You might not have time to make a Bikram class this week, but you can easily fit in this quick and Zen-ful routine. All you need is 30 minutes to feel the om.
We totally get it: Your weeks are crazy busy between nonstop work meetings, travel, and wrangling your kids. Fitting in a 90-minute yoga class plus meditation doesn’t always make it to the top of your to-do list. (Seriously, who has time for all that?!) Don’t give up on your inner warrior just yet, though. Instead, just say hello to multitasking.
If you’re looking to fit in some quick exercise and a little Zen, a 30-minute yoga routine could be just what you need in life. The idea with this routine is to get a little of everything: all four spinal movements, an inversion, supine twists, and seated, standing, and kneeling poses. Let’s get bendy.
Equipment needed: While a yoga or fitness mat isn’t necessary, it will be helpful. You’ll be moving a lot in this sequence and you want to maintain balance and traction.
1. Seated Cat-Cow
Seated Cat-Cow warms up your spine with flexion and extension movement. It gives you a moment to center yourself and get ready to practice.
Muscles worked: stretches hips, back, abdomen, spinal extensors
- Sit cross-legged on the floor, firmly grounding yourself through your sitting bones with your spine straight and hands on your knees. This is Easy Pose.
- Close your eyes. As you inhale, lean forward and roll your shoulders back.
- As you exhale, pull your chin to your chest, pull your bellybutton to your spine, and roll your spine so it’s creating a C curve.
- Repeat this for 10 deep breaths for approximately 1 minute.
2. Seated Side Bend
Seated Side Bend provides lateral flexion for your spine.
Muscles worked: spinal extensors, latissimus dorsi
- From Easy Pose, place your right hand on the floor next to your right hip.
- As you inhale, lift your left arm to the side and up, in line with your left ear.
- As you exhale, slide your right hand across the floor as you bend to your right. Don’t let your sitting bones come up off the floor. Remember that the bend should be even throughout your spine. Don’t crunch your ribs toward your hip.
- Stay here for 8 deep breaths before returning on an inhale to Easy Pose.
- Repeat on the left side. Entire pose is approximately 2 minutes.
3. Seated Spinal Twist
This pose continues to warm up your body and provides the last type of spinal movement in the stretch: axial rotation.
Muscles worked: spinal extensors, abdominals
- From Easy Pose, take a deep breath as you lift your hands above your head.
- As you exhale, place your left hand on your right knee and your right hand behind you, on the floor, as you twist.
- Be sure you root into the mat through your sitting bones and don’t let your left one come off the mat. If it is, ease off the twist.
- Take 8 deep breaths here. Grow longer through your spine as you inhale. Twist a bit deeper as you exhale.
- Return to center as you inhale and repeat on your left side. Entire pose is approximately 2 minutes.
This pose duo strengthens the lower back, decreases hip pain, and increases spine mobility and spinal fluid circulation. Though Seated Cat-Cow has already been done, the movement here is different. It’ll get you prepared for pressing into your hands in the coming poses.
Muscles worked: spinal extensors, abdominals, hip, neck, and back muscles
- Begin on all fours in a “tabletop” position with your feet flat (toes not tucked), shoulders directly over your wrists, and hips over your knees.
- As you inhale, drop your belly, letting your back arch. As you’re doing this, bring awareness to your shoulders and be sure your shoulder blades are firmly on your back and not creeping up to your ears. This is Cow.
- As you exhale, press into your hands and round your upper back, pulling your bellybutton into your spine. This is Cat.
- Continue moving on your inhales and exhales, repeating 10 times.
Plank burns calories and fires up your abs. It’ll help get your heart rate going for the rest of the sequence. It also strengthens your abdominals, back, and arms.
Muscles worked: erector spinae, rectus abdominus, traverse abdominus, rhomboids, trapezius, pectorals
- From Cat-Cow, inhale deeply. As you exhale, shift your weight forward into your hands as you step your feet back. Keep your hips down so your body is straight. In other words, don’t drop your hips or make a teepee with your body.
- Press your fingers into the ground as you slowly inhale and exhale here.
- If you need a little support, drop your knees as though you were going to begin doing modified pushups.
- Hold this for 30 seconds. Drop your knees gently back into Cat-Cow to rest.
- When ready, move back into Plank and hold for another 30 seconds. If you’re feeling a little weak, try four 15-second holds. If you’re feeling strong, try a 1-minute hold.
