Am I the only one who dislikes New Year’s resolutions? It’s partly because I have a hard time committing to something (working on that), but I also find them rather limiting. To give yourself only one opportunity a year to become a better version of you is hindering the possibility of change in every moment and every breath. Maybe this prospect is a little frightening: knowing you have the power to become greater at any instance is a lot of responsibility.
This sequence is great to physically remind you to be open to these fears. Often, we are most afraid of what will allow us to become our best selves. I hope in this new year you embrace the possibility of change in all it’s form. The Universe will not let you down.
I personally find back bending to be very scary and use every excuse to avoid doing it on my mat. It’s why you’ll find a lot of it in the following sequence! 🙂
We will start by rooting down to the earth, creating a safe foundation for our hearts to open. Ground one leg and bend the other at the knee. Place the heel at the upper inner thigh of your standing leg. Toes point downwards. If your balance isn’t there today, place your foot against the standing leg calf. Do not rest your foot on your knee! Bring palms together in front of your chest and lift up from your heart center. Stay for 5-8 breaths. Lower your bent leg and repeat on the other side, staying for the same length of time.
Come to the front of your mat. On the inhale, raise your arms overhead. Exhale as you dive forward into Standing Forward Bend. Keep your knees bent if your hamstrings aren’t open. Doing so protects your lower back. Inhale and place your hands on your shins, flattening your back. Your exhale takes you through Chaturanga and the inhale takes you into Upward Dog. Exhale and rest in Down Dog. Repeat this vinyasa 3-5 times. It will get you warmed up to complete the following backbend series.
One Leg Down Dog
After you’ve completed several rounds of the vinyasa, stay in Down Dog. Keeping your hips square, raise a leg to the sky. Keep your toes pointing down. Ground through your first knuckle and thumb. Bend both legs if your muscles aren’t as open.
Bend your raised leg at the knee, stacking your hips on top of one another. With control and breath, flip over and land your raised leg on the floor, keeping the knee bent and the other leg straight. Extend your arm out straight, feeling completely open in the heart center. If you can, flip your leg back over and bring your knee into your chest in Core Plank. If the twist will hurt your back, just gently lower yourself to the ground from Wild Thang and make your way back into Down Dog.
Bring your raised leg into your chest and step it forward. Lower your knee to the ground into Low Lunge. Do not collapse into your hips. Raise your chest up as you engage the area right below your belly button to lift yourself from your hips. Arms extend overhead as you lift your chest up and back. Breath for 5 breaths.
Low Lunge Twist
Bring your palms into heart center. Your twist will come from your mid back, upper back, shoulders and chest, and not so much your lower back. Use your core to bring your elbow to opposite knee. Stay for 3-5 breaths.
Repeat this sequence on the other side. From Low Lunge Twist, come back into Down Dog, raising the opposite leg. Go through Wild Thang, Low Lunge, and Low Lunge Twist mindfully. Come back to Down Dog
Warrior II Flow
From Down Dog, raise your right leg to the sky and step it forward into Warrior II. Point your back toes in 90 degrees and your right toes out. Bend into your right leg, extending your arms to parallel. Make sure your hips are square to the long edge of your mat. Face your palms to the ceiling. Inhale as you straighten your legs and reach up to the sky. Stretch up and gather energy. Exhale as you face the palms towards the earth and ground back in your pose. Flow through this with your breath. Raise up slowly on the inhale and lower just as slow on the exhale. Repeat 5 times.
From Warrior II, raise your right palm to the sky and reach back towards your left foot as you lift your side body. Create space all along your side ribs and chest. Make sure your front leg is still bent as you breath into this openness. Stay here for several breaths and then move through a vinyasa. Repeat the Warrior II Flow and Reverse Warrior on the other side.
Wide Leg Forward Bend
When you’ve finished your left side, turn your feet so both face the long edge of your mat. Lift your kneecaps to engage your quads. With a flat back, fall forward until your hands or head reach the floor. You should use blocks here if you feel too much pulling in your back body. I like to use this pose as a reminder to stay humble before a divine power. Backbends open us to our greatest possibilities, while forward bends are a physical demonstration of trusting in something bigger than ourselves.
Rise from Forward Bend with a flat back and make your way to the floor. Kneel, keeping your thighs and feet together. You can either rest on your toes or tops of feet. Place the palms of your hands on your lower back as you begin to lift your chest to the sky. Stay here for 2 breaths. Maybe this is where you stay. Maybe if you are feeling open, reach for your feet on the exhale. Remember, the back bend comes more from the lift of your chest than from a crunching of your lower back. Keep the neck stretched back and do not hunch the shoulder. Stay here for 5-8 breaths and then rise up. Repeat Camel Pose for 3 rounds.
Lower yourself to the floor. Wheel Pose is a beautiful heart opener, but it can cause pain in your lower back. If at any time you feel discomfort, come out of this position and try Bridge Pose. The benefits are just as wonderful, but it is a less extreme version.
You will notice I do not post a picture here. Wheel is the most difficult pose for me to do. Seeing the pictures made me realize I have even more to work on than I thought! That’s why I love this practice: it constantly humbles me. Since I don’t want to lead you astray, please check out this awesome tutorial from Yoga By Candace.
Go up in Wheel or Bridge 3 times. Windshield wipe your bent knees to release any tension in your low back.
Cow Face Pose
Come to sit at the front of your mat. Bend your left knee and nestle your foot against your sitting bone. Swing your right leg on top and put your right foot against your left sit bone. Raise your right arm parallel to the ground, rotating your thumb down to point towards the floor. Swing the right arm back and begin to crawl it up the spine. Raise your left arm and bend at the elbow, pointing the thumb towards the left. Either grab your right hand or a strap if your shoulders are tight. Sit for 8 breaths then repeat on the other side.
Rest in Savasana, perhaps with two blocks under your head and chest to keep your heart elevated.
Happy New Year my sweet Dumplings! May it be filled with blessings and peace. Remain open to what 2016 has in store for you.
More by Caitlyn: Digestive Flow Yoga Sequence
Also in New Year: Turning Vegan in 2016 – The First Grocery Shop
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Photo: Special thanks to Mike Bruce for the pictures.
All photos taken at the Chicago Cultural Center.