One day, after teaching several back-to-back lessons, you discover that you have 5 minutes before your next student arrives.
Five minutes! You could do anything!
When I find myself with unexpected extra time, I usually end up considering two competing activities.
Option 1: Check my email. Then check Facebook. Then Twitter. Then Instagram. Then my email again.
Option 2: Move through a gentle yoga sequence to relieve any aches and pains and energize my mind for the next lesson.
Sure, Option 1 is satisfying in a way.
But it definitely doesn’t prepare me to teach my best.
Option 2 requires a little more commitment on my part, but I never regret it.
Try this short yoga sequence during an unexpected break this week and see how it influences your teaching.
If you’re like me, you might find that you are more attentive and more sensitive to your students’ needs because you feel more focused and at ease.
A Short and Sweet Yoga Sequence
This sequence is perfect for those times when you only have a few minutes but you really need to loosen up and get energized. You can do it in dress clothes, casual clothes, or even a tuxedo (but you might want to take the jacket off…).
Since most of us sit when we teach and play, this sequence targets the areas that get tight while sitting. For that reason, it’s valuable for orchestra or wind ensemble musicians – great for backstage during rehearsal breaks.
Whether you are new to yoga or have been practicing for years, pay attention to how your body feels as you move. Move in and out of poses slowly and never push into pain or tingling. Remember to breathe deeply and steadily throughout the sequence.
Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana)
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
Inhale and lift your arms out to the sides, keeping them straight. Raise your hands over your head until your palms are parallel to each other.
If your shoulders are flexible, you may bring your hands together overhead. If that causes discomfort or you just aren’t feeling like pushing that hard today, feel free to leave a few inches between your upraised hands.
As you exhale, allow your shoulders to release away from your ears.
Remain for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing steadily. I often find myself holding a lot of tension in my torso, especially in my lats. This pose counteracts that tension and feels great after sitting for a while.
When you are ready to move on, exhale and bring your hands back down to your sides.
Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Exhale and slowly fold forward, hinging at your hips. If your hamstrings are tight, allow your knees to bend as much as they need to so that your belly rests on your upper thighs.
Inhale and come halfway up to Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana).
Exhale and gently fold back to Forward Bend.
Remain for 1-2 minutes, breathing steadily.
I find this pose particularly helpful when I need to relieve tension in my legs after sitting for long periods of time. Some days I only fold half way and others I spend several minutes fully folded. Listen to your body and determine what will make you feel the best.
When you are ready to move on, inhale and slowly rise back up to standing.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Step your right foot back behind you 3-4 feet.
Turn your right foot so your toes are pointing about 45 degrees to the right. Check that the entire outside edge of your foot if planted firmly into the ground. If not, step your right foot in a few inches. Keep your left foot facing straight out in front of you.
Now that your feet are set up, check that your hips are facing toward the front foot (left) and your shoulders are aligned above your hips. Both legs are still straight.
Exhale and bend your front knee (left). Keep your back leg (right) straight and the back foot on the ground. It’s OK if you only bend your knee a little bit.
Inhale and sweep your arms overhead. Feel free to bring the palms together overhead or leave a few inches of space between them. Look up toward your hands or keep your neck neutral and head upright.
Remain for 30 seconds to 1 minute, breathing steadily.
Inhale and straighten the front leg. Exhale and lower your hands back to your sides.
Step your feet back together.
Then repeat the pose on the other side. This time, step your left foot back. Your right knee will bend.
I started using this pose outside of yoga classes to stretch the front side of my hips. It’s great for that! But it also activates the glutes and gives you another chance to raise your arms over your head. Because this pose activates so many of the large muscles in your lower body, this pose gets the blood flowing and wakes you up if you’re feeling sleepy or unfocused.
Return to your chair and sit sideways on it (if that’s not possible, facing forward works fine, too).
Place both feet on the ground, either together or hips-width apart.
Inhale and sit comfortably, finding a neutral spinal alignment.
Exhale and turn your shoulders toward your left, keeping your hips grounded in the chair and feet planted on the ground.
If you are sitting sideways in the chair, bring your hands to the back of the chair as you turn. If your neck is flexible, turn your head to look over your left shoulder.
If you are sitting forward in the chair, bring your hands to the left arm of the chair or the outside of your left leg as you turn. If your neck is flexible, turn your head to look over your left shoulder.
Continue breathing deeply and remain in the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Inhale and come back to center. Exhale and repeat the pose on the other side.
This pose makes a huge difference when the muscles in my back feel tight or sore. Resist the urge to twist very far or pop your back. A simple, gentle twist works wonders.
Victorious Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama)
Pranayama is the yogic art of breathing. This breathing exercise slows your breathing, focuses your attention on the sound of your breath, and calms you for whatever you do next.
Imagine that you are fogging a mirror with your breath. The subtle “hhhhahhhhh” sound that you make when fogging a mirror is similar to the sound you make when practicing Ujjayi Pranayama.
Some people find it useful to imagine the sound of a seashell held up to their ear. Or if you’re a Star Wars fan you may imagine Darth Vader breathing very gently.
Breathe steadily through your nose.
Feel slight resistance to create the “ocean” sound.
Feel each inhale pulling the breath in and each exhale pushing the breath out.
Allow your focus to remain on your breath. If you find your mind wandering, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Continue breathing for 5-10 rounds, then return your breath to normal.
Yoga for Musicians: 5 Free Minutes
|Upward Salute||30 seconds-1 minute|
|Forward Bend||1-2 minutes|
|Warrior I||30 seconds-1 minute (each side)|
|Seated Twist||30 seconds-1 minute (each side)|
|Victorious Breath||1-2 minutes (5-10 rounds of breath)|
What’s your favorite stretch or yoga pose to use during short breaks? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
This is the first post in the Yoga for Musicians series. Keep an eye out for future posts!
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