yoga for rest, relaxation and recuperation...

It’s probably safe to say that for many of us January isn’t the most enjoyable month of the year.

The fun of Christmas has faded into memory, bank accounts are stretched to breaking point and the weather (at least here in the UK) tends to be less than wonderful…cold, damp and drizzly.

This dip in temperatures often brings with it colds, sniffles and other unpleasant ailments that can leave us feeling depleted and low. At times like this taking a yoga practice can feel beyond us – especially if we’re used to taking a relatively dynamic approach to our practice.

However, if practiced with the right approach and intention, yoga practice can be a wonderful tonic when we’re feeling unwell – providing an opportunity for relaxation, firing up our parasympathetic nervous system and helping to give our immune system a little boost.

My own start to 2016 was somewhat spluttery, having been struck down with a nasty virus just before the New Year - and so for a few weeks I took a somewhat different approach to my practice. Vinyasas, most standing poses and hand balances (and even down dog) were replaced by a greater emphasis on seated postures, longer holds and liberal use of blocks and bolsters. You might call it a more yin or restorative approach, but I'd hesitate to label it as either...it's simply an approach that worked for me.

So if you’re feeling a little under the weather, perhaps try the sequence below – I certainly felt it helped me. (N.B. If you’re working with any injuries or medical conditions it’s always wise to consult a doctor before practicing yoga and to work with an experienced yoga teacher!)

I’ve provided suggestions for how long to hold each pose – but work with what feels comfortable and appropriate for you. Enjoy spending time in each posture, becoming curious about the sensations present and exploring those sensations with the breath - use this time as an opportunity to relax, release any unnecessary tension and recharge your energy levels.

And if you have any other poses, suggestions or approaches to yoga practice that help when you’re feeling unwell, please add your comments below…

Sukhasana forward fold: 15 – 20 breaths each side Take a simple cross-legged posture and fold forward from the hips, resting your forehead on the floor or onto a pillow or bolster (as pictured here). If the hips are a little tight you can sit up on a prop to help find a greater sense of release.

Sukhasana forward fold: 15 – 20 breaths each side

Take a simple cross-legged posture and fold forward from the hips, resting your forehead on the floor or onto a pillow or bolster (as pictured here). If the hips are a little tight you can sit up on a prop to help find a greater sense of release.

Pelvic tilts: 10 rounds, working with breath Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. As you inhale gently press the tailbone down into the mat to arch the lower back away from the floor. As you exhale flatten and spread the lower back into the earth, taking a slight tuck of the tailbone towards the back of the knees. It’s a subtle movement that gently mobilises the pelvis.

Pelvic tilts: 10 rounds, working with breath

Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. As you inhale gently press the tailbone down into the mat to arch the lower back away from the floor. As you exhale flatten and spread the lower back into the earth, taking a slight tuck of the tailbone towards the back of the knees. It’s a subtle movement that gently mobilises the pelvis.

Apanasana: 8 – 10 breaths Draw your knees into the chest and take a gentle squeeze around the shins. You might like to add a gentle rock from side to side to massage out the lower back.

Apanasana: 8 – 10 breaths

Draw your knees into the chest and take a gentle squeeze around the shins. You might like to add a gentle rock from side to side to massage out the lower back.

Reclining twist: 10 breaths to each side From Apanasana return the soles of the feet to the earth with the knees bent. Shift the hips a few inches to the right and drop the knees down to the left. You can look up to the sky or over your right shoulder. If the knees are floating in air you can take a bolster underneath your thighs – find a place that allows you to keep both shoulders in contact with the earth. On an exhalation bring your knees back to centre and then take to the second side.

Reclining twist: 10 breaths to each side

From Apanasana return the soles of the feet to the earth with the knees bent. Shift the hips a few inches to the right and drop the knees down to the left. You can look up to the sky or over your right shoulder. If the knees are floating in air you can take a bolster underneath your thighs – find a place that allows you to keep both shoulders in contact with the earth. On an exhalation bring your knees back to centre and then take to the second side.

Low lunge (Anjaneyasana): 8 – 10 breaths each side Take a lunge position with the back knee released to the earth - resting on the bottom end of the femur rather than on the top of the kneecap (if the knee is sensitive double up the mat or use a blanket). Make sure that the front knee stays stacked over the front ankle, in line with your centre toes . Draw back on the fingertips and open your chest forward, breathing into the stretch through the front of your left groin. Take to both sides.

Low lunge (Anjaneyasana): 8 – 10 breaths each side

Take a lunge position with the back knee released to the earth - resting on the bottom end of the femur rather than on the top of the kneecap (if the knee is sensitive double up the mat or use a blanket). Make sure that the front knee stays stacked over the front ankle, in line with your centre toes . Draw back on the fingertips and open your chest forward, breathing into the stretch through the front of your left groin. Take to both sides.

