All yoga teachers I know have their "go-to" short yoga sequences for when they don't have a lot of time, but want to squeeze a bit of asana practice into their day. Here I'll share with you my personal favorite. It's what I do on days where I just need to get on my mat and practice some yoga postures. I love it first thing in the morning to warm up my body, get mobile and switch on my core muscles so they're firing for the rest of the day. It's also great as an after-work reset, especially if you've been sitting at a computer all day.
Begin in child’s pose with your forehead on the ground or supported on a bolster if it won’t quite reach. Gently rock your head from side to side, massaging any tension from your forehead.
Visualize any thoughts or worries draining away into the ground as you take a few deeper breaths and allow yourself to become present on your mat. (To help, here's 6 Techniques to Staying Present.)
Come to all fours, and begin to flow through your cat-cow sequence. Follow the breathing pattern:
Inhale: Lift your tailbone, release your belly toward the ground, scoop your chest forward and up and lift your chin.
Exhale: Roll your tailbone under, round through your spine, draw the front of your body toward the back, and press your palms into the ground, taking chin to chest.
Take around five breaths like this, enjoying the mobility and freedom you are finding in your spine.
From all fours, slide forward onto your front. Place your forearms on the ground for sphinx pose, elbows directly beneath shoulders. Broaden across your collarbones by energetically drawing your forearms back toward your body.
Wake up your core muscles with a spicy flow from sphinx pose. Keep the top of your feet on the ground, and as you exhale, push your hips up, keeping your legs straight and using the strength of your core to lift you.
This is fantastic way to challenge and energize your deep core muscles, For a beginner-friendly variation, or if you have any ankle issues, keep your knees down as you lift your hips.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose
Come to all fours then press back to downward-facing dog, taking your lower belly toward your upper thighs. Bend one knee at a time to walk your dog, and stretch and open the hamstrings and the back of your body.
Take baby steps, bringing your feet toward your hands until your find yourself in a standing forward fold at the top of your mat with feet hip-width apart. Bend your knees and clasp opposite elbows with each hand, gently swaying from side to side.
Ragdoll is a lovely calming pose. To maximize its benefits, allow your upper body to relax and become floppy like a ragdoll. Visualize any tension cascading off your shoulders and away from you.
Warrior Two Pose
Either step directly to warrior two, or to make this more of a vinyasa flow, take a Sun Salutation A to downward-facing dog, then step one foot forward and windmill your arms up into warrior two. Focus on externally rotating your thighs, expanding across your chest and grounding through your feet. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the second side.
Warrior two is my "go-to" pose for feeling strong, powerful and empowered. Even a 10-minute yoga practice wouldn’t feel complete without it.
(Dig deeper into this pose in Cultivating Power in Your Practice With Warrior Two Pose.)
Stand at the top of your mat, set your drishti and bring your foot up onto the inner calf or inner thigh, pressing the knee out to the side. Keep your hands in prayer position at the heart center or lift them over your head.
Remember, balance poses help you to cultivate a calm and centered mind. If you fall, take a moment and calmly find the pose again. The art of yoga isn’t about staying balanced physically, it’s about finding equanimity in your response to losing balance.
Come down into a squat to release your hips. For added benefit, with your hands in prayer position, use your elbows to encourage your knees wider.
Squatting in garland pose helps to release to muscles of the hips and lower back.
Finish with a gentle backbend to open again through your chest and the front of your body.
This last backbend allows for an energizing end to your yoga practice. You symbolically and physically open your heart space, ready to embrace the rest of your day.
Power Up (or Down)
Given that you only have 10 minutes, take a "power savasana" -- it’s amazing how much of a difference just five mindful breaths can make, surrendering your body weight to the ground. Focus on allowing your body to absorb all the benefits of the mini-practice you’ve just completed. It may have only been 10 minutes, but you've done a lot -- love yourself for doing it!
(Short on time for a meditation session, too? Try this 10-Minute Meditation.)