This 5-post series is dedicated to my friend K.T., the beautiful and talented mother of Lauren, Danny and Elizabeth; a Grandma-in-High-Demand.
I just finished reading a book about the daily routines of 161 artists, scientists and philosophers (Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, sold at Detour Books). It seems that most brilliant, creative minds thrive on routine; although some do not. Good heavens, when you read about the daily habits of certain well-known creative-types, you wonder how they could have survived, much less thought or performed! No judgements - none whatsoever! Reading this book made me look at my habits, my performance and attendant feelings of satisfaction, disappointment or frustration. I even wrote out daily schedules for M,W,F and for T, Th, S.
I made a practice (it lasted about four days) of noting in my journal before bedtime the ways in which I'd stuck to the schedule and ways that I hadn't.
It's hard to keep to a regular routine!
There's no way around the fact that practice - consistent, uninterrupted practice - over a long period of time - is the proven method for improving and achieving goals. That's why yoga and mindfulness are a hard sell. There's nothing flashy or instantaneous about practice. We call it discipline, meaning that we become dedicated students of our practice.
Fortunately, when it comes to creating and maintaining a strong foundation in yoga, our teachers have created countless routines to help us finesse our core. So, the following are just a few of a wide variety of poses that will keep our core-strengthening routines fresh and relevant for our daily practice. (Even if we only have 5 minutes!)
#1 - Chair pose (uttkatasana) with a block:
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Place a yoga block - or equivalent - between your thighs. Press feet firmly down and lightly squeeze the block. Engage the pelvic floor.
With hands on hips, bend the knees. Stay with hands on hips or, if you like, bring your arms up alongside your ears ("goal post" is an option for shoulder issues) Lean slightly forward. Your butt moves back.
As you hold this pose, relax the belly and breathe. Scan through yourself and notice what's weak, what's gotten lost and what's all there: feet, inner thighs, pelvic floor. Spend a little time encouraging and reengaging.
#2 - Warrior 1 pose (virbadrasana):
Set the block in front of you at the top of your mat. Take your time going into chair pose again. Remember the feeling of the block as you engage feet, inner thighs and pelvic floor.
Hands on the hips, step right foot a giant step back and bring the right heel down at an angle. Sense the feet. Inner thighs. Pelvic floor. Warrior 1. Gently and consciously, bring the pubic bone toward the navel. Notice the tail bone moving down. With hands still on hips, now engage the transversus abdominus muscles. Like, use your hands to press those hip bones toward each other and feel your girdle get strong.
Feet, inner thighs (especially the right one), pelvic floor, lower abdominals - all engaged and you're breathing with a relaxed tummy. Soften your face. They don't call this a Warrior pose for nothing.
Now, if you want to continue to fine-tune your awareness and foundation, bring the arms up alongside the head. Stay here for a few breaths. And if you want more opportunity, lift the right leg up and back while straightening your front knee. Warrior 3! Feel how stable and strong you are! You are powerful because you are containing and directing positive healing life force in and around the space you occupy!
Once you're complete, roll your shoulders around, shake out your hands, arms, feet and legs. Step your feet apart and do standing swinging twists for a minute or two.
#3 - Agni Sara - "The essence of fire":
*Do not practice Agni Sara if you've just eaten, are pregnant or menstruating, have glaucoma, recent abdominal or eye surgery, untreated high blood pressure, or untreated heart disease.
Feet stepped apart, bend knees and rest hands or elbows on your thighs above the knees. Think cat/cow (spinal flexion and extension). Only think it in slow motion. Exhale as you engage the pelvic floor and lower abdominal muscles. All of 'em. Squeeze your bellybutton in towards your spine, arching your back up like a Halloween cat.
Inhale as you relax the navel and release the lower abs and pelvic floor. Moo-ve into cow.
Start out with just a few repetitions and gradually increase, but don't overdo it. Agni Sara powerfully awakens your inner fire - for digestion, mental illumination and channeling of vital energy - prana. The practice reinforces your inner foundation, leading to ease of movement, enhanced mental clarity and spiritual unfoldment. (See Sandra Anderson's excellent article in Yoga International.)
*If Agni Sara is contraindicated for you, don't despair! You can practice a simplified version called abdominal squeezing - akunchana prasarana. Use the same stance as for Agni Sara - exhale, gently squeeze your tummy; inhale and release.
In the next post you're going to put all this foundational work into use during a fantastic 20-minute sequence. I learned it from my teacher, Shari Friedrichsen, who resides and teaches at the Himalayan Institute. She calls it a Morning Movement Sequence and it is an amazing practice for first thing in the morning!