This sequence focuses on stretching the muscles around the whole circumference of the hip joint. It’s great for relieving tension that can accumulate from long periods of sitting or standing and it’s also incredibly grounding. I like to do it after traveling or just at the end of a long, intense day. Spend 5-10 breaths in each pose (or longer if you’d like) and do both sides before moving to the next pose.
You’ll notice that the sequence ends with Lotus Pose. Lotus is a beautiful pose and one that many of us pine for. But I promise you that doing Lotus does not make you a better person or a better yogi and, if you force your way into the pose, you will feel physically terrible afterward. Surely this is not your goal after asana practice! My point is, if you are naturally very open or are familiar with the pose, feel free to finish with Lotus. If not, then it’s just as valuable to end in Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus) or with your legs crossed in Sukhasana (Easy Pose) and your attention drawn inward. (And for more hip opening, here’s a full sequence that specifically focuses on building up to Lotus.)
I’ve spent many an evening, after a long, hard day doing these poses in our living room while family life happens around me. That might mean that my daughter is jumping on me, or that there’s an occasional sports newscast on in the background. My evening wind down practice isn’t pristine (and yours doesn’t have to be either), but I still find it incredibly helpful to spend a few minutes on self-care in the evening. It provides a buffer zone that helps me relax so that when it’s time for sleep, my mind isn’t buzzing and my body isn’t calling out for more attention.
The evening sequence focuses on stretching the hips, hamstrings, and shoulders – all areas that accumulate tension in daily life. You’ll notice that there are no Sun Salutations at the beginning of the sequence and that’s intentional. The idea is to gently nurture yourself by stretching, breathing, and tuning your awareness to your body and breath. This act of focusing on exactly what you’re doing in your body and breath will help slow down the momentum of your mind so that when it’s time to let go and sleep, it’s easier to do that.
Take 5-10 breaths in each pose and do each side before moving to the next. Rest, savor, and repeat as often this evening-sequence you can!
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Lotus Pose (Padmasana) is one you were likely familiar with before you ever set foot in a yoga studio. Surely you’d seen sculptures of Siddartha or photographs of Indian sadhus with their legs tightly folded together in a pretzel shape. It’s a pose that’s associated with serene states of meditation — and the shape of the pose really does encourage quiet.
Perhaps the tranquil look of the pose is what makes us all pine for it. But make no mistake — it’s not to be attempted lightly. It requires an enormous amount of flexibility in the hip joint and if your body just doesn’t “go there,” you risk hurting your knees.
In the meantime, you can get many benefits with a sequence that prepares you for Lotus. And if your body is ready to fold into the pose, you will know. (Trust me on this.) There will be no knee pain, no stress, no sense of prying or leveraging or forcing. Instead, it will feel like you are folding yourself into the pose.
Forcing your body into Lotus Pose is not worth it in the long run. Pain in your knees or your hips is a sign to back off. Got it? Good.
Most students make the same mistake when they open their hips for Lotus Pose: They focus on stretching the outer hips but forget to open the other muscle groups that make up the hip joint. While the outer hips usually need plenty of help, the key to freedom and balance in your hips is working with all the muscle groups that affect the joint, not just your external rotators. I can’t promise you a Lotus, but practicing the following sequence will make your hips be happier, healthier, and more supple as you work toward it.
If you want to make this sequence a stronger, sweatier flow practice, feel free to practice several Sun Salutations first. You can also add standing poses, arm balances, and inversions to increase the intensity of this practice.
If you’re in need of a quieter, more contemplative practice, you can finish with seated meditation or pranayama.
Hold each pose in the sequence for at least 5 breaths and be sure to practice both sides before attempting Lotus Pose.
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If you want to learn more about how to create great yoga sequences, I encourage you to check out my online course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. And, as always, please sign up for my mailing list if you want to get a monthly reminder when new sequences go up.
Do you remember sliding easily into Hanumanasana (which you likely called “the splits”) when you were a kid? If you don’t, not to worry — I don’t either! It’s a pose that can still give me a challenge depending on the day, but over many years of practice, I’ve learned to find a safe, comfortable, and exhilarating place for my body to land.
When you first attempt Hanumanasana, you might focus a lot on your front leg and how tight it feels. You might think you need to spend exorbitant amounts of time stretching, stretching, stretching your hamstrings. But Hanumansana requires flexibility in both the front and back legs. The front leg requires hamstring suppleness, and the back leg requires openness in the hip flexors. When you can find a balance stretched between the front and back legs in Hanumanasana, you’ll find a balanced pose.
I always tell students that it doesn’t matter if your pelvis touches the floor in this pose — in fact, it doesn’t matter if your pelvis is miles away from the floor! Instead of jamming your body toward the floor (a recipe for back pain and other miseries), try to find a level pelvis, where you’re not tucking or overarching your lower back. Support yourself with props as you do this — you can stack blocks or a bolster or couch cushions underneath your pelvis for support. And don’t forget to use your leg muscles to support your endeavor — hug the inner thighs in toward each other and press your legs down into the floor to help you lift the pelvis and engage your hamstrings. It may seem counterintuitive to use your muscles while you’re stretching, but it will help keep your joints and the pose more supported.
Have fun and think of embodying the spirit of the pose’s namesake, the Hindu monkey God Hanuman as you lift your arms and breathe deeply in the pose.
To learn how to create essential sequences of your own, I encourage you to check out my e-course, The Art of Yoga Sequencing. And, as always, please sign up for my mailing list if you want to get a monthly reminder when new sequences go up. Have fun practicing!
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