The long, cold winter can leave us feeling sluggish and lethargic, so the spring season is a great time to reinvigorate your body with detoxifying yoga postures. The postures below will help cleanse and jump start your body for spring. These work well practiced in a sequence, or you can just pick the ones that feel best for you.
This pose stimulates the circulatory and lymphatic systems, two major clean-up systems of the body.
LEGS UP THE WALL (Viparita Karani):
The easiest and safest inversion (half inversion), you simply lie on your back with your legs extended up the wall toward the ceiling. This pose stimulates the circulatory and lymphatic systems, two major “clean-up” systems of the body.
To get into the posture, sit on the floor beside the wall with one hip and shoulder touching the wall. Drop back onto your elbows, then lift your legs and walk your body around so your bottom faces the wall and your legs extend up the wall. Rest on your back, completely relaxing the legs, for 3 to 10 minutes.
- If your hamstrings are tight and you find that when you relax the legs your knees bend and your feet slide off the wall, scoot back farther away from the wall rather than having your bottom touch the wall.
- A yoga bolster placed under the lumbar spine encourages the natural curvature of your spine and helps relax your back.
- A yoga sandbag placed on the bottoms of your feet helps relax tired feet.
KNEES TO CHEST (Apanasana)
This pose strongly stimulates the digestive and elimination organs. It is great for when you are feeling bloated, and can help relieve gas pains. It also lengthens and releases the back.
Lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest (or in a sequence following Legs Up The Wall, simply slide your legs down the wall to this position). Wrap your arms around your shins, then on a deep exhale draw your forehead as close to your knees as possible. Breathe deeply and slowly through your nose for five to 10 breaths. Release down onto your back on an exhale, and let your feet rest on the floor. Repeat two times.
- If flexibility limits your ability to hug your knees into your chest, you can hold the back of your thighs instead of your shins, or use a yoga strap wrapped around your shins to draw your knees into your chest. You can also just draw your knees in to your chest without lifting your head or upper back off the mat.
- If you are slender and doing this posture causes you to rock/fall to the side of your spine because it protrudes, then do this posture supported on a thick blanket or towel to keep your body centered.
SPINE TWIST – FLOW VARIATION (Jathara Parivartanasana)
This active variation of Spine Twist massages and stimulates the digestive and elimination organs, and it tones the muscles of your abdomen as well as stretching the back.
Lie on your back, then bring your knees directly on top of your hip sockets (thighs 90 degrees to your torso), and lift your shins parallel to the floor. Reach your arms straight out from your shoulders with palms facing down.
For the flow, on an exhale draw your knees towards the floor to your left, while turning your head to the right. Stop your knees 6 to 12 inches from the floor, then on an inhale bring the knees back to center. Exhale the knees to the right and turn your head to the left, stopping above the floor as before, then inhale and bring the knees back to center. Repeat the entire sequence 3 to 10 times.
- If you want more challenge, straighten your legs, still maintaining the 90 degree angle between legs and torso.
- If you aren’t able to drop your legs 6 to 12 inches from the floor, or you have trouble getting them back up, just drop your legs as close to the floor as you are comfortable.
- Move slowly through the sequence; try not to use momentum to bring your legs back to center.
- This is a nice warmup for more deep and difficult twists such as the ones that I describe next.
REVOLVED CHAIR (Parivrtta Utkatasana)
Now we move into standing twists. Revolved Chair continues stimulating the elimination organs, and can be helpful with constipation. It also strengthens the legs, stretches the calves and helps open up the upper back.
Stand with your feet together and your second toes parallel to one another. Bring your palms together in front of your heart. Bend your knees and twist to your right, bringing your left elbow outside your right thigh. Make sure your knees stay together and one doesn’t slide forward. Breathe for 5 to 10 breaths, then repeat to the left.
- If limited flexibility prevents your left elbow getting all the way to the outside of the right thigh, you can also place your elbow between your thighs, or alternately place a yoga block on the floor in front of your feet and place your left hand on the block and right hand on your right thigh and use the leverage of both hands to twist as far as you are comfortable.
- The deeper you bend the knees, the easier the spine will twist. Make sure your hips are at least the same level as your shoulders, but preferably the hips can drop down toward the level of your knees.
- Try not to round your spine. Lift your chest away from your thighs using your upper back and core muscles – the elbow on your thigh should not be supporting all your weight, it should rather be assisting you with deepening the twist.
REVOLVED CRESCENT LUNGE (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana)
This posture stimulates the digestive and elimination organs, strengthens the legs and stretches the hip flexors.