6. Downward-Facing Dog
Downward-Facing Dog (or Downward Dog or even just Down Dog) strengthens the lower back, arms, and legs. It increases spine mobility and energizes the body. It’s considered an inversion since your heart is above your head in this pose, so it provides the benefits of inversions as well — like helping relieve stress and depression.
Muscles worked: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, deltoids, triceps, quadriceps
- From Plank, as you inhale, press into your hands as you lift your hips into the air, creating that teepee shape we were avoiding in the previous pose. As you adjust into the pose, roll your shoulders back, sliding your shoulder blades down your back and away from your ears.
- As you exhale, walk your hands in a few inches until the pose feels stable. Keep in mind that your heels should be working toward the mat, but they don’t need to be touching the floor.
- Continue taking deep, even breaths as you broaden your upper back. Keep your arms straight and in their sockets.
- Pull the front of your rib cage in as you press into all your fingers. Continue extending your heels toward the floor. Pedal your feet out if your legs feel tight.
- Take 8 deep and even breaths here.
7 and 8. Three-Legged Dog to Warrior II
These poses are done in combination with each other. Three-Legged Dog works your balance, stretches your torso, and strengthens your arms and legs. Warrior II is a “power pose” that can impact your hormones to raise your confidence.
Muscles worked: gluteus medius, quadriceps, ligaments of your hip joints, pecs
- From Downward-Facing Dog, inhale and lift your right leg in the air. Focus here on keeping the entire rest of your body in the exact same position it was in as you did Downward-Facing Dog. The inclination is to open to the side with your lower torso and hips to raise the leg higher, but you don’t want to do this. If you must, sacrifice leg height for maintaining Downward-Facing Dog with the entire rest of your body.
- Hold this pose for 4 deep, even breaths, pressing into all 10 fingers and keeping your rib cage in.
- As you exhale, bend your right knee as you pull it toward your chest. Set your right foot between your hands. You can grab your foot or ankle with your right hand and help move it forward a bit more if you like.
- Adjust your left foot before you stand by sliding it so it’s parallel to the back edge of your mat. Keep your right foot perpendicular to the front edge.
- As you inhale, stand as your cartwheel your arms around, leading with your left. Your arms will be in a T shape. Your shoulders and hips will be facing the side of your mat, with your back leg straight and your right knee at a 90-degree angle.
- As you exhale, press into your feet and turn your head so you can gaze out over your right hand.
- Hold this for 8 breaths.
- Cartwheel your hands down as you exhale and step your foot back to Downward-Facing Dog.
- Repeat on the other side. Be sure to stay in Three-Legged Dog on the left side as well.
9. Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose stretches the hips, pelvis, thighs, and spine. It also calms the brain and relieves stress, fatigue, and neck and back pain.
Muscles worked: gluteus maximus, rotator muscles, hamstrings, spinal extensors
- From Downward-Facing Dog, gently drop your knees so you’re on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and your big toes touching behind you. You can widen your toes if it’s more comfortable for you.
- Inhale and feel your spine grow longer.
- As you exhale, take your butt back to your heels as you drop your chin to your chest. Rest your forehead to the floor.
- Rest here, keeping your forehead on the ground and your arms outstretched. Alternately, you can put your arms down by your sides, palms up, hands resting near your feet.
- Hold this for 8 deep, even breaths.
Corpse Pose is the traditional end pose for yoga sequences. It’s for a good reason. It calms the brain, relieves stress and mild depression, relaxes the body, and helps lower your blood pressure.
Muscles worked: none
- From Child’s Pose, find your way to lying on your back however feels natural.
- When you’re on your back, you want your feet to be about hip-distance apart, with your legs relaxed and feet flopping out to the sides.
- Roll your shoulders back and down. Slide your shoulder blades down your back and rest your hands a few inches from your sides, palms up.
- Relax the root of your tongue, close your eyes, and check your body to be sure both sides are resting evenly.
- Breathe naturally here, resting for 5 minutes.
There are certainly exercises out there that’ll get you sweating more in 30 minutes. But for a great all-body workout that takes advantage of different types of yoga poses and helps you find some calm, this routine is your answer. It can help you easily find time to move and achieve balance when you need it most!
Gretchen Stelter is a freelance writer and editor based in the Pacific Northwest. With over a decade of experience working with writers, she’s been part of over 400 books published by traditional publishing houses as well as editing for businesses and writing book proposals, nonfiction, YA, and articles for Books for Better Living and Elephant Journal. She spends time she isn’t reading, editing, or writing volunteering for Girls Inc. and teaching yoga in after-school programs. She can be found at gretchenstelter.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter.