You get home really late. Your day was super long—completely filled to the max…work, and then work, more work, maybe kids, maybe school, whatever. You didn’t have time to workout, and you definitely didn’t have time to make it to a yoga class. The thought of a single sun salutation seems daunting, so tonight’s not the night to roll out your mat for a solo home practice. What are you going to do?? You’ve (probably) spent the bulk of your day sitting in your desk chair or in your car—i.e. your hips likely feel as if they have been literally trapped in a constant state of flexion. And you know you have to do something to find relief in your body.
These next 3 stretches are targeted to release tension, remove exhaustion, and heal you and your body so that you are able to fall asleep peacefully and with ease. The stretches are inspired by traditional hatha yoga poses, and they also incorporate both Resistance Flexibility and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Resistance Flexibility Strength Training (RFST) is a system of movement developed by Bob Cooley that involves contracting a muscle while stretching it in order to get a truer and more efficient stretch of the muscle itself (this contrasts with a more traditional understanding of stretching which often leads to overstretching, where having too great of a range of motion mistakenly directs the stretch into the ligaments and tendons at the attachments).
These 3 stretches are on the heart, stomach, and thymus meridian lines of energy, meaning the stretch is on the same line of energy that an acupuncturist would be using with needles to access the specific meridian points.
1. Dynamic child’s pose
Start on all fours, with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees hip distant apart (toes un-tucked; tops/toenail side of your feet face down). Press down into the heels of your palms and into the tops of your feet. Think of scrunching the earth together between your hands and your feet; and, think of squeezing your hands in towards one another—as if your thumbs could touch each other or as if you could clap your hands. Nothing will move, but energetically, maintain these actions (i.e. maintain a high level of resistance) throughout this dynamic pose. Keep pressing down into your hands and dragging your hands and feet towards one another, and then draw your hips backwards towards a child’s pose. As you take your hips back, look up. Repeat at least 5 to 10 times.
On the last one, release all the way into a child’s pose—balasana. Reach your arms all the way out in front of you, and bring your palms together in a prayer shape. Bend your arms at the elbows, releasing your thumbs to the nape of your neck. Walk your elbows forward and towards one another, finding a triceps stretch as well as a release for your shoulders.
This stretch is on the heart meridian, which runs across the front of the chest and the fronts of both arms. So, this dynamic child’s pose stretches your chest, but it also benefits your entire circulatory system and directly aids with insomnia and sleep disorders. And since this is the heart meridian, this stretch also helps you tap into the part of yourself that is unconditionally loving. Beautiful.
2. Quad stretch at the wall
Start with a blanket and a bolster (or any cushion). Come into a lunge with your knee on the ground and the top of your back foot against the cushioned wall. Think of kicking your back knee forward towards your belly button and your back foot backwards towards the wall. Also, think of dragging your front heel inwards toward the wall, activating the front hamstrings. Keep these actions in the legs, and then draw your hips back towards the wall. Allow your hips to come forward, and then repeat 5-10 times.
This stretch is on the stomach meridian; it travels up both sides of the body—from the feet, up the fronts of the legs, through the torso, and up past the jaw. Not only does this stretch release tension in the fronts of the quads, but it also relieves jaw tension. So, if you know anyone who grinds their teeth when they are sleeping, this is an excellent stretch to recommend. And since this is the stomach meridian, this stretch also aids the digestive system and increases metabolism (yes!!).
3. Spinal roll downs at the wall
Start laying down with your legs up at the wall and your hips about 4-5 inches away from the base of the wall. Reach your legs long, and then bend your knees only as much as you need to in order to place the entire sole of each foot onto the wall. So, the legs are as straight as possible, but there is a slight bend at the knees so that whole bottom of each foot is making contact with the wall. Place your arms down along side your body. Press down into the earth with the backs of your upper arms and shoulders and press forward and down into the wall with your heels. Keep these actions, and then curl your pelvis up (think pubic bone to belly button), lifting your hips above your shoulders. Press even more into your upper arms and even more into your heels. Think of lifting your hips even higher as you slowly start to roll your way back down.
As you lower down, place your hands on your quads and press them upwards, adding another layer of resistance to the roll down. From the top of your spine, lower down, one vertebrae at a time. Repeat 5-10 times.
After the last rep, scoot your hips closer into the wall (as close as is comfortable for you) and release your legs straight up or out in a wide V-shape—viparita karani. Stay here for as long as you’d like…
This stretch is on the thymus meridian, which runs from your fingers, up the backs of your arms, shoulders, and neck, all the way to your temples. This stretch has tremendous healing abilities, and can alleviate pain in the upper, mid, and lower back. Stress in the upper traps and neck can be alleviated as well. Given that this is the thymus meridian, this stretch also directly affects your immune system and strengthens your ability to recover from various illnesses or infections. After this stretch, you will be left with an overall sense of wholeness; this feeling of completeness can be incredibly satisfying on multiple levels—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.
Atha yoga anushasanam
Here begins the practice of yoga