoulders. And breathe slow, deep breaths. Stay in this posture for eight breaths.

As you hold the posture, notice where you are straining. See if you can relax. Your muscles are working to hold up your arms, but your face, feet, buttocks, and legs can be relaxed. Soften your facial muscles. Relax your belly. Relax your feet and your neck. Practice being focused and alert, giving your all to the task, yet being relaxed and soft.

Now slowly lower your arms as you exhale.

Close your eyes and tune in to how you feel. Where do you feel strain?

Allow your body to make any small stretches or movements to release stress and tension. Open your eyes.

5. Half Sun Salute

Stand with your feet together, arms at your sides. Inhale as you flap your arms up halfway, so you look like a big T.

Then exhale, bending your knees a bit, and slowly fold over, hinging at the waist, to touch your hands to the floor. Then, again hinging at the waist, inhale as you come up halfway, sliding your hands up your legs. Then, exhale to fold back down.

Finally, inhale to come all the way back up to standing. This practice warms up your whole body and helps you connect to the rhythm of your breath.

6. Downward Dog

Begin on all fours, with your hands shoulder-width apart. Press firmly down through all parts of your hands, including your fingers, and reach your tailbone (buttocks) into the air. Your body should resemble an upside-down V. Keep your knees a bit bent and reach your bum way up. This pose invigorates your entire body and mind, while also relaxing your shoulders and upper back. Stay in this posture for three relaxed breaths. Then slowly lower down.

7. Fish Pose

Lie on your back on a carpet or mat. Place a rolled-up towel underneath your shoulder blades as you lie on the floor. Breathe six relaxed breaths. This pose opens and stretches your chest, shoulders, and neck. Remove the towel, close your eyes, and feel any sensations. Allow your body to make any small stretches or movements to release stress and tension.

8. Relaxation Pose

Lie on your back. Take a few deep breaths, allowing each exhalation to be a long sigh. Allow your body to relax and to be supported by the floor. Relax as your thoughts pass through your mind. Do not engage with them, just witness.

(You can sample a few minutes of relaxing music here, probably not DMX.)

After a few minutes, begin to deepen the breath. (pause) Feel your belly and chest rise and fall with each breath. (pause) Wiggle your fingers and toes. Then gently roll to one side and come to a seated position.

Notice how you feel after this yoga series. Set the intention to take this feeling into your day, into your relationships, into your work, into your life. Set the intention to notice your muscles as you go about your day. Notice when muscles that need not be activated are tense, such as a fist clenching while you’re driving in traffic, and allow those muscles to relax, unclench, and soften. Notice when muscles are stiff, and allow your body to make any small stretches or movements to release tension. This will reduce your stress, increase your vitality, and make you happier.

 

Based on the new book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi by Brian Leaf, MA Published with permission of New World Library, newworldlibrary.com. Leaf draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at misadventures-of-a-yogi.com.