Exactly a year ago on December 31, 2013, I wrote a “Yoga for New Beginnings” post. Reading it reminded me how 2013 was such a difficult year for me (“a lot of highs and lows”). In a lot of ways, 2014 was also full of ups and downs, but I think it has been a year of greater courage, which is perhaps not unrelated to yoga. In the past year yoga has become an even greater source of solace, happiness and inspiration in my life.
What yoga practice has shown me is that when there is a low, there is a high (and vice versa); a contraction is followed by release; opening up is balanced by cocooning, twists by counter twists; and the more you bend, the stronger you are. This sounds so simple and yet it is a great wisdom that we often forget in our lives. We (I) expect life to be one smooth ride full of happiness, abundance, love, and growth. When reality doesn’t match our expectations we become devastated, confused, and lost. But yoga shows us how to embrace the ebb and flow and become attuned to life without rejecting or running away from it when things get a little hairy/interesting. You bend so you can straighten. You close and open seamlessly. Nothing is ever lost in yoga.
Any yoga sequence or poses would be a beautiful thing to practice on New Year’s Day, but here is one that focuses on that balance between opening and closing that I feel is great for this time of year. We close the year’s end, letting go of what no longer serves; we open our hearts to the new year. This means a lot of forward bends, back bends, twists, and counter twists, and finally opening of the hips and heart. See if you feel as balanced as I do after this–and I wish you all a very happy New Year!! 😀
1. Cat – cow
Start on your hands and knees. Exhale all air out as you round the back and drop the head.
Inhale and arch your back as you look up, coming into cow pose. From here, get into a gentle flow, matching your movement to your breath. Feel free to shake your head, neck, shoulders, or hips, or bend your elbows and wrists.
From cat-cow, push away from your palms and sink your hips down on your heels into child’s pose.
Raise your hips gently and thread your left arm under your right shoulder for a gentle twist. Reverse it on the other side.
Come back to child’s pose in the center. Shift the weight forward with your seat toward the ceiling, knees and chest to the floor, elbows by your sides. Press yourself forward and up, squeezing in your shoulder blades together, into cobra pose. Shift the weight back and down into Child’s pose again and flow back and forth between the two poses with deep breaths, warming your body for vinyasa sequence. When you are ready, press yourself up to downward dog, then flow through your vinyasa. (tadasana, forward fold, chaturanga dandasana, upward dog, downward dog).
Reverse it by coming up standing, bringing hands into prayer on your back, and adding a gentle back bend, opening up your heart. From here, forward bend again, frame your front foot with your hands, and come into three legged downward dog (back leg stays anchored; bring your front leg all the way behind you in the air).
From three legged dog, walk your hands back toward your foot as you bring your leg all the way toward the sky for standing split forward bend. You may test your balance by wrapping one or both hands around your ankle.
From standing split, walk your hands a little forward and slightly out of your midline. Open your hip slightly and either bring your top hand to your hip or grab your ankle for half moon pose. (Note: I changed legs from previous photo as to keep facing the camera).
7. Triangle – reverse triangle
From half moon, gently place the back foot down, torso still facing the side. Like pendulum swing, bring your torso back lifting up and away from your pelvis, into reverse triangle, spinning and opening your heart upward.
Hinge from your hips and fold over your front leg into triangle pose, spinning your shoulders open over your front foot. Repeat the whole sequence from vinyasa, on the other leg.
9. Wide legged forward fold
Take a wide step about 4 feet, toes facing forward and slightly turned in. Place hands on the hip creases and fold forward with a straight back. Thread your hands through your legs and hang your head heavy.
Grab the outside of your right ankle or calf with your left hand and spin your right hand straight toward the sky in a twist. Reverse it on the other side.
From wide straddle, heel-toe your feet closer together. Place your elbows inside your knees and squat low, opening up your hips and firing up your lower chakras for grounding energy.
From goddess, simply place your hands down and bring your knees to the outside of your upper arms or shoulders into crow pose–taking flight, bringing a sense of freedom to your New Year.
Carefully come out of crow and bring your right leg long behind you, left foot away from your midline. Come onto your forearms and back toes for lizard pose, opening up your hips and firing up your core. I always find lizard pose very soulful, much like pigeon pose. Make this about opening yourself up from the ground up.
Lower your right knee down and come into low lunge. You may reach back and grab your ankle, gently pulling it for quad stretch.
Carefully let go of the back ankle, shift the weight back and fold over the front leg, flexing the front foot.
Shift the weight forward, fold your front leg in and straighten your back leg behind you for pigeon pose. Come into a forward fold. You may also thread your arm under your shoulder for gentle twist, or do any variation that feels good to your body. Repeat on the other side from Lizard – Pigeon.
15. Seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana)
Yogi toe-lock your feet (grabbing the first two toes on each foot). Exhale all the breath out and fold over your legs, feet flexed and leading with your chest.
From forward fold, gently roll onto your back. Lift your right leg straight up, foot flexed, using your leg as much as possible and then reaching with your hands and pulling in toward your chest. Let go and lower down, and repeat 5 times. Repeat on the other leg.
17. Final rest – Supta Baddha Konasana – Supine Bound Angle Pose
This pose feels so right for New Year’s Day with its feeling of both surrender and opening up to new possibilities. For final resting, lie on your back and open your hips up, feet together knees apart. Bring one hand to your heart and one on your belly and listen to your breath. Life–especially at the time of change–is both about protecting your heart and strength, and opening yourself up. May you remain open, courageous, and generous to whatever life brings you in 2015!!
Also see: Yoga for Flat Abs
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling