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A Stretchy Yoga Flow to Help You Recover from That Long-Ass Reading Session

You know that feeling you get when you’ve been reading for hours and hours and hours and you can’t bring yourself to stop reading but, at the same time, your body feels like a metal folding chair that’s been left out in the rain so long you can’t fold it anymore? So you just throw it in the shed and forget about it until next season?

No? Just me?

I don’t know if it’s because I’m 40 but, if I’ve been reading for a while, I start to feel so stiff. And so, I put a bolster beneath my knees and I prop my book up against a small pillow that’s in my lap and I place a weighted bookmark across the pages so I don’t have to tire out my wrists and I lean back against eleventy thousand pillows arranged in a complicated configuration so that I feel completely supported and yet… and yet…

I still end up with achy wrists and a tense neck and shoulders and a lower back that feels as if it will collapse the next time I stand.

Book marathoning is a high-impact sport, you guys.

Luckily, despite this broken body of mine, I’m also a yoga instructor. And so I know a thing or two about how to gently rock one’s aching joints back into serviceability.

I suspect that some of you are intense readers, too. So consider this gentle post-reading flow my holiday gift to you.

You can scan through these pose-by-pose instructions, do the ones that call to you, and discard the rest. Or, conversely, you can watch the entire video at the bottom of this post and follow along with me. Onward!

Sukhasana / Easy Seat

Before you start moving, come to a comfortable, cross-legged position on your yoga mat… the floor… your bed. Wherevs! In order to help keep the pelvis tilted forward, the knees below the hips, and the spine long, you may want to sit up on the edge of a pillow, a bolster, or a folded-/rolled-up blanket.

Then, sit tall, un-kinking that spine of yours, letting it stretch out. Lengthen your neck. Let the crown of your head reach up toward the ceiling. Allow your hands to rest on your knees, close your eyes, and begin to pay attention to your breath.

Breathing in and out through the nose, start to lengthen out every inhale and every exhale. I like to think that I’m breathing in the good shit and breathing out the bullshit, and that my body and my mind soften a little bit more with every exhale. When you feel you’re breathing in as deeply as you can, see if you can make your exhales even longer than your inhales. Before, your mind was all over the damn place, thinking about how goddamn awesome that historical feminist sci-fi novel was that you just read. Now, your mind is quiet(er).

sukhasana

Seated Cat/Cow

If your legs are feeling all tingly and numb because you’ve been sitting for a while, uncross them, shake ’em on out, and re-cross them with the other leg in front. Then, we’re going to work on matching breath and movement.

On every inhale, draw your heart forward and your shoulders back, your gaze coming up toward the ceiling. Feel your shoulder blades draw toward each other on your back and your front shoulders open. On every exhale, round everything in, feeling your back stretch. Move back and forth between these two poses, following the pace of your breath.

seated cat/cow

Wrist Circles

Holding a book aloft for an extended period of time is HARD. Bring your wrists to touch and, keeping them connected, roll your hands toward you for a few cycles, and then away from you. (P.S. Why do I look so mad in these photos? Was my favorite character killed?)

wrist circles

Eagle Arms

You’re going to thank me for this one. Inhale your arms wide and, on the exhale, swoop your right arm under your left, wrapping the arms until your palms are (maybe almost) touching. If this feels impossible, let the backs of your hands reach toward each other. Then draw your elbows up until they’re in line with your shoulders and bring the hands away from your face so that you’re making a right angle with your arms. And here’s the magic part: Draw your shoulders back and away from each other and finally stretch that middle part of your upper back that you were always unable to stretch before.

Hold this for a few breaths before releasing the arms and shaking them out. Then do it all again, this time swooping the left arm under your right.

eagle arms

Wide-Legged Forward Fold Flow

Bring the legs wide in a V. Sit up tall and, leading with your heart, walk the hands forward into a forward fold. With every inhale, find more length in the spine. With every exhale, sink deeper, getting that delicious stretch in your lower back that you’ve been craving.

wide-legged forward fold

After a few breaths here, walk your hands and your torso over toward your right leg. Allow your right arm to rest inside your right leg, bring your left hand to your left hip, lengthen the spine and twist the torso up toward the ceiling. If you’d like, you can bring that left arm up and over your ear, reaching toward the toes. Listen to your body. Do whatever the hell feels good to you.

After a few breaths there, come back through center and walk toward the left leg, letting the left arm relax inside the left leg, placing the right hand on the right hip, and twisting open toward the ceiling. Again, choose whichever arm variation you’d like.

