10 Yoga Poses for Back to School

Begin With Deep Breaths

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Whether you are heading to class yourself, sending your young adult off to college, or waving as the yellow bus takes your little ones to the local elementary, fall means back to school. It’s a time of transitions and uncertainty. Add in the change of season, and it’s not surprising that many people feel anxiety, stress, and upheaval around this time of year. To counter that unsettled feeling, a yoga practice of grounding poses helps root us to the present moment, accepting change as an inevitable part of life. If your kids are feeling worried about the new school year, you can include them in this practice. The breath work in particular is something they can learn as a calming technique that can be done anywhere, including at school. 

Equal Breathing

Begin by lying down on your back with your knees bent and soles of the feet on the floor. Bring your attention to your breath. When you feel anxious, your breath gets short and shallow. Lengthening and deepening the breath has a calming effect on your body. Inhale through your nose as you slowly count to four. Then exhale for a count of four. Keep inhaling and exhaling, keeping the count the same. You can try extending your count to five or six, as long as you keep it the same for the inhalations and exhalations. Take at least 10 breaths this way. This pranayama is called sama vritti or equal breathing. It can also be done in a seated position, so you can use this technique almost anywhere.

Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandrasana

Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana
Eye of the Needle Pose - Sucirandhrasana. © Ann Pizer

Stay on your back for the next pose as we begin to loosen up the hips. Cross your right ankle to your left thigh, then draw your left leg into your chest. Your right knee will move away from you as reach around to the back of the left thigh and draw that leg in. Alternately, you can hold the front of your left shin as shown. This is eye of the needle pose. If you want a little more opening, use your right elbow to nudge the right knee further away. Stay five breaths and then switch sides. 

Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasana

Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasan
Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasana. © Ann Pizer

Draw both knees into your chest and give yourself a hug. Then begin to rock and roll on your spine. After three or four rolls. see if you can get enough momentum to bring yourself up to stand with your knees bent. Try to come straight into utkatasana without using your hands on the floor if you can. When you get to a standing position, readjust your feet if necessary so that they are touching or parallel. Sink your butt low, edging your thighs toward parallel with the floor. Reach your arms out and up toward the ceiling. Make this a very low utkatasana, prioritizing the depth of your thighs, which will probably start to burn after a few breaths. After five breaths, straighten your legs and take an easy forward fold.

Dolphin Pose

Dolphin Pose
Dolphin Pose. © Ann Pizer

Step or jump your feet to the back of your mat. After a brief pit stop in downward facing dog, lower your forearms to your mat for a dolphin pose. After three to five breaths, drop your hips so that your body is in a plank position with the forearms on the mat. You may need to walk your feet back a bit to maintain good alignment with your hips. Keep your belly firm to support your spine. Give this pose another three to five breaths.

Sphinx Pose

Sphinx Pose
Sphinx Pose. © Ann Pizer

From forearm plank, just let your hips sag until they reach the floor and you are in a sphinx position. Uncurl your toes and turn the tops of the feet toward the floor. The shoulders should be over your elbows. Press into your forearms to keep your shoulders from inching up toward your ears. Stay at least five breaths.

Pyramid Pose - Parvsottonasana

Pyramid Pose - Parsvottonasana
Pyramid Pose - Parsvottonasana. © Ann Pizer

Press back into downward dog, then bring your right for forward next to your right hand. Step your left foot in a foot or so and turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle as you straighten your left leg. Come to a flat back on an inhale and then exhale to froward fold over your right leg in pyramid pose. Keep a microbend in your right knee so that you don't hyperextend. If your hands don't reach the floor, use blocks under them. After three to five breaths, lift your torso and turn your feet toward the back of your mat to do the pose on the other side.

Goddess Pose - Utkata Konasana

Goddess Pose
Goddess Pose. Peter Augustin/Stone/Getty Images

After you've done pyramid on both sides, turn to face the long left side of your mat. Turn both toes out about 45 degrees and bend your knees. Try to sink your butt directly toward the floor. Keep your knees wide as they may want to start to collapse inward. The thighs may come as close to parallel to the floor as you can maintain for five breaths. Then straighten your legs and take a few breaths before repeating goddess pose two more times.

Standing Strddle Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottonasana

Standing Straddle Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottanasana
Standing Straddle Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottanasana. © Ann Pizer

Turn your feet parallel to one another and straighten your legs. You may want to scoot your feet a little wider, but don't overdo it. Inhale the spine long and exhale to a standing straddle forward fold. Bend the knees one at a time, moving your hips from side to side fluidly. 

Side Lunge - Skandasana

After moving from side to side for a bit, bend your right knee so much that your butt comes close the floor. Turn your right toes out 45 degrees as your left foot slides to the left. Flex your left foot and press your heel into the mat. This is skandasana. You can keep your hands on the floor or bring them to anjali mudra in front of your heart. If you feel very stable, you can try a bind here, reaching the right arm in front of your right shin to bind with the left hand behind your back. After five breaths, come up and repeat your side to side movement a few times before doing the other side.

Head to Knee Pose - Janu Sirsasana

Janu Sirsasana
Janu Sirsasana. © Ann Pizer

From skandasana with the left leg bent, just let your butt come all the way down to the floor. Drop your left knee and tuck your left heel into your groin. Your right leg is extended straight on the floor with the foot flexed, toes up. Turn your torso so that it is oriented over the right left. Inhale the spine long and exhale to fold over the right leg. Stay five to ten breaths in janu sirsasana and then switch sides. 

Happy Baby - Ananda Balasana

Happy Baby Pose - Ananda Balasana
Happy Baby Pose - Ananda Balasana. © Ann Pizer

To finish, lie down on your back. Draw both knees into the chest and give them a hug. Then separate your knees and take hold of the outsides of your feet. Bring the shins perpendicular to the floor and pull down on the soles of your feet. Keep your sacrum flat on the floor. Take at least five breaths in happy baby pose before releasing the legs straight for a savasana. Feel the sensation of heaviness in all your limbs and imagine yourself melting into the ground as you relax. A folded blanket over your thighs and an eye pillow (see savasana props) help you feel weighted to the floor. 

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