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Transitioning from the weekend to the work week is often harder than it seems. Between the stresses that emerge at the mere thought of our jobs, the seemingly futile efforts to achieve work-life balance, and the Sunday scaries, it can feel impossible to enjoy the start of a new week.
While the thought of self-care Sunday may not quite sound up your alley, taking the time to practice a few yoga poses for stress relief before going to sleep is an activity your body and mind are sure to find rewarding. Allow all of the negative emotions—from anxiety, to nerves, to stress—to flow away along with the tense muscles, clenched jaws, and general discomfort.
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Begin your practice with a full twist for your back. To start, inhale and sit up straight on the floor with both legs extended in front of you. Exhale, and hug one knee into your chest. Inhale, focusing on rooting the sitz bones to the ground and keeping the back straight; it helps to imagine you have a string running from your pelvis up through the top of your head. Relax your core muscles, exhale, and twist so that your elbow wraps around your knee. Look beyond the opposite shoulder. For a deeper stretch, bring the elbow to the outside of the knee. Inhale, and feel your back elongate even further. Exhale, and return to center. Repeat on the opposite side.
Remain seated on the floor. Place both legs in front of you, making the shape of a V. Bend the right leg, allowing the sole of the foot to rest on the inside of the left thigh while pressing the right shin into the floor. Inhale; extend the right arm toward the outstretched leg and reach the left arm out and up, toward the right foot. Exhale, and relax further into the stretch, focusing on keeping the left hip on the floor. Stay here for a minute or two to feel the stretch deeply. Repeat on the left side.
Lie flat on your back with your legs relaxed on the floor, palms facing upward, and fingers extended. Inhale as you lay in this position, trying to ground each vertebrae into the floor. Exhale, and draw both knees up toward the chest. Inhale to greet the left knee with the right hand, extending the left arm straight out to the left. Exhale, relax the belly and legs, and allow gravity to deepen the stretch. Take a few breaths, surrendering further to the stretch. Inhale; tighten the core muscles, and pull the knees back into the chest. Repeat on the opposite side. Exhale as you allow the feet to return to the floor.
Start with the back fully extended on the floor, knees bent, and feet flat on the earth. Inhale, and bring the heels in toward the sitz bones. Exhale, and cross the right ankle over the left knee, lifting the left heel off the ground. Inhale; reach both arms up to gently hold the left knee. Exhale while bringing the left knee closer into the chest, taking care to leave the head and shoulders rooted to the floor. Take a few breaths here. Exhale, and return both legs to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Flip onto the belly and extend the legs, keeping the feet hip-width apart. Exhale, and reach the arms straight above the head along the floor, palms facing inward. Inhale; lengthen the arms and legs, and lift them off the ground. Reach through the limbs, pressing the pelvis into the ground, tightening the core, lengthening the lower back and chest. Focus on stretching your body up and out (like taffy) while you take eight full breaths. Slowly exhale as you lower the body back to the floor. Rest for a few breaths, and repeat the pose three more times.
Lie flat on the belly, and exhale as you bend the knees and grab the ankles. Inhale, and press the belly and pelvis into the ground while lifting the shoulders and knees off the floor. Gaze forward and take six breaths here, deepening the stretch with every exhale.
Kneel on the floor, bending the knees so the big toes touch the floor and the heels are directly beneath the sitz bones. Separate the knees so they are hip-width apart. Exhale, and reach the torso out and over between the thighs. Place the arms next to the torso, with the palms facing upward and shoulders heavy toward the ground. Alternatively, you can extend the arms forward along the floor, keeping palms on the ground with the fingers outspread. Rest here for a few minutes. Inhale; lengthen and lift the torso from the tailbone.
Place the palms of your hands into the ground, tuck your toes, and push yourself into a standing position.
Come into a standing position with the big toes touching, heels slightly apart, toes spread on the mat, and palms facing forward in Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Inhale, and lift the arms above the head. Exhale; sweep the arms to the sides, bending forward from the hip joints and lengthening the spine away from the pelvis. Keep the knees straight as you reach the fingertips toward the floor. (You can also cross your arms and hold your elbows.) For a deeper stretch, wrap your palms around the back of your ankles, or touch your fingertips to the floor in front of your toes. Remain here for several breaths. With every breath, lengthen the spine and stretch deeper into the pose. Inhale while lifting the arms overhead, lengthening the back, and lifting the torso from the hip bones. Sweep the arms down to your sides with the palms facing forward, and return to Mountain Pose.
From Mountain Pose, make sure the toes are spread wide, and shift your weight slightly onto the right foot. Slowly lift the left foot off the floor, bend the left knee, and place the sole of the left foot on either the inside of the right knee or right thigh. Use your left hand to grab the ankle and pull it up further, until you find a position that provides a good stretch without discomfort. Inhale as you draw the palms together at the heart and suck the navel toward the spine, lengthening the spine up toward the sky and pressing the right foot further into the floor. Breathe here for one minute. Exhale when you release the left foot and return to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
Beginning in Mountain Pose, step your left foot back three to four feet, rotating the left leg and foot to the left until it is perpendicular to the right heel. Rotate the torso so it sits square above the pelvis. Adjust the left foot so that the arch is in line with the right heel, and ground your feet to the earth. Inhale as you lift the arms straight out to the sides. Exhale, and bend the right knee so it is directly above the right ankle. Take a few deep breaths in this position, keeping the left leg straight. Inhale; straighten the right leg. Exhale, and return to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
Starting in Mountain Pose, step the left foot back about three feet and rotate the torso to align with the pelvis, keeping the right foot turned out. Place your hands on your hips, and slightly turn in the left foot and hip, making sure the heels stay aligned. Inhale, and float the arms straight out. Exhale; reach the right arm down toward the right leg, bending the torso at the hip joint, and place the right hand on the outside of the right shin. Allow the left arm to reach up toward the sky (keeping it in line with the shoulders) as you rotate the torso to the left. Hold here for one minute. Inhale, pressing the left heel into the floor and sweeping the left arm up and out to return the torso to its upright position. Exhale, and return to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
End your practice with a nice, long stretch that will prepare you for the week ahead. Lie down on the floor with your tailbone up against a wall and your legs stretched up vertically along the wall. (With this passive pose, it is recommended that you use two folded-up blankets or a pillow to support the lower back.) Exhale, and press the shoulder blades into the ground and away from the spine. Inhale; float your arms about 45 degrees away from your torso, and rotate the palms to face upward. Stay here for 10 to 15 minutes, focusing on your breathing and pressing your body further into the floor and the wall with every breath. Exhale, and bend your knees so the soles of your feet are against the wall. Inhale as you lift your pelvis off the pillow or blankets and move the supports to either side. Exhale; lower your pelvis onto the floor and turn to the side. Take a few breaths here. When you feel ready, exhale and raise yourself up to a seated position.
Rachael Medina is the staff writer and content manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests of Humboldt C…
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