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This past year I’ve really struggled with establishing a solid morning routine. Between waking up and leaving the house for work–with a shower/hair/makeup routine somewhere in the middle–I’ve experimented with doing hip-strengthening PT exercises, practicing therapeutic yoga DVDs, sitting in meditation for at least 10 minutes, committing to 10 sun salutations (5 A, 5 B), reading books while walking around the park, meditating with alternating mudras, and dancing around the living room in my pajamas.

Regardless of which activity I choose, the key is that I warm up as soon as I wake up. Even on my wedding day more than 7 years ago, I woke up at 6 a.m. and, before I headed off to the hairdresser, rolled around in my underwear, stretching and loosening up my limbs. I don’t consider myself “creaky” yet, but as I move into my 30s I am more aware of that car-in-the-winter feel that sets in overnight. Starting a day without stretching is like heading off to work without brushing my teeth–terribly icky and not recommended.

After doing the Kripalu yoga video the other day and being reacquainted with pratapana (Kripalu’s version of “warming up”), I was also reminded about the importance of going through the 6 movements of the spine before engaging in any other movement. The spine is that what holds us all together, and giving it the proper warm up will enable all other limbs to kick in gear.

The great thing about these movements is that they can be adapted for people comfortable being on the floor, those who wish to stay seated, and for others who prefer standing. Whatever variation I choose, I do about 5 to 10 of each movement.

Seated variation (can be done in easy/hero pose or in a sturdy chair)

Part A. Extension/flexion

Spinal extension

Spinal flexion

 Part B. Lateral (side-to-side) movement

A beautiful C to one side...

...and on the other.

Part C. Twists

Wring it out, like a wet sponge!

Other side, different angle (from which you can see the severity of my hypermobile elbow joints).

Floor variation (for those comfortable on hands and knees)

Part A. Extension/flexion

The well-known "cat" pose

...followed by dog/cow pose.

Part B. Lateral movement

Keeping the spine in one plane, curve head, shoulders, spine, and hips into a "C" on one side

...and then the other. Try not to raise the head to look back at hips.

Part C. Twists

Slide arm under chest while turning head in that direction. No need to settle in this warm-up; I just let my head tap the floor and draw up to move to other side.

Be sure to keep hips over knees!

Standing variation (great for adding hara breaths)

Part A. Extension/flexion

Extend up to sky, slight backbend, chest lifted. (inhale)

Drop down, swinging arms behind hips. Give a big sigh on the descent! (exhale-HA!)

Part B. Lateral movement

Bend to one side, letting that arms slide down leg. Draw other arm up to armpit, like a monkey. Hara breath can be done during the drop; inhale while drawing back up to center.

Increase the speed/breath to create more heat.

Part C. Twists

Imagine your arms are empty coatsleeves. Gently swing them back and forth as you twist side to side, one wrapping in front of body, the other behind. Exhale HA! at final point of twist; inhale while swinging back through center.

I always picture myself as a washing machine agitator during this movement.

Since last week, I’ve been mindful of starting each morning with those 6 movements, and the end results feel pretty darn good. Most mornings I do all three sets, starting with the floor exercises and working my way up to standing. Incorporating the deep hara breaths really gets things warmed up and opens up my chest, throat, nose, and mouth, clearing the path for the pranayama practice that follows. The spinal movements open up the space between each vertabra, thus opening the pathways for greater energy/prana flow.

I’ll show you the remainder of my morning routine in a future post. Until then, remember to brush your teeth, wash your face, and move your spine!

My coworker/5Rhythms classmate left yesterday for a yoga nidra workshop at Kripalu. A whole week of savasana…now that’s a relaxing retreat!

Instead of being insanely jealous about her vacation, I decided to bring a little bit of Kripalu into my own Sunday morning. About a week ago, Kripalu uploaded a video of a full-length moderate yoga class to its YouTube channel. This was a wonderful surprise, because up until then most of the videos were just short yoga breaks or interviews with staff/experts. This class was an hour long; led by one of Kripalu’s leading men, Devarshi (Steven Hartman); and had all the elements of an authentic Kripalu yoga class offered at the actual center. I spread out my yoga mat on the living room floor, opened the blinds to let in the sunlight, and began.

The class started with one of my favorite pranayama exercises: alternate nostril breath. Sadly, not many classes I attend at home dedicate time solely to breathwork, so I was thrilled to sit and focus on my inhalations and exhalations. I honestly believe that starting practice with focused breathing brings everything to center and really gets the mind, body, and spirit connected before moving on. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a Kripalu yoga class that doesn’t start with pranayama, and some end with it as well!

Many of the pratapana (warm-up) movements involved hara breaths, which means taking deep inhalations through the nose and strong, forceful exhalations through the mouth, while saying “Ha!” We did this during the “empty coat sleeves” twist, monkey arms side bends, and while sweeping the arms overhead (inhale) and then collapsing down (Ha!). The breath, the vocals, and the invigorating movement warmed me up instantaneously, and I felt a nice, warm juiced-up vibe flowing within me. At one point, I even remember thinking, “Man, I feel good!”

Another Kripalu trademark is long posture holds, which made its appearance during a simple standing position. Devarshi instructed us to hold our arms to the side in a T, palms facing out. Sounds simple, right? But then we held it. And held it. And continued holding our arms out. We made small circles going one way. Small circle in the other direction. Devarshi encouraged us to think positive thoughts (“My arms are strong!”) rather than the negative thoughts that first come to mind (“This is haarrrrddd!”). We breathed through it, relaxing and smiling into the stretch. There is such a fine line between wanting to give up and finally getting over that mental block of a hump and being OK with the warm sensations running through the chest, shoulders, arms, and hands, maybe actually enjoying it.

One of my favorite postures of the practice turned out to be one of most dreaded poses: utkatasana, chair pose. But the way Devarshi eased us into it–first just a slight bend at the knee, add a little bounce, arms loose, wrists relaxed–felt natural and tolerable. The best part was when he adding a little “snap” to the pose, guiding us to snap our fingers and sway our hips side to side, like a number in a Bob Fosse show. Holy crap, was I actually enjoying this rather long hold of utkatasana?!

There were no fancy poses, not even a single downdog, but the sequencing, languaging, and contemplative/meditative nature of the Kripalu practice made me remember why I trained in this style in the first place and that a yoga practice doesn’t need 25 sun salutations to feel “real.” After savasana, an om, and a triple shanti, Devarshi closed the class with a “jai bhagwan,” which totally brought a smile to my lips because it reminded me of every single yoga class at Kripalu, where “jai bhagwan” totally trumps “namaste.”

So if you’re ever stuck at home and don’t have time for a studio class, I wholeheartedly recommended this little gem of a YouTube video, especially if you’re familiar with the Kripalu style or curious about what a typical Kripalu class is like. The only thing missing was being able to roll up my mat; step outside for a deep breath of that cool, crisp Berkshire Mountain air; and enjoy my silent breakfast surrounded by other blissed-out yogis.

Instead, I poured my morning coffee in the black Kripalu mug that got me through all 28 days of training and enjoyed my breakfast next to the sunflowers from this weekend’s farmers market. Not quite a mountain retreat but I felt just a little closer to home.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!



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