If little cat friends decide to join you, welcome them. :)

If little cat friends decide to join you, welcome them. :)

Supported forward fold (Paschimottanasana): 10 – 20 breaths From a seated position, extend both legs out in front of you – you might choose to sit on a block to help release the pelvis and deepen the fold from the hips. Rest a bolster on your legs and fold forward, resting your torso along the length of the bolster.

Supported forward fold (Paschimottanasana): 10 – 20 breaths

From a seated position, extend both legs out in front of you – you might choose to sit on a block to help release the pelvis and deepen the fold from the hips. Rest a bolster on your legs and fold forward, resting your torso along the length of the bolster.

Supported wide legged forward fold (Upavistha Konasana): 10 - 20 breaths take the legs as wide as feels comfortable and use as many bolsters as necessary to support the posture with comfort and ease. the intention isn't to take the deepest expression of the pose but to find a place that enables a sense of release and relaxation.

Supported wide legged forward fold (Upavistha Konasana): 10 - 20 breaths

take the legs as wide as feels comfortable and use as many bolsters as necessary to support the posture with comfort and ease. the intention isn't to take the deepest expression of the pose but to find a place that enables a sense of release and relaxation.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana): 10 breaths each side. N.B. if you are working with any knee pain it’s best to avoid this posture unless you’re working with an experienced yoga teacher who can help you to modify appropriately. Take your left knee onto the floor behind your left wrist and shift the left foot to the right side of the mat (so that your heel is in front of the right groin) – keep the left foot active so that the top of the foot / little toe edge of the foot is gently rooting down into the mat. If your left sit bone is raised away from the floor slide a prop underneath it. Walk the right foot back in space to lengthen the pose, draw back on your fingers to extend through the spine and then release into a forward fold, resting your forehead on the earth or on top of a bolster. After 10 breaths come up and take the second side.

Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana): 10 breaths each side.

N.B. if you are working with any knee pain it’s best to avoid this posture unless you’re working with an experienced yoga teacher who can help you to modify appropriately.

Take your left knee onto the floor behind your left wrist and shift the left foot to the right side of the mat (so that your heel is in front of the right groin) – keep the left foot active so that the top of the foot / little toe edge of the foot is gently rooting down into the mat. If your left sit bone is raised away from the floor slide a prop underneath it. Walk the right foot back in space to lengthen the pose, draw back on your fingers to extend through the spine and then release into a forward fold, resting your forehead on the earth or on top of a bolster. After 10 breaths come up and take the second side.

Kurmasana: 15 - 20 breaths Take the outer edges of your feet together to create a diamond shape with your legs (with your heels about a foot and a half in front of your pelvis). Fold forward, gently rounding your back to bring your forehead over your insteps (maybe resting your forehead on your feet or on a bolster).

Kurmasana: 15 - 20 breaths

Take the outer edges of your feet together to create a diamond shape with your legs (with your heels about a foot and a half in front of your pelvis). Fold forward, gently rounding your back to bring your forehead over your insteps (maybe resting your forehead on your feet or on a bolster).

Reclining twist: 10 breaths to each side As above.

Reclining twist: 10 breaths to each side

As above.

Supported back bend: 20 - 30 breaths Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Raise your pelvis away from the floor and slide a bolster underneath the back of your pelvis (i.e. the flat bony part – not the lower back). Encourage a sense of release and relaxation through the arms and shoulders, keeping the back of the neck long.

Supported back bend: 20 - 30 breaths

Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet flat on the floor. Raise your pelvis away from the floor and slide a bolster underneath the back of your pelvis (i.e. the flat bony part – not the lower back). Encourage a sense of release and relaxation through the arms and shoulders, keeping the back of the neck long.

Savasana: 5 – 10 minutes Lying on your back, open the palms to the sky with your arms resting either side of your body. Extend and relax the legs, allowing the feet to drop to either side. Bending the knees slightly and sliding a bolster underneath them helps to release the lower back. Keep the back of the neck long and allow the breath to become soft and natural. Encourage the mind to stay focused on body and breath – if it takes a little detour, gently walk it back to the movements of the breath and to the sensations present through the body. 

Savasana: 5 – 10 minutes

Lying on your back, open the palms to the sky with your arms resting either side of your body. Extend and relax the legs, allowing the feet to drop to either side. Bending the knees slightly and sliding a bolster underneath them helps to release the lower back. Keep the back of the neck long and allow the breath to become soft and natural. Encourage the mind to stay focused on body and breath – if it takes a little detour, gently walk it back to the movements of the breath and to the sensations present through the body.