A Simple Yoga Practice to Destress and Reset
Epidemiology Internship Coordinator, Michigan Public Health; MA Candidate, Education Leadership and Policy, University of Michigan
This time of year can be stressful, whether you're busy with holiday shopping, parties, final exams, or meeting year-end deadlines at work. It's easy to get wrapped up in the chaos and forget to take time for yourself. But focusing on your mental and physical health is just as important--if not more important--during this busy season as it is the rest of the year.
Yoga is an excellent way to take a mental break and reset. Whether you're new to yoga or an experienced yogi, try this simple practice to destress and refocus.
- Start in child's pose (big toes touching, sitting on the bottoms of your feet, knees opened to the edges of your mat, forehead touching the mat with arms extended out in front of you, relaxing your shoulders and stretching your hands as far forward as possible).
- In child's pose, begin to ignite the breath. Take 4 seconds to inhale through your nose, pausing at the top, and then take 4 seconds to exhale through your nose, pausing at the bottom. As you breathe, feel your low belly engage and start to add sound to your breath. This is called Ujjayi breathing in Vinyasa Yoga. Think about an ocean-like sound and constricting the back of your throat to breathe through your nose. The breath is the foundation of the practice—without it, we don't have yoga, so it's the most important piece! Stay here as long as you need to begin building that inner fire before adding movement.
- Inhale to shift forward to your hands and knees (wrists underneath your shoulders and knees underneath your hips) for tabletop pose. Exhale to arch your back toward the sky, extending your gaze toward your belly button for cat pose, and then inhale to send your chest high with your gaze toward the sky, arching your back in the other direction so your stomach is closer to the mat for cow pose. Take this through 5 times on your own following your own breath.
- Coming back to a neutral spine, tuck your toes and send your hips high to downward facing dog. Take a few breaths to walk your dog by bending your knees one at a time, taking a wide-legged stance to stretch out your calves, or send each leg high to stretch and open your hips. Make sure you're spreading your weight equally between your hands and your feet, pushing with all four corners of your palms and fingertips, so your weight isn't getting pushed to your wrists, and across all four corners of your feet. Relax your neck—maybe nod yes/no, up/down—and push your shoulder blades down into your back away from your ears. Get comfortable here and keep breathing!
- Inhale to look between your hands, coming to your tiptoes. Exhale to bend your knees and step, hop, or jump your feet between your hands, inhale to extend to a flat back, gazing out just past your nose, and exhale to fold forward. Inhale to roll all the way up, vertebrae by vertebrae, bringing your arms all the way up and gazing at the sky between your hands. Exhale your hands to heart center in sama stithi. Take a moment to set your own intention for your practice.
Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A):
- Work to match breath with movement here—one breath, one movement—moving at your own pace with your own breath.
- Inhale your arms up overhead, exhale to fold forward, inhale to lift halfway, exhale to plant your hands on the mat and step, hop, or jump your feet to the back of the mat to a high plank pose. Exhale to slowly lower, letting your elbows graze your ribs to chaturanga dandasana pose. Inhale over the top of your feet for upward facing dog (thighs not touching the mat) or cobra (thighs touching the mat). Exhale to send your hips high back to downward facing dog. Take 5 breaths here. On your 6th inhale, look between your hands and come to your tiptoes. Exhale to bend your knees and step, hop, or jump your feet between your hands, inhaling to lift and extend halfway up. Exhale to fold forward, and inhale root to rise all the way back to the top. Exhale hands to heart center for sama stithi.
- Repeat Sun A twice. You can do more, depending on how much time you have and how much internal heat you'd like to build.
Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salutation B)
- Continue to build the flow to build heat and strength.
- From sama stithi (hands at heart center), inhale arms up overhead, then exhale to fold forward. Inhale to lift and extend halfway. Exhale to bend your knees, inhaling arms up to chair pose (biceps alongside ears, relaxing shoulders, tucking your tailbone under). Exhale to fold forward and plant your hands on the mat and step, hop, or jump back to high plank, lowering to chaturanga. Inhale to upward facing dog or cobra, then exhale to downward facing dog. On this exhale bring your right foot between your hands and plant your left foot flat at a 45-degree angle. Inhale your arms up for warrior one. Exhale to plant your hands on either side of your right foot and lower to chaturanga. Inhale to upward facing dog, then exhale to downward facing dog and on same exhale bring your left foot between both hands, planting your right foot flat on a 45-degree angle. Inhale your arms up to warrior one. Exhale to plant your hands on either side of your left foot and lower to chaturanga. Inhale to upward facing dog, then exhale to downward facing dog. Hold for 5 breaths.
- Repeat, starting from chair pose, at least twice.
Standing Poses (Right and Left Sides)
- Standing forward fold (hold for 5 breaths)
- Side angle (hold for 5 breaths)
- Bring your feet out to the front and back of your mat with your ankles underneath your wrists so your arms are open to a strong T.
- Bend your right leg and lean into your knee, setting your right forearm on your right thigh. Inhale to swim your left arm over your ear, with your fingers extending toward the front of your mat.
- Reverse warrior (hold for 5 breaths)
- Keep your right knee bent and bring your left arm to extend down your left thigh and your right arm over your ear extending to the back of the mat.
- Triangle (hold for 5 breaths)
- Straighten the right knee, and exhale to send your right arm forward and then lower it down so your hand is inside your right foot. Inhale your left arm high and extend your gaze to the sky beyond your left fingers. Work to get your left hip over your right and open your chest up toward the sky.
- Revolved Triangle
- Come back to a strong T, then swim your left hand outside your right foot and inhale to lift your right arm high. You're twisting the other direction in this pose and it's working your hips in a different way.
Seated Poses (Right and Left Sides)
- Pigeon prep (hold for at least 5 breaths)
- Start in high plank or downward facing dog. Bring your right knee to your right wrist. Lower down so you're sitting with your left leg extended back and your right leg bent at the front of the mat, working to get your right knee parallel with your right ankle (this takes time and practice!) Inhale to lift and lengthen and exhale to melt into this hip opener.
- Janusirsasana (hold for 5 breaths)
- From pigeon, bring your left leg around to the front and tuck your right foot against your left thigh. Inhale to lift and lengthen and exhale to fold forward over your left leg, working to grab your left ankle/foot and bring your nose to your left knee.
- Spinal twist to the right and left
- Laying down, bring your knees into your chest. Open your arms to a T and let your knees fall over to the right side, extending your gaze over your left shoulder. Bring your knees back to center and let the knees fall to the left side, extending your gaze over the right shoulder.
- Savasana (final resting pose)
- Lay all the way down on your back, extending your legs and feet out in front of you. Let your feet open to the front corners of your mat, and let your hands rest alongside your body with your palms facing up. Close your eyes, and return to normal breathing.
- Wake up by wiggling your fingers and toes, rolling your ankles and wrists. Give yourself a big "good morning" stretch by extending your arms up overhead. Exhale to bring your knees back into your chest to give yourself a hug. Roll over to the right or left side in fetal position and use your top hand to push yourself up to a comfortable seated position. Bring your hands to heart center and take a moment to return to your intention and be grateful for coming to your mat to practice.
About the Author
Kate Wilhelmi is the Internship Coordinator in the Epidemiology Department of the University of Michigan School of Public Health and a certified yoga instructor. She is also pursuing her master's degree Education Leadership and Policy at the University of Michigan.