The body is complex. We want it to look good, feel good, think fast, sound smart, move well, heal itself, and always have enough energy. In many ways, we ask it to do too much and give it too little.
Spending about 15 minutes a day treating yourself to awareness of the body and the mind could be a gateway to a healthier you! It only takes a few moments of being quiet and paying attention to your breath, followed by a series of simple, gentle movements that stretch, strengthen, and open the spine.
The following is a simple series of movements that focuses on the six natural movements of the spine-forward, backward, side-stretch left and right, and twist left and right. The directions here take place from a chair, which is great if you are sitting at your desk, on the couch, or in the car (as a passenger!), but can easily be modified to the floor for a more traditional yoga experience. Always remember to do only what feels good, modifying or eliminating anything that is not appropriate for you at any given time.
Begin by coming into a comfortable seated position, either on the floor or in a chair. Make sure the spine is fully up-right and the shoulders easily drop away from your ears. If you are on the floor, you may need to sit on the edge of a blanket, so that the hips are slightly higher than the knees which lower comfortably to the floor. If you are using a chair, sit towards the front edge so that you are away from its back, and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Allow your hands to rest in your lap, and close your eyes softly. Begin to notice your breath.
As you inhale, allow the belly to inflate like a balloon, gently pushing the naval forward. As you exhale, draw the naval towards your spine, deflating the balloon. Focus on deep "belly breaths" for a little while. When the pattern becomes comfortable, invite the breath to deepen. When the body expands on an inhale, part of the action comes from the ribcage. Feel the ribs expand to the side, under the arms. Exhale, feel the rib cage contract. After a few moments, the breath will deepen again. The next time you inhale, draw the breath all the way to your sternum, and feel the chest cavity lift towards the chin. Also, include the back body. Feel the space between the shoulder blades broaden across the back. Try to create a sense of lightness in the torso, as if you were filled with helium and could float up to the ceiling. Do your best to maintain this "three-dimensional," full-body breath throughout the following exercises.
Keeping your spine as long as possible, and hinging from the hips (not from the waist), fold the torso forward. Rest your hands on the floor, on the tops of your feet, or on your shins. Try to keep the neck long and the heart area open. Stay for a few breaths, or up to a few minutes.
Come back upright, and pause for a full breath. To come into a gentle backbend, either bring your finger tips to the floor next to your hips, or, if in a chair, hold on to either side of the seat. Allow your pelvis to tilt forward, which arches your lower back. Then, lift your heart towards the ceiling, as your shoulders blades squeeze together behind you. Stay for a few breaths, or up to a few minutes.
Come back upright, and pause for a full breath. A great way to balance forward and backward movement is with a twist. If you are seated on the floor, bring your right hand to the floor directly behind your right hip, and your left hand to rest on your right knee. Begin to rotate to the right, starting from the base of the spine and moving up through the shoulders, and if it feels good, turn to gaze over your right shoulder. Stay for a few breaths, or up to a few minutes. Release the twist slowly, and repeat on the left side. If you are in a chair, turn the whole body to face off the right side of the seat, feet planted firmly on the floor. Bring your right hand to the far corner of the chairback, and your left hand to the closer corner. Gently allow your body to rotate towards the right, beginning the movement from the base of the spine up through the shoulders, and if it feels good, turn to gaze over your right shoulder. Stay for a few breaths, or up to a few minutes. Release slowly, and repeat on the left side.
Come back to face forward, and pause for a full breath. Bring your left hand to the floor next to your left hip, or hold on to the left edge of your chair. Lift your right arm up to the ceiling in line with your right ear. Allow the body to bend to the left, arching the side waist, and using the left hand for support. Keep your right hip firmly grounded, and send your energy up and out of the right finger tips. Stay for a few breaths, or up to a few minutes. Release the stretch, and repeat on the left side.
Return to the starting position, seated comfortably with a long spine and steady breath. Take a few minutes to pay attention to the affects you feel, both physically and mentally. Notice what feels better, what feels the same, and if anything feels worse (hopefully not!) Stay still and quiet for at least 1-3 minutes. Then, allow your eyes to open, the corners of your mouth to lift, and let life be lived from a brighter place.
Always remember to do only what feels good, modifying or eliminating anything that is not appropriate for you at any given time.