Hilaria Baldwin is a yoga instructor, TODAY contributor and the author of "The Living Clearly Method." The following is an excerpt from her new book.
This sequence asks you to work, yes, but the primary focus is on letting go. This is often the hardest task of all. Ask yourself: How deeply can I sink into each pose? How much can I soften and release? Can I be selective about the effort I put into each pose? Can I learn to do as little as possible in order to rejuvenate and find calm? Throughout the sequence, pay specific attention to your breath; every exhalation is an opportunity to drop any tension you may be holding.
This sequence takes approximately 15 minutes.
Begin in Vajrasana, sitting back on your heels (you can always use a blanket or block to sit up on). Interlace your hands behind the base of your skull.
As you exhale, round your spine, bringing your elbows together and tucking your chin. Inhale open up toward the ceiling, bringing your elbows wide and your chin up, taking a slight back bend. Exhale round your spine, looking down toward your belly button. Inhale look up, arching your back with your elbows wide.
Exhale tuck and curl, rounding your spine. Inhale open up. Exhale close, releasing through the back of your neck. Take 10 rounds of breath.
Come onto all fours, moving into Cat Cow. Inhale arch your back into Cow. Exhale round your spine coming into Cat. Take five rounds of breath.
Inhale transition into neutral spine. Exhale come into Downward Facing Dog. Pedal your feet from right to left, waking up the backs of your legs. (The idea is to focus on places where you hold a lot of tension, creating movement in them and expecting release.) Take five rounds of breath, expanding with the inhalation and letting go with the exhalation.
Inhale your right leg up. Downward Facing Dog Split. Exhale, step your foot between your hands, drop your back knee down to your mat, and inhale into Low Crescent Pose, taking your hands to your front leg. Untuck your back toes (if this is too intense for your back knee, you can fold up your mat under your knee or use a blanket). Exhale bring your pelvis forward to feel a deep stretch in the front of your left hip (the psoas/hip flexors). Take five rounds of breath.
Inhale, hook your thumbs, and raise your hands above your head. Exhale your hands to the floor, framing the front foot. Inhale tuck your back toes under and transition into Downward Facing Dog Split. Exhale open your hip up. Inhale extend your leg long, squaring off your hips. Exhale step your right foot between your hands. Inhale look forward with a strong back leg.
Exhale pop your left knee behind your right ankle and sit down for Seated Spinal Twist. Inhale place your right hand behind your body next to your tailbone while reaching your left arm above your head. Exhale twist to the right, hooking your left elbow to the outside of your right thigh. With every inhale, relax your shoulders and lift through your spine. With every exhale, twist more deeply into the pose. Take five rounds of breath. Inhale, unravel, coming to face the center. Exhale counter twist in the opposite direction. Inhale come back to the center.
Exhale swing your right leg behind you into Pigeon Pose on the left side. Bring your left knee over to the left side of the mat, squaring off your hips and lengthening your right leg long behind you. (You can always place a blanket or block under the left hip or under the hip flexor of your right leg for support. This will prevent your body from tensing up, creating the ideal balance between challenge and ease, which leads to greater release.) Exhale release down.
Note: As soon as you’ve settled in a pose, it’s natural to think about what’s coming next. But staying in intense poses gives you an opportunity to think about what parts of your body you are using and what parts you are able to release. Remember, every single inhale gives you a chance to expand and notice tension and every exhale allows you to release.