STORY BY SHELBY DEERING ✷ PHOTOGRAPHS BY JONAS JUNGBLUT
Achieving balance in our daily lives can be a tricky business. Sometimes there’s a little more yin than yang, or vice versa, and we’re left feeling depleted and frazzled instead of how we’d like to feel: refreshed and relaxed.
Although we can’t make your overstuffed inbox or that dreaded nightly commute disappear, we can provide you with these gratifying (and easy-to-do!) yoga moves, courtesy of our friend Heather Ruth, owner of Georgia’s Serenbe Yoga + Bodyworks.
Heather specializes in Restorative Yoga, teaching classes such as Yin Yoga and Restore and Stretch in her studio, along with her popular goat yoga classes. But it wasn’t always namaste and fuzzy, adorable critters for Heather. At one time, she was just as unbalanced as the rest of us. “My personal journey with yoga has been a long one, full of bumps and struggles, just like everyone else,” she says. “I worked in sales and marketing for a majority of my adult career. It left me tired and uninspired. I always tried to incorporate yoga in my life, but, just as we all do, I let the busy life take over and strayed from it from time to time.”
Here, Heather brings yoga into focus for all of us by sharing her best-loved moves for relaxation and energy.
Benefits: Encourages awareness of the breath, releases tension in the body.
Instructions: Start seated with knees bent. Slowly release legs out to opposite sides, allowing the soles of the feet to meet each other. On an exhale, allow the torso to fold forward, letting gravity pull you though a nice, gentle stretch. Ensure the head, neck, arms, and shoulders are fully softened and released. Also, relax the hips so that the legs relax out as much as possible. Clasp feet with your hands or allow the arms to gently drape forward.
Good to Know: This pose gets its name from a cobbler (as in, one who mends shoes), as the focus is on the soles of the feet coming together.
Cat Cow Pose
Benefits: Warms the body, brings flexibility to the spine, creates an energized feeling from hips to neck.
Instructions: Come to all fours. If you need extra knee support, add a blanket under your knees. Position your knees under your hips and your wrists under your shoulders. On your next inhale, relax the belly down, allowing the head to gently rise up. On your next exhale, arch the back up toward the sky, allowing the head to release down toward the earth. See-saw back and forth between these poses 5 to 10 times, remembering to focus on the breath.
Good to Know: This pose is a wonderful way to start each day, since the body gets stiff from long periods of rest. It gently awakens the tight places in the body, allowing for increased mobility.
PRO TIP: Cat cow pose is a great way to find emotional balance in the mind. For those with anxiety, focus less on the inhale portion and more on the exhale portion of the pose.
Forward Fold Pose
Benefits: Stretches tight hamstrings, releases lower back pain and tight shoulders.
Instructions: Begin seated with your legs extended out to the sides in a deep V-shape. You can sit on a folded blanket for added support. Place a bolster or stack of blankets in between your legs, directly in front of your torso. Start to slowly release the torso forward. Do not force yourself too far. Let your torso simply release forward, stopping where you can remain for a few minutes, allowing gravity to take over. If you cannot reach the bolster, place your elbows on it and rest your chin in your hands. Be sure the shoulders are softened and relaxed. Remain here for 2 to 3 minutes.
Good to Know: Forward fold is a great thing to do with a partner. Each person gets into the pose facing each other without props (the bolster or blankets) between them. Reach out and grab each other’s hands or forearms, then each person relaxes forward, one at a time. Think of your partner as a prop, helping you stretch forward.
Benefits: Calms the body, fights fatigue, relaxes all the muscles on the front of the body while gently and passively stretching the muscles on the back of the body.
Instructions: This move can be done with or without props. If you choose to use props, arrange them with a block on the highest side and with a bolster resting on the block perpendicularly. Come to all fours over the props. Untuck the toes so that tops of feet are resting on the floor and then slowly release the hips back toward your heels. Next, allow the torso to release down onto the bolster. Turn your head to whatever side feels most comfortable. Arms may be draped to the side of the bolster or threaded underneath the bolster, giving it a nice hug. Ensure shoulders and hips are fully released and relaxed. Remain here for 2 to 5 minutes, turning head to opposite side halfway through. If you’ve chosen to skip props, follow these same instructions.
Good to Know: In child’s pose, we create the shape of a baby resting, with our spine curved naturally like a fetus. Child’s pose is known to be the ultimate pose of surrender and release. It’s an effective self-soothing pose to feel calm, safe, and nurtured.
PRO TIP: Child’s pose is beneficial for the entire body, especially highs, ankles, and hips.
Open Shoulder Pose
Benefits: Releases tightness in the chest, neck, and shoulders.
Instructions: Begin either standing or on your knees, adding a blanket under your knees for added support if necessary. You can also rest the hips back toward your heels. Gently press your chest forward while releasing the shoulders back, feeling a slight lift of the chest. Bring your arms above your head, clasping your hands together. Ensure shoulders are relaxed and chest is open. Take 10 to 15 breaths here, while gently releasing the head from side to side and/or forward and down.
Good to Know: Our modern lives have created forward-hunching bodies as a result of extended hours staring at phone screens, computers, and time commuting in planes, trains, and automobiles. “Tech Neck Syndrome” is officially a medical diagnosis, with stretches such as this prescribed to overcome.
PRO TIP: This stretch is great to do often throughout the day.
Supine Twist Pose
Benefits: Stretches the side body, hips, shoulders, and lower back.
Instructions: Begin lying on your back. Bend one knee and hug the knee into the torso while the opposite leg is straight. Use your hands to gently guide the knee in 3 to 4 circles in each direction, loosening up the hip. Then, slowly guide the bent knee across the body and allow it to rest on a bolster and/or blanket. Bring arms out into a “T” and don’t worry if the opposite shoulder doesn’t rest all the way to the mat—just let it relax down in that direction. Relax fully in the neck, shoulders, hips, and side body. Remain here for 3 to 4 minutes, then repeat the same steps for the opposite leg, moving props to the opposite side.
Good to Know: Twists are one of the few ways we can give our internal organs a gentle massage, encouraging relaxation and thus aiding in digestion. It’s a great thing to do after your next big meal!