Flex with Nikki Carter of Yoga to the People | Open Hips, Open Heart Yoga Tutorial

Date

January 14, 2017
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In the spirit of the new year, this is a short flow of poses that can be done in a few minutes, or repeated in cycles to move more deeply into the body and breath. Working into twists and the hips are great ways to energize the entire body, as they work with two of the largest and most central structures – the spine and pelvis. In the photos below, I also demonstrate some more advanced options. I’ve been doing yoga for a long time and if you’re new to the practice, it’s important to remember that we all come from different movement backgrounds. The goal of yoga practice is to find a mindful way to connect to your own body and experience, not what anyone else’s body or posture looks like. If you’re not sure where to start, paying attention to the breath is a great doorway into this moving meditation. Notice when the mind wanders, and choose to return your focus to your inhales and exhales. We’ll be moving with the breath throughout this flow.

1. DOWNWARD FACING DOG – ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA6-downward-dog-1200-800Let’s start briefly in an upper push up position, hands directly under the shoulders and feet about hips’ width apart. Once you’ve got hands and feet in place, take a big inhale and push the floor away, making more room between yourself and the floor. Exhale, soften the knees and press the hips up and back into a big upside down “V” shape. Keep a bend in the knees so that you can lift your hips as high as possible, drawing as much length as possible into the lower back. In the next few postures, we’ll be twisting through the lower spine, so we’ll use this pose as a neutral space to stretch out the back between twists.

Hold for five breaths. Inhales, push the floor away to activate your shoulders and hands. Exhales, energize the thighs up and back, lifting the hips and drawing length into the lower spine.

2. SIDE ANGLE POSE – UTTITHA PARSVAKONASANA5-side-angle-1200-800This is a great pose for toning the legs, glutes and obliques. The twist will help to open up the lungs and stimulate the spine and digestive system.

On an inhale, reach the right leg up into the air, you can take a moment here to bend the knee and stretch the hip out. On an exhale, step the foot through in line with your hands. If you need to, take a few steps to get it there or use your right hand to pick up your ankle and help your foot forward. Once you have the alignment, turn your left heel down to the ground so that if you look back, you have two heels in line like a letter “L.” Place your right hand down to the inside of your right foot, line up the heel of your hand with the heel of your foot. Inhale, and reach your left arm up into the air. Squeeze the back leg straight and check that the front knee is at a 90-degree angle, with the knee stacked over the ankle. Here, we find our first twist. The twist happens at both ends of the spine, so on your exhales focus on the lower body, pressing your back foot into the earth and rolling your back hip down towards the floor. On your inhales stretch the crown of the head further forward to create length, and roll your chest up to the ceiling as you stretch your arms in two directions. Stay here for five to ten breaths.

3. UPPER PLANK, LOWER PLANK, UPWARD FACING DOG, RETURNING TO DOWNWARD FACING DOG1-low-plank-1200-800From your twist, place your hands down, framing your front foot. From here, we’ll come into our vinyasa flow sequence. Step back into the push up position that you started in. Inhaling, pull your belly in tight and press away from the floor. Exhale and lower until your elbows bend to 90 degrees. Don’t lay down on the floor, but you can touch your knees down if you need extra support. For an extra challenge, lift your right leg off the floor with a straight knee and squeeze your glutes. Inhale, roll to the tops of your feet, lift your heart and look up for Upward Facing Dog. Press your feet down into the mat so strongly that your knees pop up and you hover between your hands and your feet.

2-upward-facing-dog-1200-800

For an extra challenge, bend your left knee, squeeze your glutes and draw the crown of your head and tips of your right toes closer together. On your exhale, return to downward facing dog and stay for five breaths. Repeat your Side Angle Lunge on the left side.

4. REVOLVED WIDE-LEGGED FOLD & WIDE LEGGED STRETCH – PARIVRTTA PRASARITA PADOTANASANA & SAMAKONASANA4-wide-legged-twist-1200-800Inhale and lift your right leg up. As you exhale, step the foot through in line with your hands. Turn your left heel down to the floor, as before, and again inhale your way up to standing. This time, bring your hands to your hips and straighten both legs. Turn the right toes to face the same direction as your left toes, so that you are now turned to the side and your feet are parallel. Inhale to stand a little taller, and as you exhale, draw your navel towards your spine and bend at your waist until your hands touch the floor. Start with bent knees to tip the pelvis forward, much like in your Downward Facing Dog. Focus on drawing space and not rounding into your lower back. Place the left hand down directly under your chest and as you inhale, reach your right arm up into the air, gazing past your fingertips. With your knees still bent, as you exhale, square your hips to the floor and lift your tail to unravel the lower spine. Inhales, grow longer through the crown of the head as you twist up towards your top hand. Stay for five to ten breaths. Maintain the navel to the spine to support the twist and the breath.

Bring both hands down to the ground for support, straighten your knees, and begin to walk your feet as far apart from one another as possible without bending the knees or over-straining the inner thigh adductor muscles. You are looking to feel a good stretch, but it should not overwhelm your ability to take deep breaths. You may also do this as a seated stretch if you prefer by sitting with legs as wide as possible and walking your hands as far forward as you can.

6-seated-wide-leg-stretch-1200-800

To come out, return to your standing forward fold with wide legs, exhale and place both hands on the hips and inhale to stand up. Turn the right foot again to the front of your mat, and place your hands down to frame the foot. Breathe your way through your vinyasa flow, and repeat on the left side

Repeat from beginning to end for as many repetitions as you like. Each repetition will bring more heat and benefits to the hips, lungs, spine, and core. When you are done, rest with your eyes closed in a seated position, or laying on your back in Savasana for ten breaths.

Photos by: Leonard Fong | Model: Nikki Carter