Back to nature
Back to nature: a gentle lakeside yoga sequence to reconnect with the natural environment. By Safia Siddiqui Bowley
Spending time in nature nourishes the soul, and with many of us having had to adapt to staying at home, it's something we're perhaps craving more than ever. Even if practicing indoors, take inspiration from the elemental themes running through this sequence and who knows, perhaps you will be transported in your imagination to a dream lakeside or ocean view location!
In this sequence I was inspired by the landscape as a whole, but with particular focus on the water element, associated with the sacral chakra. Our hips and pelvis often store emotional tension and working with this energy centre can offer great release and freedom. Fluid movement celebrates our creativity, also a water element theme, and it feels great to incorporate a sense of intuitive flow in transitions between postures. Move with your breath, and be kind to yourself, never pushing into anything that feels uncomfortable, but also be curious, finding a balance between effort and ease.
1. Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Take a few moments to arrive in any comfortable seated position, perhaps in cross-legged Easy Pose (Sukhasana). Let yourself grow taller, shoulders relaxed, chest open and lifting; tune into the rhythm of your breath to help quieten the mind. Gently turn the head side to side to release any obvious neck tension. If outside, scan to notice the different sounds you can hear; savour the sensation of warmth, of breeze, maybe even the scent of plants, earth or salty air. Observe the weight of the hips, your foundation. Bring closer awareness now to the rise and fall of your breath, the air coming in through the nose and the expansion and contraction of the ribs.
2. Seated Side Stretch (Parsva Sukhasana)
Listen to your breath, and with the next inhale reach up with the left arm, exhale and take the torso over into a side stretch to the right, aiming to keep the upper arm near the ear and the hips grounded. Inhale to return to centre, reaching up, then exhale to float the arm back down. Continue to flow, swapping sides, inhale reaching up, exhale to side stretch and then exhale to centre. Take your time, fitting each movement with the length of the breath leading it.
3. Cat, Cow, Extended Child's Pose (Marjaryasana, Bitilasana, Utthita Balasana)
Moving onto hands and knees, place wrists beneath shoulders, knees beneath hips, inhale and roll shoulders back, open and lift chest, head and tailbone to arch the spine, relaxing the belly; then with the corresponding exhale, press hands into the earth, drawing the chin to chest, drop the tailbone, squeezing the navel up and in, rounding and lengthening the spine. Flow with your breath to repeat at least twice more, noticing the wave of movement created as the hips tilt back with each inhale, and forwards with each exhale. On the next exhale send the hips back towards the heels, and take knees slightly wider, releasing into Extended Child's Pose; pause, breathe, and then on an inhale, lift the hips to return to hands and knees, the following exhale leading smoothly into rounding once more to Cat. Repeat, flowing from arching to releasing the hips back, to lifting and rounding, twice more. (If preferred, try a seated version of Cat/Cow, with hands on legs, but still including that hip tilt.)
4. Garland pose (Malasana)
a) Coming onto the feet, turn toes out at a 45-degree angle and experiment with sinking down into the hips. Heels can be lifted or grounded. Check on how the hips feel today. Bring palms together at your heart, lengthen the spine and use the elbows at the insides of the knees to gently encourage a little more opening if this feels appropriate. Feel your connection with the earth. If grounding is what you need right now, stay awhile, lifting a little, then sighing a breath out and sinking again.
b) Add a twist by placing one hand on the ground in front, press into it as you twist to the side, reaching up with the other arm. Take in the sky, notice your surroundings. Swap sides.
5. Forward Fold Forearm Stretch (Padahastasana)
Turn toes to face forwards and bring hands to legs or to the earth, lifting the hips to arrive in a forward fold; soften the knees as required. Think of the spine flowing down like a waterfall. One foot at a time, lift the fronts of the feet, slide the palms of the hands underneath, fingers aiming towards the heels, the toes lined up with the inside wrist crease, giving a gentle stretch to the forearms and wrists. Sigh out a few breaths here, releasing whatever you need to let go of today.
6. Half Garland Flow (Ardha Malasana)
Release the hands and come to a half forward fold with hands on hips or thighs. Straighten and stretch left leg out to the side, softening right knee a little more to let the hips sink down. Keep the neck and shoulders comfortable and spacious. Swap sides by moving the hips to the centre, then over to the left, bending left knee and straightening right leg. Practice flowing from side to centre, to opposite side and back again, perhaps sweeping first one arm and then the other arm from side to side as you flow. Transition carefully up to standing, plant your feet, spread your toes and connect with the earth. Again, notice the breath and allow it to help you grow slightly taller, the upper body light, and the lower body grounded.
7. Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)
Surveying the long reeds by the water edge and the trees in the distance I selected a tall, standing balance posture next, which would form a preparation for Dancer Pose. Press into the left foot; lift the right foot, bend the knee, kicking the heel up towards the buttock, and catch the top of the foot with the right hand. Bring the left hand to the hip. Lift the ribcage, steady the breath and take the left arm up alongside the ear, fixing your gaze, your drishti, straight ahead, on a fixed point. Stay strong at your core and press the left foot into the earth a little more if possible, being careful to keep the shoulders spacious, chest open and lifting, neck long. Press the top of the right foot into the hand. Notice the space being created in your body as you breathe deeply and enjoy the feeling of reaching to touch the sky, while also rooting down into the earth. Gently release and prepare to repeat on the opposite side.
8. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Step the feet wide, turn right toes out to the right and reach arms out in Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), bending the right knee. Relax the shoulders back and down. Spread your toes and enjoy taking up space. Scan and then take your gaze to a point on the horizon, following the line created by the right arm. Lubricate the hips by gently coming in and out of the posture with your breath, straightening the right leg on an inhale, then bending the knee again on an exhale. Find your maximum stretch, taking the feet wider if necessary to ensure the knee does not go beyond the point where it is over the ankle.
9. Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
Reverse Warrior pose by turning the right palm to face up, sweeping the hand up and drawing it back to create an overhead arc, while sliding the left hand down the left leg. Lift both your heart and your gaze to the sky, breath flowing, smooth and strong. Prepare to repeat steps 8 & 9 on the opposite side.
10. Janu Sirsasana
Returning to sitting, stretch out left leg in front; keep it active as you bend the right knee to bring sole of the foot to face inside of left leg. Inhale and reach both arms up, then exhale and fold from the hips; allow the hands to rest wherever they arrive easily, focusing on moving the chest forwards. Bring a little flow and rhythm by lifting slightly as you breathe in, then folding forwards again as you breathe out. Pull the navel in at the end of the next exhale and investigate whether the space created might facilitate moving the torso slightly further forwards.
Walk hands back to just behind you and lift the hips up, opening the front of the body. Release and prepare to repeat on the opposite side, with right leg stretched out, followed again by a lift.
11. Half Lord of Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Sitting by the water, it seems appropriate to choose this twist, named after the fish who took human form and became a yoga master after listening to Lord Shiva's discourse on the philosophies of yoga. From sitting with legs stretched out, bend left knee and place foot on outside of right leg. Plant left hand or fingertips behind you, and as the torso rotates to the left, roll the shoulders back, lift your heart and bring right hand to left leg, bending the right knee to bring the right heel towards the left hip. Take your gaze over the left shoulder. Inhale and grow taller, exhale and twist a tiny bit more. (If you wish, bring arm in front of chest and then onto the outside of left leg, using this as a lever to help take the twist a little further.) Come back gradually, realign, stretch, and then repeat on the opposite side.
12. Earth Witness / Bhumisparsha Mudra
Come back to sitting comfortably, with the legs in whichever position feels most supportive, quietly observing your surroundings again. Take your time, and then draw the focus in, back to your body and your breath, but also seeing yourself as part of the bigger picture. Relax the jaw, melt the shoulders back and down. Turn the palm of the right hand so it faces your body, fingers pointing down to the earth. Turn the left palm to face up and let it rest on your lap. Listen to the waves of breath flowing in and out. Close the eyes or soften your gaze. Feel the flow of energy created by your yoga practice, while also experiencing the sensations of the elements, the abundance all around. Notice the circuit created by this beautiful mudra, left hand receiving, right hand grounding. Deepen the breath and savour the calm moment.
Whatever opportunity we have to be outside, even if it's just standing in the socially-distanced shopping queue, we can choose to be present, to look at the sky (not our phone!), plant our feet, stand tall and take time to notice our posture and breathing.
Safia Bowley is a Hatha Yoga teacher based in East Sussex (safiahelenyoga.com) Photography: Sarah Carmody With thanks to Lime Cross Nursery, who (though closed to the public at time of writing) regularly host a programme of outdoor wellbeing events and classes such as lakeside yoga and Tai Chi
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