You've decided to try yoga to complement and improve your golf game. You attend class once a week, enjoy it, and think it's working. But is that enough? Should you be practicing at home, and if so, what poses and how much time is it going to take?
The good news is, even though your weekly class is an hour, your home practice doesn't have to be anywhere near that long. Think of it in terms of your golf game and how you practice. Would you be better off going to the range on Saturday for 6 hours, or every day for an hour? What would improve your short game more: spending 20 minutes/day at home on a makeshift putting surface or 90 minutes one time at the club? It's the same with yoga; a consistent short practice done a few times a week will benefit you far more than a single long practice done just once a week.
Here is a simple 15-20 minute home practice that will move all the joints and stretch and work the major muscle groups of the body. Adjust according to the time you have and your own physical limitations.
Start by lying on your back. Take a minute to get centered; slow down your breath and arrive fully on your mat. Let go of the day's events, or worries about future tasks. Give yourself 15 minutes to focus on this one thing.
Expanded Leg Stretch. Hug the right knee in toward the chest. Hold for 2-3 breaths, pulsing the knee in and out or moving it gently from side to side or in small circles. Then clasp the hands behind the leg, at the largest part of the hamstring muscle. As you inhale, extend the right heel toward the ceiling, straightening the leg any amount (leg does NOT have to straighten all the way). As you exhale, re-bend the knee. Move like this for 4-5 breaths, then hold the extended leg stretch for 4-5 breaths. Switch sides.
Figure 4 Pose. Bend both knees and place the soles of the feet on the mat hip-width distance apart, with the knees stacked over the heels. Cross the right ankle over the left thigh. Take one arm on either side of the left leg, and clasp the hands behind the leg. Use the hands to draw the legs toward
you. Keeping the right foot flexed (toes drawing back toward the knee), gently encourage the right knee toward the front of your mat. Hold for 6-8 breaths, then switch sides.
Windshield Wipes. Bring the soles of both feet to the mat and take the feet wide, so that they are at the edges of your mat. Take the arms out to "T" at shoulder height. As you exhale, drop both knees over to the right, inhale to bring them back to center. Exhale, drop both knees to the left, inhale back to center. Repeat this movement with the breath 3-5 times each side, then hold the twist on each side for 3-5 breaths.
Come up to a comfortable seat, sitting on the edge of 1 or 2 folded blankets to keep the spine long. Cross the legs at the ankles or shins, or stretch them out in front of you.
Sun Breaths. As you inhale, reach the arms out to the sides and overhead, with the palms facing up. As you exhale, flip the palms to face down and lower the hands by the sides. Repeat this movement 3-5 times.
"Eagle" Arms. Take the arms out to the sides in a "T" position. Bring the arms in front of you and cross the right arm under the left. Reach for opposite shoulder blades, broadening across the upper back. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then take the arms wide and repeat with left arm under right.
PRONE (HANDS AND KNEES) POSTURES
Make your way to hands and knees, bringing a blanket or other padding under the knees if they are sensitive. Stack your hips over your knees and your shoulders over your wrists. Take your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart, point your index fingers straight ahead and spread your fingers wide.
Cat/Cow: On an exhale, press down into your palms, draw your navel up toward your spine and
your chin toward your chest, rounding the spine like an angry cat. As you inhale, drop the belly toward the floor (like a cow), lift your tailbone toward the ceiling, and reach your chest forward. Repeat 5-6 times.
Tricky Cat. Bring your spine to neutral (between cat and cow). Reach the right leg behind you and lift it up just to the height of the hip, parallel with the floor. Point the kneecap and the toes straight down. Straighten the leg, reaching back through the heel. If you feel stable here, engage the core muscles and reach the left arm forward, hovering the bicep next to the ear, with the thumb up toward the ceiling. Hold for 2-3 full breaths. Switch sides (left leg back, right arm forward).
Puppy Pose. From hands and knees, keep the hips lifted, stacked over the knees, and walk the hands forward at shoulder width distance apart, toward the front of your mat. Allow the chest to drop between the shoulders, placing the forehead on the mat or a block or book.
Downward Facing Dog. Walk the hands back until the wrists are just in front of the shoulders. Tuck the toes under and lift the hips toward the ceiling, forming an inverted "V" shape with the arms and legs. Keep the knees slightly bent. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Standing Forward Bend/Half Standing Forward Bend. From Down Dog, walk the hands back to
the feet or the feet up to the hands, whichever is easiest for you. Bend the knees and allow the torso to drape over the legs. Place the fingers on the mat, on your shins, or cross the arms and reach for opposite elbows. Round the spine evenly and relax the neck completely, dropping the crown of the head toward the mat. Hold 3-5 breaths, then inhale to lift halfway up, bringing the palms to the thighs, reaching the spine long. Feel the muscles along the spine engage and the shoulder blades draw toward each other on the upper back. Exhale, fold back over your toes. Repeat 3 times, then bring yourself all the way up to stand.
Mountain Pose. The quintessential yoga pose, not "just standing there." Feet are "hip width distance" apart (think, distance of two fists) and parallel with each other and the sides of the mat. If this does not feel stable, you can take the feet a little wider apart. Press down firmly through the big toe mounds, the baby toe mounds, and the heels of both feet. Tone the quadricep muscles, lifting the kneecaps away from the mat. Tone the belly slightly, lift the chest, lift up through the crown of the head, so that the chin is parallel with the mat. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Warrior 2 & Triangle Pose. Turn to face the long edge of your mat and take the feet into a wide
stance (take the arms out to "T," line the wrists up over your ankles, or close). Turn the right toes so that they point to the short edge of the mat, then turn the back toes in slightly. Bend the right knee, stacking the knee over the ankle. If the knee is moving forward of the ankle, move the foot forward until the right shin is straight up and down. Draw the right knee out so that it is pointing over the middle toes. Straighten the back leg, pressing down into the heel and outer edge of the left foot. Reach the arms away from each other. Hold for 5-6 breaths, then straighten the right leg, reach forward through the right arm and side of the body, eventually bringing the hand down to a block or book outside the right calf. Hold Triangle Pose for 5-6 breaths. Come up to Warrior 2, pivot on the feet 180 degrees and take both poses on the left side.
Tree Pose. Come back to mountain pose facing the front of the mat. Shift the weight to the right leg,
lift the left heel away from the mat, and turn the left leg out from deep within the hip socket. Either stack the left heel above the right ankle, keeping the ball of the foot on the floor, OR bring the sole of the left foot to the inside of the right leg, above or below the knee (do NOT press the foot into the knee joint). Hands on hips, palms together at heart center, or reach the arms overhead. Hold for 5 breaths and switch sides.
Return to your back. Reach the feet toward the front corners of the mat and allow the feet and the legs to fall away from each other. Take the arms a comfortable distance from the body and face the palms up. Close the eyes and let everything relax for a minute, two minutes, or as long as you have. Release all effort. This is the most important pose of your entire practice.