Sometimes, we’re so used to following teachers’ instructions or rigidly sticking to what we’ve been taught, we forget what it’s like just to follow our body’s lead and simply move intuitively. The point of this sequence is to do just that!
Get your spine moving and stretch out the front, back and sides of the body but feel free to add any extra movement: just do what feels delicious! Forget about alignment, stay well within the boundaries of your maximum stretch and start your day with some softness. Most importantly, let your body, not your mind dictate the speed of your movement.
For this sequence, you may need two blocks.
1. Fluid Cat /cow
Come to all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders, knees under your hips. First of all, take a moment to really feel the mat or the floor under your hands and knees and the ground supporting your body. Then gently and slowly, begin to move the spine. You can move through ‘traditional’ cat / cow by moving the chest slowly down towards the floor and lifting and spreading the sit bones so that the spine is arched (extension). Then press into the hands, curl the tailbone under, move the chin towards the chest and round the upper back so that the shoulder blades move apart. Alternatively, you can take your cat / cow in a sideways or circular motion, moving the sit bones back toward the hips to stretch the sides of the body as well.
The key here is to move slowly and gently and keep the movement fluid. You could try harmonising your breath with the rhythm of your movement but don’t worry so much about this – your breath will find its own way.
Closing your eyes really helps you to feel into your body. Think about how a cat or dog stretches in the morning and make it feel as delicious as they make it look!
2. Parallel stretches / Upward bound hand stretch
Slowly come to standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width distance. Stretch your arms out in a T-shape, palms facing down, fingertips reaching away from the spine. Inhale, then begin to reach towards the left, still keeping your arms parallel to the floor. Move slowly and keep your lower belly slightly pulled in to protect your back. Then turn your left palm up and slowly come back to centre on the in-breath and repeat on the right-hand side.
Then, keeping your feet where they are, inhale and reach the arms up above the head. Interlace your fingers and turn the palms to face the ceiling. Upper arms can come forward so that they’re in your peripheral vision or if you’re comfortable you can move them back towards the ears. Stay here for a few breaths before gently releasing your hands back down to the sides of the body.
3. Upward side stretches
Inhale, sweep your right hand up, palm facing towards the left and then exhale, bend sideways, sliding the left hand down the left leg. Feel the stretch along the right-hand side of the body from the outer edge of the right foot to the fingertips of the right hand. You can look up or face forwards. Then exhale, turn your chest more towards the floor, bringing the right arm slightly forwards and rounding a bit through the upper back. Stretch through the fingertips, then inhale and start to revolve the chest back towards the ceiling, moving the right shoulder back so that you’re opening up the front of the body again.
Inhale and bring the torso back up to centre and drop the right arm to the side again. Repeat this on the other side.
Try it out in class
This short session with Sandra Carson is great for those who start their days feeling stiffness, pain or discomfort in their joints or muscles. You can also use this practice before your yoga practice or before you go to sleep.
4. Star stretch
Finally, to bring evenness to each side reach both the arms up again, moving your hips slightly forward and leaning back a bit, taking the gaze up to the ceiling if this feels okay on the neck. Inhale and welcome the arrival of a brand new day with openness and joy!
5. Forward fold with knee bends
Exhale and with the arms and feet still in the same position, bend the knees and, stretching out from the fingertips, reach your hands forward and down towards the floor so you come into a forward fold with a long spine.
With your knees still bent, place your fingertips on the floor or the palms on the floor. If your hamstrings are tight or you need more length in the spine, place your hands on blocks. Again, if you want to close your eyes, do so. Begin to straighten your right leg and bend your left knee, hips moving to the left. Inhale come to centre and exhale, bend the right knee, straightening the left leg. Sway gently from side to side, bending and stretching the legs and if you want to introduce some extra movement (maybe stretching the sides of the waist, or rounding the upper back) – do so. Remember: follow your body’s cues.
6. Ragdoll up to mountain pose
Finally, come to rest in the centre and with your knees still bent, start to uncurl the spine with your fingertips tracing the fronts of the legs. Imagine a weight hanging from your tailbone as you start to stand. Keep your arms loose, the head heavy and slowly unfurl….Let your head be the last thing to lift. Before opening your eyes take a few moments just to notice the stillness and your strength standing in your mountain pose.