A few weeks ago, I reached out to Susy Markoe Schieffelin, a certified yoga instructor and the CEO of The Copper Vessel, looking for the ideal holiday yoga flow — a restful and rejuvenating practice for a mid-April trip I had in the works.
Although those plans were indefinitely postponed, I figured her Kundalini yoga routine would be more useful now than ever.
Kundalini yoga focuses on shifting energy through the body's chakras to promote a calm, balanced, and happy well-being. Thanks to Schieffelin's practice, I can mentally activate a holiday state-of-mind while at home — and you can, too.
Seated Spinal Flex
The best way to get into your flow is to release tension from your spine, Schieffelin explains. Her simple routine is designed to release any tension in your lower back that may have built up from sitting or standing for long periods.
- Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position.
- Place your hands on your shins.
- Inhale, rock forward on your sit bones, and flex the spine forward, lifting your chest.
- Keep your chin parallel to the floor.
- Exhale and flex the spine back, anchoring your sit bones into the ground and pulling your belly button in toward your spine as it rounds.
- Continue the movement, flowing gently but quickly.
- Count to 100 flexes, which should take about one minute.
Detoxify stagnant energy in the body and mind by loosening the waist and torso. Schieffelin says this opens the mid-spine while massageing internal organs.
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position.
- Place your hands on your shoulders, with your thumbs in front and fingers in back.
- Close your eyes and roll them upward and inward — this activates the third eye.
- Inhale as you twist to the left.
- Exhale as you twist to the right.
- Continue twisting, breathing deeply.
- Continue this motion for one minute.
- To end, face forward and inhale deeply. Hold the breath in for 10 seconds, then exhale very slowly for 10 seconds.
Schieffelin says that Cat-Cow pose releases any remaining stuck energy, while balancing your adrenals and kidneys, by opening the spine from top to bottom.
- Start on all fours, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. The spine should be in a neutral position.
- Make sure that your hands are facing forward with your fingertips pointing toward the top of your mat and spread wide. Roll your elbows forward, and feel the back of your arms engage slightly.
- Inhale and look up toward the ceiling as you drop your belly toward the ground. Lift your heart to feel an opening in your chest and throat.
- Exhale and draw your belly button into your spine as you round your back up toward the ceiling. Tuck your tailbone under and gently pull your chin into your chest. You should feel a stretch along your spine.
- Repeat while inhaling to look up and exhaling to round. Begin to move more quickly as your spine opens up.
- Continue for two minutes, breathing long and deep with each movement.
- After two minutes, inhale as you look up and hold the breath in for 10 seconds. Exhale slowly as you push your hips back onto your heels and sit quietly for a few breaths.
By stretching your entire body using the Downward-Facing Dog pose, your body will shift into a balanced state where positive energy can flow, Schieffelin says.
- Come back onto all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips, with your spine in a neutral position.
- Make sure that your fingers are spread wide, and your middle finger is pointing directly toward the top of your mat.
- Take an inhale as you tuck your toes and press down into your palms. Exhale as you straighten your elbows, lift your knees, and gently press your hips up and back.
- Gently begin to straighten your knees, but do not lock them.
- If your hamstrings are tight, you can "walk the dog" by bending one knee and stretching the other heel into the floor as you straighten your leg.
- Repeat on each side, pedaling your feet out until your legs feel a bit looser.
- Come to stillness, straightening both legs as much as possible, but keep a slight bend in your knees to avoid locking them.
- Imagine your hips being lifted up and back, creating a long extension in your spine as you press firmly into the palms of your hands. As you push the floor away, feel your pelvis lifting and your spine elongating.
- Engage both thighs, draw your shoulder blades in, broaden across your chest and collarbones, let your neck be long, and flex your elbows forward, engageing your triceps.
- Hold this position and breathe deeply in and out through your nose. As you exhale, imagine you are fogging a mirror, but keep your mouth closed. You will feel a slight constriction and a sense of warmth in the back of your throat. Keep breathing in this way long and deep for 5-10 breaths.
- To release, take an inhale, then slowly exhale as you gently bend your knees and come back to your hands and knees.
According to Schieffelin, Cobra pose is very grounding, activating, and detoxifying, and it helps balance the lower chakras.
- Lie down on your belly and place your palms on the ground directly under your shoulders.
- Stretch your legs out behind you. Point your toes, squeeze your glutes, and engage your legs — almost like you are forming a tail.
- Inhale through your nose as you push into your hands and gently begin lifting your chest and straightening your arms.
- Lift your chest, relax your shoulders, and pull your shoulder blades together.
- Once you are up in Cobra pose, begin the Breath of Fire. Breath of Fire is a rapid and rhythmic breath through the nose. Imagine snorting like a dragon and pushing the breath out from your lower belly. Focus on pushing out as you exhale through your nose, and allow yourself to receive the inhale (also through your nose) effortlessly.
- Stay in the posture and continue the breath for two minutes. You may start to feel warm. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, slow the pace of your breath, or take a break to breathe long and deep through your nose.
- After two minutes, inhale deeply through the nose and hold. Squeeze every muscle in your body as you count to 20 internally. Squeeze and hold before gently releasing.
Child's pose is the perfect grounding and rejuvenating cooldown. Schieffelin urges everyone to allow grateful thoughts to flow into your mind while setting a positive intention for your day.
- Come back onto all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Your spine should be in a neutral position.
- Bring your toes together as you take an inhale through your nose. As you exhale, press your hips back onto your heels. Spread your knees wide. Try to reach your tailbone down so that your hips are resting gently on your heels.
- Stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms facing down.
- Place your forehead on your floor while breathing and resting until you feel ready to release.
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