Stand with your feet hip bone width apart (about two fist widths). Step your left foot back to a lunge position on the ball of your foot, then bend the right knee until the knee is directly on top of the ankle. If the right knee goes in front of the ankle, step your left foot back a little farther to deepen your stance. Engage the back leg to straighten it, and bring your palms together in front of your chest. Inhale to lengthen the spine, then exhale to twist to your right and fold forward to bring your left elbow to the outside of the right thigh. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then repeat with the left foot forward.
- If limited flexibility prevents your left elbow getting all the way to the outside of the right thigh, then you can place your left hand on the floor or on a block below your left shoulder, and place the right hand on your right thigh and use the leverage of both hands to twist as far as you are comfortable.
- As in Revolved Chair, try to hold yourself in place using your core muscles rather than resting your torso on your thigh or resting all your weight on your elbow.
- If your legs feel fatigued, drop your back knee down to the floor or onto a blanket.
STANDING STRADDLE (Prasarita Padottanasana)
Standing straddle is another half-inversion, this time targeting the upper body. It lengthens the backs of the legs and the spine. Having the head below the heart is also very calming for the mind.
Step your feet to about the width of your two arms extended. Bring the outsides of your feet parallel to one another. Place your hands on your hip creases, then inhale to lengthen the spine and exhale to fold forward from the hip creases. Once your body is folded forward, release your hands to the floor and walk your fingertips in line with your toes with your hands shoulder width apart. Use the arms to gently pull yourself deeper into the posture. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
- If your hands don’t reach the floor, you can place them on two yoga blocks.
- If you head reaches the floor before you reach your full flexibility, scoot your feet closer together.
- If your head is close to the floor, place a yoga block under your head and rock a small bit of weight forward into the crown of the head.
- If your head is not resting on the floor or a block, be sure to let go off all the neck muscles and let the head completely hang.
- Make sure your weight is toward the front part of your heels, not the back part of your heels!
HALF LORD OF THE FISHES (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This seated twist is powerfully stimulating to the digestive and elimination organs. It also stretches the hips, legs, shoulders and back.
Sit on your mat and bring your left foot toward the outside of your right hip, then cross your right foot over your left thigh and place it flat on the floor with the toes in line with the outside of the left knee (the left knee should rest on the floor, the right knee point up to the sky). Wrap your left arm around your right knee, then inhale to lengthen the spine and exhale to twist to your right. Bring your right hand to the floor behind you and look over your right shoulder. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths, then repeat to the left.
- Make sure both bottom cheeks stay on the floor. If one is in the air, sit on a blanket or two to level the hips.
- If flexibility or knee pain prohibits bringing the bottom heel to the opposite hip, then you can alternately extend the bottom leg straight forward on your mat.
- If you would like to take the twist deeper and can do it without rounding your upper spine, you can bring your elbow to the outside of your thigh rather than wrapping the arm around the thigh.
SPINE TWIST – EAGLE LEGS VARIATION (Jathara Parivartanasana)
This relaxing and restorative variation of the posture we visited earlier stimulates the digestive and elimination organs and stretches the back and the chest.
Lie on your back, then cross your right thigh over your left like you are crossing your legs to sit in a chair. If you can, double wrap the legs by tucking the right toes behind the left calf (if you aren’t ready for a double wrap, just stick with the single cross of the thighs). Drop your legs to your left, letting the right knee come to the floor and the legs rest on the floor. Hold the knees down with your left hand. Twist your upper spine to your right, and reach your right arm out and up at a 45 degree angle from the shoulder with your palm facing up. Breathe for 5 to 10 breaths, then switch sides.
- If your spine resists this twist, put a yoga bolster, block or blanket under your knees to soften the twist and make it less intense.
- It is fine if your extended arm floats off the floor, but make sure your knees are resting on either the floor or a prop mentioned above. If your extended arm shoulder protests this shoulder-opening variation of the twist, place a bolster or block under your upper arm bone and let it rest.
FINAL REST (Savasana)
The most important posture of your yoga practice, savasana is a waking stillness that allows your body and mind to absorb the benefits of your practice.
Lie on your back. Bring your feet about mat-width apart, and let the thighs roll apart from each other. Bring your arms about 12 to 24 inches away from your side with the palms facing up. Softly close your eyes, and allow your body to completely rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
- If you have low back or knee pain in this pose, place a yoga bolster or a rolled up blanket under your thighs.
- A yoga sandbag across the pelvis just below the line of the hip bones feels very grounding.
- If your mind wanders, try to draw your focus to the sound and feeling of your breath.