One of the most beautiful things about yoga is how it can support our needs any moment of our day. Yoga is always about the relationship between active and receptive. Sometimes we want to balance these qualities and other times we want to bring one into prominence.
Here is a short sequence of evening yoga that is designed to help you relax as the day winds down. Try to do this practice before your evening meal or at least two hours after a light dinner. The evening yoga sequence focuses on opening the shoulders and easing the lower back – areas that accumulate tension in daily life.
Sit on a cushion or folded blanket with your legs crossed, with your knees closer to the floor than your hips. You may need to sit on a bolster or put blocks under your thighs. Let go of ambition for the moment and just get as comfortable as possible.
Close your eyes and tune in to the sensation of your natural breathing, just as it is right now. No need to change anything. Just connect to the feeling - not thought or visualization - but the actual feeling of your breath.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Breath in through your nose and exhale through your nose.
Then breath in through your left nostril for 5 counts and exhale out of your right nostril for 5 counts. Repeat this two more times. In left, out right, in left, out right.
Now reverse - breath in through the right nostril for 5 counts and out the left nostril for 5 counts. Repeat this two more times.
You can use your fingers to block the opposite nostril but you don’t have to do that. It is also nice to place your mind on the breath as you breathe through alternate nostrils. This is a way to gather your mind and body together through the vehicle of the breath.
Explore how you can make your breath be quiet and refined. Do not make it loud or forceful.
Slowly open your eyes and see what is in front of you, letting your eyes ground you in your environment.
Sama Vritti/Equal Breathing and Movement
On an inhale, lift your arms out and up alongside your ears. Exhale, arms down. Repeat this vinyasa 5 times.
Seated Twist and Hug
Inhale your arms up alongside your ears, and as you exhale, twist to the right. Place your left hand on your right knee and your right hand on the floor behind you. Turn your head all the way to the right and notice what you are looking at.
Slowly turn your head back to face forward. Lift your right arm and swing it around in front of you, other arm underneath it, so that you are now hugging yourself.
Take a moment to feel how this opens your upper back - ahhh…
On an inhale, lift your elbows and arms up as if you were taking off your t-shirt. Then exhale as you twist to the left. Gaze all the way to the left.
Lift your back arm, swing it around and hug yourself once again, making space between your shoulder blades.
Do the “take off your t-shirt” movement once again and keep your arms moving in a backstroke, circling all the way around behind you and forward until your palms land flat on the floor in front of you.
Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog
Shift forward onto your hands and knees. Inhale and on an exhale, unfold into Downward Facing Dog. Having your head lower than your hips relaxes your brain. Stay in this position for 5 quiet, deep breaths through the nose, nice and even.
On an exhale, lower your knees to the floor and sit in vajrasana. Slowly gather your palms together in prayer hands. Feel the very moment they touch.
Rub your hands together rapidly. Make some heat in your palms and cup them over your face. Drink in the warmth. Slowly let your palms drip down your body arriving at the tops of your thighs. Press down with just the weight of a dime, stimulating the Apana or downward moving wind, which relates to letting go, grounding and relaxing.
Viparita Karani/Legs Up the Invisible Wall
Swing your legs around and lie down on your back. One at a time, extend your legs up the ceiling. If you can straighten your legs, great. If not, it’s ok for them to bend. If this is at all stressful, place a small cushion or folded blanket under your sacrum.
Circle your feet 8 times in each direction. This moves the lymph fluid which tends to stagnate in your ankles. Take your time. Can you be interested in all the sensations that arise in the nooks and crannies of your ankles?
Now, drop your heels down to your sitting bones. Slowly, one at a time lower your feet to the floor. Take a moment here to feel the floor moving up to hold you.
Gather your knees into your chest. Extend your arms out in a T-shape. On an exhale, let your knees fall to the left. If they don’t touch the floor, put a blanket or block under them. Stay here for a few breaths.
Inhale and roll onto your back. Exhale your legs over to the right. Stay here for a few breaths.
To come out of this pose on this side, place your left palm on the floor. Press down to round up to sitting, letting your head dangle and be the last thing to come up.
Savasana Variation/Stone Henge
Gather two blocks and a bolster. Or you can use a stack of blankets or two bolsters.
Lie down on your back and place your lower legs on top of the bolster. Make sure your hips are close enough to the bolster that you can keep a soft bend in your knees. Your feet can be hip width apart.
Slide a folded blanket under your neck and head. Lengthen your arms down your sides, hands about a foot away from your body.
Making time for an evening yoga practice can be challenging. As you take yourself through these simple stretches and restorative yoga poses, you’ll notice that without even trying, you’ll ease the tension—physical as well as psychological—and settle into the mood for sleep.
Cyndi Lee is the first female Western yoga teacher to fully integrate yoga asana and Tibetan Buddhism in her practice and teaching. Founder of NYC’s OM yoga Center (1998-2012), she is now an ordained Zen Buddhist Chaplain and primarily teaches Meditation Trainings and Buddhist retreats all over the world. She is the author of Yoga Body Buddha Mind and May I Be Happy. Her newest offering, the OM Online Meditation Sangha will be launching in January, 2023. Learn more at cyndilee.com