Extra Credit: Flow from side to side, moving through the center on each exhale, opening up to one side on the inhale, then moving back through the center on the exhale and opening up to the other side on the inhale. Repeat this for as long as you’d like.

seated hand to toe pose

Seated Forward Bend

Lengthen out both legs in front of you, with your feet flexed. Sit up tall, inhale your arms up overhead, and then fold forward, letting the hands fall wherever the heck they fall. We can’t all reach our toes, and that’s okay! Instead of trying to get your head down to your knees, imagine that your heart is reaching out past your feet. Hopefully, this will help to stretch out your lower back.

seated forward fold

Cat/Cow

Criss-cross-applesauce those legs again — but only for a moment! — and roll forward onto all fours. Plant your knees hips’ width apart and plant your hands directly beneath your shoulders with your fingers spread wide. This will be just like what we did before when we were seated. On every inhale, drop your belly toward the ground, drawing your heart forward and your shoulders back, bringing your gaze up toward the ceiling. On every exhale, round like a Halloween cat. Move back and forth at the pace of your own breath.

cat/cow

Puppy Pose

Keeping your hips where they are, begin to walk your hands forward, eventually coming to rest on your forehead. Depending upon how tight the various parts of your body are feeling, you may feel a stretch in the shoulders, in the side body, and along the entire length of your spine. Fingers crossed, right?

puppy pose

Child’s Pose with Side Stretches

Walk your hands back toward you.  Bring your knees wide and your toes together and sit your hips back toward your heels. Reach your arms forward. Let your torso melt toward the floor. After a few breaths here, walk your hands over to the right, reaching just a little bit farther with your left hand until you feel a nice stretch up the left side body. After lingering there for a few breaths, walk the hands back through center and over to the other side, reaching just a little bit farther with your right hand until you feel a nice stretch up the right side body. Consider living there forever.

child's pose

Rag Doll and Roll-Up

Come to stand with your feet about hips’ width apart and fold forward, letting the knees be soft, especially if those hamstrings are feeling tight. Grab opposite elbows and hang there like a rag doll, perhaps swinging from side to side. When you’ve had enough of that, release your elbows, bend your knees slightly, and slowly roll up to stand, vertebra by vertebra, letting your head come up last. Roll your shoulders back a few times. Why not? Feels good, right?

rag doll

Sun Breaths with Side Bends

From that standing position, inhale the arms out and up, reaching toward the ceiling.

sun breath step 1

Clasp your thumbs and, on an exhale, side bend to the right. Inhale to center, exhale to the left.

sun breath step 2

Inhale to center and, on an exhale, swan dive forward, leading with your heart, ending up in a forward fold.

sun breath step 3

Inhale to a flat back, bringing your hands to your shins, drawing your shoulders back, and reaching the crown of your head forward.

sun breath step 4

Exhale to fold again. And on an inhale, reverse that swan dive, leading with your heart, bringing the arms out and up toward the ceiling. On an exhale, bring the hands back down to heart center.

You can repeat this sequence as many times as you’d like. I love to do these in the morning because they help to wake up the entire body, stretching out the back and hamstrings and energizing my half-conscious self.

sun breath step 5

Bridge Flow

Come to lie on your back with the soles of your feet planted about hips’ width apart and your arms resting alongside your body. Scootch those heels back toward your butt so you could maybe even tickle them with your fingers.

Then, on an inhale, press the hips up into the air while simultaneously reaching your arms up overhead. On the exhale, bring the hips back down — moving vertebra by vertebra — while simultaneously bringing the arms back alongside the body. Flow back and forth between these two poses, moving at the pace of your own breath. Try to let the movement last as long as the breath.

When you’ve had enough, draw your knees in toward your chest and rock from side to side, giving your spine a little massage.

bridge flow

Reclined Pigeon into Spinal Twist

Plant the soles of your feet down again, hips’ width apart. Cross your left ankle over your right knee, clasp your hands behind your right thigh, and draw your legs toward you. Flex both feet. Reach your right knee gently toward your right shoulder.

After a few breaths, release the legs down, cross the left leg over the right even more, bring your arms out to either side in either a T or a cactus shape, and let your knees fall to the right into a spinal twist. If it feels okay on the neck, you can also bring your gaze over the opposite shoulder. Take a few breaths there before unwinding and then doing it all over on the other side.

Cross your right ankle over your left knee, clasp your hands behind your left thigh, and draw your legs toward you. Flex both feet. Reach your left knee gently toward your left shoulder.

After a few breaths, release the legs down, cross the right leg over the left even more, bring your arms out to either side, and let your knees fall to the left, perhaps bringing your gaze over the right shoulder. Again, take a few breaths there before unwinding.

reclined pigeon into spinal twist

Savasana

We’re on the home stretch here! Lie on your back for the final relaxation pose. You might want to place a bolster or a rolled-up blanket beneath your knees, just to relieve tension in your lower back. Let your arms rest alongside your body and then close your eyes, letting everything grow heavy and letting the mind rest with the breath.

savasana

When you feel refreshed, you can bring gentle movement back into your body, draw your knees toward you and roll over to one side, and then press yourself up to sit. And you’re done!

If you’d like to, you can also follow along with the video below. And once you’re done? Well, your body’s feeling all loosey-goosey again, right? Why not start another book? 😉

If you enjoyed this video, I’d love to practice with you again! I teach a donation-optional class on Sunday mornings, so feel free to reach out to me for that Zoom link.

Happy reading, everyone!

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Guardian, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.

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