There are always times when we find ourselves busier than usual, traveling, or simply out of our normal routine. The holidays tend to fall across all of these categories.
I have found that it is essential to have a yoga practice that can be done when we don’t have access to our usual props or are away from our usual teacher. A practice designed to be so simple we can easily recall it in our body’s memory and access it anywhere.
When we practice in this introspective way, we begin to learn that we are the teacher, we’re ultimately satguru—the true guru—and that connecting to ourselves deeply is connecting to truth itself. We become the person to which we are trying to gain access and knowledge. I think what we’re actually trying to do is hear ourselves and give ourselves permission to actually be right—to give ourselves permission to be our own teacher.
I want to give you an opportunity to listen to that part of you, and to be in the energy that you want to be in regardless of the energy around us that tends to amp up around the holidays. While people tend to get a little angrier, a little crazier, a little everything-er, it’s important for us to choose how we show up for ourselves and others whenever you need—even if that means coming to your practice in the dead of night.
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Let’s get into our bodies. All you need for this no-props practice is a floor and a wall. You don’t even require a mat. All you need is you and your desire to listen to how you want to feel in every single pose.
I recommend that you linger in most of the poses for 5 minutes. It will be an interesting experience to sort out what 5 minutes in a pose looks like for you and how you are able to cultivate ease in the poses for that amount of time. Since we’re leaning into these poses for longer periods of time, take care of yourself. Listen to your inner teacher.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Lie down. Bend your knees and allow the soles of your feet to come together and your knees to bow out to the sides. Your arms can be at your sides with your palms up, they can come alongside your ears with your hands on opposite elbows, or wherever they feel right today. Drop into your practice.
Notice the location of your breath. If it resonates with you, bring your hands to your low belly and bring your breath lower in your body. Draw the breath so low and deep that your low belly expands right underneath your hands. In this diaphragmatic breathing, the inhale is a little deeper and the exhale becomes the path to more surrender—both to the pose and to the ground supporting you. Close your eyes if that feels good for you. Turn inward to rediscover the teacher in you.
Notice if you’ve been holding tension anywhere in your body for any of the time spent in this pose. Where else can you soften? Take a deep inhale and exhale with sound. Stay here for 5 minutes.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
From Reclined Butterfly, bring your hands to your thighs to help close them like a book. Bring your knees into your body and keep that tuck as you roll to your right side. Unwind your shoulders so they rest back on the ground for a twist. You can gaze over your left shoulder. Or maybe you don’t want to twist all the way up the spine and you keep your neck neutral and your face upward toward the ceiling. What does your body want today? Do that.
Bring breath awareness to the space between your shoulder blades. As you exhale, allow your shoulder blades to rest a bit more on the ground. Feel for the quality of grounding along the top and the bottom half of your body. Stay here for 3 minutes.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
To switch sides, bring your knees back to the center of your body. Roll over to your left side, keeping your knees tucked. Allow your knees, shins, and feet to remain to the other side as you bring your shoulders back toward the ground. Every exhale is an opportunity to surrender your shoulders into the ground and to soften your spine. Stay here for 3 minutes.
To come out of the pose, take another full breath. Bring your knees back to center. Let your feet rest on the ground. Notice your left and right sides. Feel where the residue of the pose lingers. Roll to your side of choice. Take your time, enjoying every moment with yourself.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Come to all fours. Keep your bum over your knees as you walk your hands away from you. Bring your forehead to the ground as you allow your heart to float toward the ground.
To remain present and connected, draw deep awareness to your breath. Notice your inhale and your exhale. Perhaps give each breath a number to continue drawing your awareness to yourself. As you release in the pose, you might bring your lips or chin to the floor allowing your chest to also draw nearer to the floor. Stay here for 5 minutes.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Variation: If this pose doesn’t feel right in your body for this length of time, you can instead take Quarter Dog. Bend your right arm and bring your forehead to your right forearm as your left arm remains extended straight ahead of you. After one minute, switch to the other side. Then retry Melting Heart. Stay in the poses for a total of 5 minutes.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
From Melting Heart, lower yourself to the ground and lengthen your legs behind you. Bend your elbows out to the sides and place one hand on top of the other. Let your head rest on your stacked hands. Stay here for 4 minutes.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Bring your forearms to the mat with your elbows under your shoulders. A common error is to bring your elbows alongside your low ribs or to bring your arms too far away from you. Come into a 90-degree angle with your arms. Your neck is neutral or your head is heavy. Notice if widening your feet helps to relax and soften your glutes. Stay here for 3 minutes.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
If it’s available to you, come to Seal Pose by straightening your arms and taking your hands wider than your shoulders. Stay here for 1 minute. If you experience any low back pain in this pose, come back to Sphinx.
Come back to Restorative Crocodile for several moments to release. Full breath in, full breath out.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Bring your hips to the wall and gently swing your legs up the wall. Leave your left leg up the wall and cross your right leg over your left shin just below your our left knee. Slide your left foot down the wall a little ways to increase the sensations along the glutes on your right side. This is like Thread the Needle, but without using your hands or a strap to bring you into the pose. If you feel you’re already at an appropriate edge before bending your left leg, you can leave your leg extended. You can use your hand to anchor your foot if you find that it slides out of place.
Feel for a softening along your low back. Notice if you can get closer to the wall or if you can slide the left foot down more. Stay here for 3 minutes.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Release your foot back up the wall. Take a full inhale, full exhale. Switch sides. Cross your left foot in front of the right leg below the knee. Slide the right leg down the wall to the extent of your appropriate edge. Check in and notice what’s available to make adjustments with the proximity to the wall or the bend of your right knee. Stay here for 3 minutes.
Release both legs back up the wall. Take an inhale and exhale. Then bring both knees into your body.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
To come into Wall Frog, stay at the wall and widen your feet and knees further apart. The depth of this pose is determined by two things–the proximity of your bum to the wall and how wide your legs are apart. Shoulders, middle back, and lower back surrender to gravity. Determine what feels right for you. Notice if you have the same quality of surrender in the back body as you have in your inner thighs. Bypass the muscles and struggle to simply be. Stay here for 5 minutes.
To come out of the pose, bring your knees together and roll over to one side.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Come back to all fours. Step your right foot to the outside of your right arm. If you were to stay in this pose for 5 minutes, how would you approach it differently? You’ll take 3 minutes on each side in this pose, but approach it with the mindset of being here longer. Embrace the load of the joints, understanding that you’re becoming stronger. Note where you can be a little kinder to yourself in this pose while still being at your edge. Stay here for 3 minutes.
To release, bring your hips back, left knee down, and extend and straighten your right leg forward. Then sit on your heels for one breath before switching sides.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Take a few breaths in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, then come down to a seat on your heels, bring your hands into fists and wring out your wrists by rotating them in a circle to the right and left.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Extend your legs out in front of you. If you’re used to sitting on something, you will likely have a pillow or blanket wherever you are. But you can also create more space by moving the flesh out of the way of your sitting bones. Fold forward over your legs and let your hands land where they land. Direct your inhale to the place that is giving the most feedback, exhale, and soften even more. Every exhale gives a little more access to more fold, more softness. Soften your shoulders and neck. Stay for 5 minutes.
Release to sitting upright, then set up for your final rest.(Photo: Tamika Caston-Miller)
Enjoy the end pose of your choosing, whether Savasana (Corpse Pose) or something else that is comfortable for you. My recommendation, whenever away from home or traveling, is a variation on Legs up the Wall— place your legs onto a sofa or ottoman and rest your back onto the ground. Rest here for at least 5 minutes.
Set an intention for when you are met with energy that is frenetic or chaotic that you’ll be able to meet it with calm and peace.
Take your final asana, Anjali Mudra. Acknowledge the teacher within you, the student-teacher relationship, and the practice itself.
It’s my goal to leave you better than I found you. I hope that happened for you today.
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About our contributor Tamika Caston-Miller is an E-RYT 500 with a special interest in yoga for renewal, transformation, and social justice. Her yoga journey began in 2001 with a home practice. She now holds certifications from YogaOne Studios, Yogaworks, Kripalu School of Yoga, Judith Hansen Lasater, and Paul Grilley. Tamika’s teaching and practice have been informed by chronic pain and injuries, the very human battle between shame and compassion, the quest for ancestral healing, and love for the practice and philosophy of yoga.