June 21 is International Yoga Day
Yoga has several scientifically proven benefits for the mind and body. Yoga improves your strength and flexibility, reduces stress, and boosts your immune system. Yoga can also reduce fatigue, improve sleep, and invigorate the body and mind for people who are recovering from medical illnesses, including cancer survivors. Start your day with this simple 15-minute routine that includes several important elements of yoga, including breathing techniques, movement, and beginner’s meditation. The key to reaping the benefits of yoga is to practice regularly and consistently without any self-criticism.
To start, set your intention and yoga breathing (5 minutes)
Set your intention (2 minutes)
- Close your eyes and take a minute to notice your body and mind to observe what you need at this time. Do you feel nervous and want to feel more grounded? Do you feel like physically tense and would like to feel more at ease?
- Let your intention guide your practice this morning and set the tone for the rest of your day.
Practice even ratio breathing (3 minutes)
- Sit in a chair or on a mat in a comfortable seated pose.
- Notice your natural breathing pattern.
- Inhale through your nose for three counts, and exhale through your nose for three counts. If this feels easy, continue to extend your count, going to five counts in and out.
- You can continue to increase your inhalation and exhalation length as long as it is comfortable. Breathing exercises should never be painful.
- If you are looking for a calming breath, continue to extend your exhalation until the ratio of inhalation to exhalation is one to two (i.e., three counts in, six counts out).
Next, yoga poses (8 minutes)
Your yoga pose sequence can be simple and streamlined. The purpose of yoga is not to achieve specific shapes with the body, but help you become more aware and connected with your mind and body and prepare you for meditation. These yoga poses pair movement with breath.
Exercise 1: Mountain Pose and Mountain Sidebending Pose
- Stand with your big toes touching, with a small space between your heels, so that your feet are parallel.
- Imagine that there are four corners to each foot and that you are evenly sealing all four corners onto the ground firmly. You should feel your inner arches of your feet lift all the way through your upper inner thighs and groin, with a slight internal rotation of your upper thighs. If it is difficult to feel this, then place the narrow width of a block between your upper thighs and press your thighs into the block.
- Lengthen your tailbone downward. Stand tall to keep your neck long toward the sky.
- Widen your collarbones to expand your chest.
Mountain Sidebending Pose
- From Mountain Pose, inhale and raise your arms to interlace your fingers above your head. Reach your arms toward the sky.
- Keep your hands interlaced and spin your palms to the sky. Reach to the right and gently bend and lengthen the side of your body.
- Press down firmly on both feet, so that you are rooted into the ground as you continue to reach toward the sky.
- Feel the side stretch of your body and breathe for five breaths.
- To exit, exhale as you come back to center with your arms. Release your arms alongside your torso as you return to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
Move between Mountain and Mountain Sidebending Pose on each side for five cycles.
Exercise 2: Flowing Warrior II Pose
- From Mountain Pose, step your feet to about 3.5 to 4 feet apart. Keep your hands at your hips.
- Turn your back foot outward to about 60 to 90 degrees. Your front heel should be in line with the inner arch of your back foot.
- Bend into your front knee so that it is above your ankle and your front thigh is parallel to the ground. Your front knee should be at a right angle and aimed toward the side of your little toe of your front foot. Keep your back leg straight. Your hips should be facing the long side of the mat.
- Raise your arms so that they are straight and parallel to the ground, with your palms facing down and your fingers actively spread. Reach out in both directions evenly, so that your shoulders are directly centered above your hips, and you are neither leaning forward or backward.
- Look forward over the fingers of your front hand. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
- Inhale to straighten your front knee and reach both hands toward the sky, palms coming together overhead. Exhale back into Warrior II Pose. Repeat this movement for five cycles.
- Switch the position of your feet, and do the other side for five cycles.
Exercise 3: Fierce “Chair” Pose to Mountain Pose
- Stand with your feet together in Mountain Pose.
- Inhale and sweep your arms to reach the sky so that they are fully extended and straight. Keep your hands shoulder width apart, with palms facing inward, and little fingers spinning in toward each other. If you have shoulder injuries, keep your hands pressed together in front of your chest.
- Exhale and bend your knees as you shift your weight into your heels, bringing your hips closer to your heels.
- Inhale deeply to extend and lift your arms higher. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and draw your shoulder blades in and down.
- Exhale and sit deeper so that your thighs are as close to parallel to the ground as possible without straining. Draw your tailbone toward the ground and keep your spine straight.
- Look upward. Take five breaths in this pose, sitting deeper with each exhalation. On the last exhalation, release your arms and straighten your knees to return to Mountain Pose. Continue moving between Fierce Pose and Mountain Pose for five cycles.
Cool down in Seated Bound Angle Pose
- Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you. If your hips and groin area are tight, then you can sit on a block or folded blanket.
- Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels close to your pelvis. Then gently release your knees to the sides so that the soles of your feet press together. Root the outer edge of the feet on the ground.
- Grasp the big toe of each foot with your first and second finger and thumb of each hand. If you can’t reach your toes, gently wrap each hand around the same-side ankle or shin.
- Sit tall and lift through the crown of your head. Your pelvis should be neutral so that you are neither rounding nor arching your lower back. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and draw your shoulder blades together gently and down. Lift your sternum and relax your thighs. Do not press or force your knees down.
- Stay in this pose for five breaths. To exit, use your hands to lift your knees away from the ground and extend your legs out in front of you.
Finally, two-minute meditation
- Lie on your back to relax in Corpse Pose. Rest your arms alongside your torso about 45 degrees away, palms facing the sky. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
- Close your eyes if it feels comfortable for you. Notice how your body feels. Bring your attention to the bottom of your feet and slowly scan your body mentally for physical sensations, moving all the way to the top of your head.
- Remind yourself of your intention and continue to focus on that as you let your thoughts pass without interacting with them or judging them. Allow your breath to be natural and your body at ease as you get up slowly, using your arms to support yourself. You’re now ready to start your day.
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga is a comprehensive guide that gets to the true healing heart of yoga and its latest research. With a streamlined eight-week program, illustrations, adaptable sequences, principles of yoga safety, and an unpacking of the “eight limbs” of yoga-including breathing techniques and meditation, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga is a medically sound overview of the practice.