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Last updated: 6 April 2021

Yoga practice, for any length of time, at any level, is a wonderful way to take care of your health – which has perhaps never been so important than during the year we have spent in lockdown. It’s a gentle reminder to take a few moments out of your day to move your body and sift through some of that clutter in the mind, resurfacing with a greater sense of both physical and mental space. It’s an opportunity to take time for yourself, to put up boundaries against daily pressures and simply enjoy a few minutes of your day. Here, Paris-based yoga guru Ellen McQueen shares five easy poses you can do at home…

1. Easy Pose

This pose is so easy it may not even feel like yoga, but taking this shape on a carpet or a pillow is a fantastic way to grant yourself a few minutes of reset. From this posture you can close your eyes and take some deep breaths (one of my favourite ways to de-stress is to practise box breath: inhale for four counts, hold the breath at the top for four counts, exhale for four counts, keep the air pressed out for four counts), or maybe find some rolls of the neck and shoulders. This pose encourages a healthy spinal posture and invites a gentle opening for the hips.

  • Begin seated on the floor with the legs outstretched.
  • Cross the right shin over the left shin in order to stack the knees over the feet.
  • Allow the hands to rest gently on the knees and press the sitting bones actively into the floor.
  • A gentle activation of the belly helps to maintain a straight spine, making sure the shoulders stay over the hips and are rolled back and down so there is a slight lifting of the chest.
  • Visualise the neck being a long extension of the spine and keep the chin parallel to the floor.

Hint: If the hips feel open, feel free to stack one leg on top of the other rather than one in front of the other. If the hips feel tight, don’t hesitate to sit on a pillow.

Left: Easy Pose / Right: Bound Eagle Pose

2. Bound Eagle Pose

Enjoy this accessible hip opener whenever you notice you’ve been sitting in that uncomfortable desk chair for too long. This pose helps to improve posture and stretches the hip and thigh muscles. It also provides a great opportunity for a little self-massage, while the hands hold the tops of the feet the thumbs can press into the heels, the ball of the foot and maybe roll around the toes to give the feet a little extra attention. Also note that as we stretch tight muscles like the hips, stored anxiety and tension can rise to the surface, meaning that you may notice unrelated emotions or thoughts moving to the forefront of the mind. This is a great opportunity to practise not attaching to those thoughts, and instead watching each breath as it passes in and out through the nose.

  • Begin seated with the legs outstretched.
  • Staying grounded in both sit bones, invite the feet towards the hips, so that the bottoms of the feet are connected and the knees are open to either side like a book.
  • Inhale to lengthen the spine, drawing the crown of the head towards the sky and rolling the shoulders away from the ears.
  • As you exhale, hold onto the feet and begin to tilt the upper body towards the legs, making sure to avoid rounding the spine.

Hint: Sitting on a pillow may make opening the hips more comfortable, and feel free to place the feet very close to the hips or further away depending on what feels best in your body.

3. Downward Dog

We’ve all heard of downward facing dog. It creates a deep stretch in the backs of the legs, it helps us lengthen the spine as much as possible and it’s toning for the arms and legs. I recommend using this shape to find free movement. Rather than holding a static posture you can bend the knees, gently shake the head, move the hips from side to side. This helps create a connection of our breath with our movements as well as an awareness of what is happening in the body, what joints or muscles maybe need a little more attention and care. As an inversion, the heart lifted over the head, this is an energising pose and helps build concentration.

  • Begin in a tabletop pose, then walk the hands a few inches forward keeping them shoulder-width distance apart.
  • Tuck the toes (hip-width apart) and with an exhale press into all parts of the hand (to make sure the pressure is not focused on the wrist creases) and lift the hips, straightening the legs, pressing the heels towards the floor.
  • In order to keep the spine as long as possible, bend the knees as much as needed to send the hips back and up.
  • The head rests freely between the arms making sure there is no tension in the neck, and draw the chest towards the thighs to keep the spine straight.

Modifications: If you feel very comfortable in your downward dog, go ahead and lift one leg then the other, enjoying a deeper stretch in the legs. If you are having trouble keeping the spine long, bend the knees as much as needed, or try holding onto the seat or back of a chair.

Left: Downward Dog / Right: Tree Pose

4. Tree Pose

Tree pose, a balance posture, is a fantastic way to boost energy, increase concentration and build confidence. It also strengthens the core and legs, improves posture and stretches the hips. When we engage with balance poses, we learn to focus all of our attention on a drishti, meaning a point in front of you that is not moving where you can gently lay your gaze. We find that when our attention is elsewhere, eyes darting around the room or mind attached to the thought of meandering through Provence lavender fields, it’s much more difficult to balance. By focus our gaze on one point and maintaining focus on the breath, we are able to not only encourage balance in our posture, but create a deeper sense of balance in our day.

  • Begin standing with the feet parallel to each other and hip width distance.
  • Shift the weight into the right foot, keeping the right leg active.
  • Invite the left foot to either stay in contact with the floor and press against the right ankle for extra balance, to press against the right calf muscle or press against the right thigh (it is very important the left foot does not press against the right knee).
  • Keep the core active to help maintain balance, reach the crown of the head towards the ceiling to create length in the spine and allow the arms to reach up towards the sky.
  • Hold for a few breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

Hint: Enjoy this as an opportunity for creativity – channel your spirit tree. Maybe your branches sway in the wind like a weeping willow, maybe your tree is tall and thin like a Cypress, maybe you’re a palm tree on a tropical beach. And remember if you’re struggling to balance, there’s absolutely no harm in holding onto a wall.

5. Warrior II

Here we channel our inner warrior spirit, we have an opportunity to feel grounded, to gather strength and manifest courage in our day. Physically, Warrior II strengthens the legs, increases stamina and opens the hips. This posture is about creating space, having the sensation of ripping apart the mat with the feet pressing in either direction, the hands extending as much as possible away from each other as if someone were playing tug of war with the arms, the crown of the head reaching towards the sky to maintain space in the spine and neck. At the same time, using each exhale to release any concerns or fears from the mind, each inhale to invite in a sense of strength and calm.

  • Begin standing at the top of your mat.
  • Take a big step back with the left foot, keeping the left foot parallel to the short edge of the mat.
  • The right toes face forward, and with an exhale bend the right knee until it is directly over the ankle, when you look down you should be able to see your right big toe.
  • Try to bring the right hamstring parallel to the floor, so the knee is at a ninety degree angle.
  • The thighs rotate outward opening the hips, the shoulders remain parallel to the long edge of the mat and the arms open towards the front and back of the mat, remaining parallel to the floor.
  • Keeping the neck long, turn the gaze towards the front fingertips.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Hint: Keeping the abs activated will help to relieve some of the intensity in the legs.  At the same time notice if you can release muscles that aren’t aiding the posture, for example there’s no need to clench your jaw here or create tension between the eyebrows.

Photography by Tara Lengyel @portraitsofparis

Just because we’re stuck at home doesn’t mean we can’t close our eyes, take a few deep breaths and discover other unique ways of travelling through exploration of the body and mind. These poses are accessible for everyone as a way to experience the mental and physical benefits of yoga, including reducing stress, increasing concentration and maintaining a healthy body, while anxiously awaiting the moment you can hop on a plane for that yoga retreat you’ve spent a year dreaming about.

Ellen will be hosting an exclusive three day yoga retreat from 23rd-26th September 2021 in collaboration with Nicole Bono of Bono Events International at Hôtel Crillon le Brave, a quintessentially French hideaway that fuses the charms of a 17th-century hamlet with contemporary luxury.