I'm SO excited to share this post with you because it's written by one of my favourite yogis on the planet- the fabulous and talented Liz Huntly. Liz will be bringing her magic to Canada this June for The Groove - A Yoga, Music and Movement Festival. She's written a guest post on how to find our internal fire through movement and breath, even in the midst of the umpteenth polar vortex!
hit the snooze button five times.
try to convince yourself in the half-dark that at least it's getting lighter earlier now. it must be getting lighter earlier now.
make a steaming cup of tea. keep both hands wrapped around the mug so that the heat steeps into your finger bones.
sit at your computer with your spine tall and your shoulder blades firm against your back. try to think of something to write as your spine collapses and your shoulders creep forward.
write one line.
straighten your spine and roll your shoulders back.
write and erase six more lines as your torso works itself back into a habitual slump. tell yourself you should definitely NOT go back to bed, approximately twelve times.
go back to bed.
crawl out of your goose down fortress when it's actually light.
put on two pairs of pants (leggings are pants),
three pairs of socks,
a tank top, a t-shirt, as many sweaters as will fit over one another.
wrap your shoulders around your heart like a scarf to keep out the cold.
go out into a world made almost unrecognizable the battery of winter. marvel at it's raw beauty, and/or the speed with which your snot freezes in your nose.
look for the cracks where spring is sweetly waltzing in.
do the ten things on your to-do list for today.
come home. peel away layers of clothing like you're unwrapping a gift.
discover that the gift is you.
light candles. sixteen is a good number.
roll out your yoga mat.
take 108 big deep breaths.
melt your shoulders away from your ears.
open your heart again and again
1. let in the light
Start with a mantra. I like this one:
Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara,
Guru sakshat, param Brahma, tasmai shri guravay namah
Gu means darkness, Ru means remover—Guru therefore, is simply translated as he/she/it that removes darkness. The mantra asks for the illuminating clarity of the Guru in all forms, beyond your self and within yourself.
Find a melody you like, or make up your own, or just say the words softly, aloud or in your head. Chanting forces a slower, longer exhale, which has a calming effect. If you’re willing to put a little volume into it, you might also experience a warming vibration in the belly, chest, and/or throat. I consider chanting as much a physical experience as any asana or breathing technique that I practice.
Repeat the mantra over and over, to keep the darkness at bay.
2. mobilize the shoulders and spine
Find a comfortable cross-legged seat.
a) Shoulder rolls. Bring your palms to your upper thighs. Inhale to roll the shoulders forward and up, exhale to move the shoulders back and down. Continue circling, following your breath. To switch directions, first place the backs of your hands to your upper thighs. Inhale to sweep the shoulders back and up, exhale to soften the shoulders forward and down.
b) Seated twists. Inhale to reach the arms up. Exhale to twist to the right, bringing your right hand behind you and your left hand to your right knee. Hold for several breaths, using your inhales to lengthen the spine and your exhales to more deeply into the twist. Switch sides.
c) Seated side bends. With the chest straight forward, inhale to reach the arms up. Exhale to bring your right hand down beside your right hip as you reach your left arm over your left ear. Inhale to reach both arms back up, exhale the left hand down by your left hip as you reach your right arm over your right ear. Continue moving side to side with your breath. Visualize prairie grass in a warm breeze.
3. open the front of the hips
a) Low lunge. From downward dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Bring your left knee to the floor, doubling up your mat under the knee if you need a little extra padding. Inhale to reach the arms up into a low lunge. Hold here for a few breaths, focusing on reaching your tailbone towards the floor as you lift the low belly up away from your right thigh. Exhale to bring your hands back to the floor. Step back to plank and move through a flow, or simply come straight back to downward dog. Repeat with the left foot forward.
b) High lunge. From downward dog, step the right foot forward between your hands. Keep the left leg straight, reaching long through the left heel. With an inhale come slowly up to a high lunge, rooting the feet into the floor and hugging your inner thighs towards your midline. Hold for several breaths, again concentrating on reaching down through the tailbone and lifting through the belly to create space across the front left hip crease and length in the low back. With an exhale, bring your hands back to the floor. Step back to plank and move through a flow, or simply come back to downward dog. Repeat with the left foot forward.
c) Low lunge variation. Bring the short edge of your mat and a thinly folded blanket against a wall. Come to all fours facing away from the wall. Shimmy your left knee back to bring the top of your left foot up against the wall. Step the right foot forward between your hands. With an inhale, bring your hands to the top of your right knee. Keep reaching down through the tailbone as you bring your torso upright. See if you can shift your back body towards the wall for a deeper stretch through the front left hip crease. Exhale to bring the hands back to the floor and switch sides.
4. activate the core
a) Standing side bends. Come to standing at the top of your mat. Inhale to sweep the arms up. Interlace the fingers and press up through the palms. Exhale to lean to the right. Hold here, using your inhales to create length through the right side body. With each exhale, extend your tailbone down towards your heels and hug your low belly in towards your low spine. Inhale to come back up to centre, exhale to lean left.
b) High lunge variation. Move through a flow to come back to downward dog. From downward dog, step your right foot forward between the hands. Inhale to come up to a high lunge. Exhale to bend your elbows out to the sides (visualize agave cacti in the hot Mexican sun) and drop your left knee just above the mat. Keep the left knee hovering and hug in and up through the belly. Use your inhales to lift the centre point of the chest, exhales to lean the shoulders and head back. Repeat on the left side.
Natarajasana. Standing at the top of your mat, lift your right heel towards your right buttock. Hold the top of the foot with your right hand. Bring the knees parallel, and reach down through the tailbone as you lift through the low belly. Inhale to reach the right arm up. Exhale to tilt the torso slightly forward as you press the right foot into the right hand and lift the right thigh away from the floor. Hold for a few breaths, then switch sides.
a) Supported bridge. Come down onto your back with a block within hand’s reach. Bring the soles of the feet to the floor, hip width apart and heels close to your sit bones. Inhale to lift the hips, bringing the block on any height under your sacrum bone. Let the block support the hips; bring your hands palms-up by your sides. Breathe. Remove the block and exhale to roll the spine back to the floor.
b) Reclining twist. Shift the hips over to the right. Bring your knees to a 90-degree bend and drop the legs to the left. Beathe. Switch sides.
c) Savasana. Lie flat on your back. Do nothing. Be nothing.
Liz Huntly is a mover and shaker, a barefoot philosopher, a collector of languages. She mostly lives in Cologne, Germany, but feels at home anywhere she can comfortably get into vrksasana. She's infinitely curious about the body & the breath, plants, art, magic, beauty, failure, and how to find the sweetness of being lost in the world. For the multiplicity of ways to get in touch, visit www.lizhuntly.com.