The idea of creating a short yoga sequence for friends of mine started last season in Sri Lanka. It’s not always that easy to get to a yoga class, and the idea of practising alone can feel intimidating and overwhelming. Trying to remember how to move in and out of each position and making it all fit together is tricky, and putting in an hour a day feels pretty unobtainable.
So a few targeted stretches that can be completed in 15 minutes or so is much more realistic and much more likely to be maintained. And if it leads to more interest in yoga, then brilliant! But it’s good to start small and be consistent.
So I will be posting sequences for my friends, who might have a specific target or problem, or maybe they just want a small practice to start the day with.
I wanted the first one to be for my good friend Sunil, who I have worked with and surfed with and generally hung out with for the last few years, both in India and Sri Lanka.
Sunil surfs as much as he can, and has tight shoulders as a result. Surfing is brilliant for your body in so many ways; it’s great cardio and builds strength and stamina, especially in the upper body and core, but if you don’t give those areas a bit of love out of the water, you can find they might start giving you some problems. Common issues for surfers are sore shoulders and lower back, so it’s important to protect those areas.
Some dynamic stretches pre-surf are a good idea (walking lunges, hip/knee/shoulder circles – even a little jog), but here we’ll concentrate on some post-surf stretching.
Chaturanga Dandasana (low plank)
Actually here it is all about moving from high plank to low plank.
From Downward Dog, inhale and move the body forward to a high plank. The shoulders are directly over the wrists, with straight legs and the heels pushing to the back of the room.
Make sure your hips are not too high or too low – you should be in a straight line, engaging your core muscles to keep you strong and stop pressure being dumped into the lower back or shoulders. Squeeze the pelvic floor muscles, which will engage the lower abdomen (transverse abdoninus.)
Build up to holding plank for 30 seconds, and then exhale to lower down with the elbows squeezing into the body until you are in a straight line, parallel to the floor, so the elbows are moving backwards.
Make sure your shoulders do not dip down lower than the level of your elbows, as this can put lots of strain on the ligaments and tendons in those areas. Build up to hold for 5 breaths. If you are feeling really strong, push back up to high plank as you inhale, and then exhale back to Downward Dog (next.)
This movement will tone the back, triceps and core, and is great for pop-up power.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
This inverted ‘v’ shape is brilliant for stretching and opening the shoulder girdle, building strength, whilst toning the arms and legs. It lengthens the spine, relieving pressure on the lower back, and stretches out the calves and hamstrings. Downward dog has the added benefit of calming the nervous system, relieving stress – although the first few times you try the posture, it might not feel that relaxing!
Start by paying attention to your feet – they should be hip-width apart, with toes spread and facing front. Don’t worry if the heels don’t come all the way to the floor (mine still don’t)
Start with a slight bend in the knees, and engage (tense) your quads and hamstrings.
Lift the hips up to the sky and then bring attention to your back. It’s much more important that your spine is straight than you force your heels to the ground, so here is where the bent knees come in.
Gently press your chest towards your thighs, and then make sure your shoulder blades are moving down towards the lower back. Shoulders pull away from your ears – make sure you are not scrunching them around your neck.
Head and neck are completely relaxed – look between your feet or knees to make sure your neck is straight.
Arms are engaged, upper arms externally rotate and hands are shoulder-width apart. Fingers are spread wide, and there is even pressure through the fingers and palm, middle finger is facing forward. This makes sure that there isn’t too much weight in your wrists.
Garudasana Arms (Eagle Pose Variation)
This opens out the upper back and shoulders, and stretches the upper arms.
Come into a high lunge or Warrior 1 with the left leg forward. Cross the right arm over the left, and then walk the fingers as close to the spine as you can (giving yourself a hug.) The wrap the right arm underneath the left forearm, binding and taking the palms of the hands together.
Don’t worry if they don’t get there, the back of the hands will do. Hold for a minute or so, and then swap legs and do the other side. You can add in a light back bend if it feels good, lifting the arms as you press the chest forward.
A brilliant one to do after a long session in the water as it relieves the upper body tension created by paddling, strengthening the latisimus dorsi, deltoid and trapezius muscles.
Prasarita Padottanasana C (Wide-legged forward fold)
Take your feet wide, at least a metre, or about your own leg length apart, and very slightly draw your toes inwards (so you are a little bit pigeon-toed!) Bring your hands onto your hips and start to fold forward on an exhale, leading with the chest and keeping the shoulders away from the ears to ensure a straight back. Keep knees bent if you need to, especially if you can feel your back starting to round.
When you reach your maximum, interlock your fingers behind your back, and see if you can bring the heels of the hands together to increase the stretch. Slowly lift the hands up and away from your lower back, and allow your head to draw down further as you fold forward.
If you would like to stretch your hamstrings at the same time, very slowly start to straighten the legs, but without locking the knees. Place the weight a little forward into the toes.
Lapasana (Deep shoulder stretch)
Lie on your front with both arms outstretched at shoulder height, and very slowly roll over onto the left with the left arm still outstretched. Bring your right leg over and keep the knee bent with that foot planted on the floor. This might be strong enough, but if you don’t feel enough of a stretch, you can bring your right hand behind your back.
Hold for 10-30 seconds and then bring the right leg back and very slowly roll back onto your front. Repeat on the other side. This stretch can be held for longer, but please make sure there is no pain and you build up to longer-held passive stretches.
Supta Buddha Konasana (supine butterfly)
This wonderfully relaxing posture will allow the shoulders and chest to gently open, and is brilliant to do after a day of surfing and before bed.
For this it’s nice to use a bolster or fold a large cushion in half, which you place under your back, starting from the sacrum. But if you don’t have anything to hand, lying on the floor (or the beach!) is fine.
Place the soles of the feet together, making a diamond shape with your legs, and bring your feet as close to the body as is comfortable. Let your arms fall open to the sides at shoulder height and feel the chest open. Close your eyes and remain here for up to five minutes.