When you're craving fast-paced movement and sweat out of your yoga practice, a speedy series of Sun Salutations (complete with a hop back to your Chaturanga) will come through. But what about those times when you want to slow things down, reconnect to your breath, go easy on your joints, and create a moment of calm? For that answer, we turned to Tess Koenig, a New York City-based yoga instructor.
The quickest and simplest way to add more relaxation or de-stressing qualities into your practice is to concentrate on your breath, Koenig says. "Inhale for the count of four and exhale for the count of four. Simply by slowing our breath, we slow our heartbeat, and when our heartbeat slows, our nervous system slows. So, just by focusing on your inhales and exhales, that fight or flight that's in us subsides and our bodies are set up for relaxation."
Another important factor to consider is how your breath links to a movement. "Keeping a nice steady breath of one breath per movement, and then holding some postures anywhere from three to 20 breaths can be much more calming than a fast-paced sweaty flow," Koenig says. "If you're holding an advanced balancing pose for 10 breaths, not so calming. But, holding Child's Pose for 10 breaths at any point in your practice can have an extremely grounding effect."
When you feel the need to create a moment of calm in your own practice — whether it's right after you rolled out your mat, in the middle of a 30-minute class, or at the very end of your session — Koenig says these three moves below will do the trick.
Mountain Pose/Tadasana With Hands on Body
- Stand tall with feet hip-width distance apart.
- Bring one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly. Close your eyes.
- Feel like you're rooting through all four corners of your feet, lift your kneecaps up toward your hips, relax your tailbone toward your heels, set your shoulders down your back, and lift through the crown of your head.
- Take 10 breaths, receiving your own touch and feeling the breath move under your hands.
Supported Hero's Pose/Virasana:
- Come to sit on your shins with knees as close together as possible in your own body. If this is a lot in your knees or hips, place a block or cushion between your ankles and rest your seat on top if you'd like a little support underneath you.
- Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly, or rest your palms face down on your lap.
- Toes are pointed toward the space behind you, feel your backs of thighs melting into backs of calves, relax your tailbone toward the ground, lift your ribcage off your waist, sitting taller and lifting through the crown of your head.
- Stay for 10 full cycles of breath or more.
- Widen your knees to the edges of your mat, big toes touch.
- Shift hips to heels and reach arms forward until your forehead can rest on the mat. Fingers are spread wide and hands are shoulder-width distance.
- If your head cannot quite reach the ground, bring a block or blanket underneath your forehead to bring the ground to you.
- Relax your hips, shoulders, and elbows. Let your belly go between your inner thighs. As you breathe, imagine filling up your entire back body.
- Stay for five to 20 breaths, depending on how you're feeling.