As we move through our busy days, we can’t forget the importance of cultivating balance and adding playfulness into our daily lives. But part of cultivating good health and well-being means we must find space and time to laugh and invite joy. One of the ways I create balance is by moving my body through an intentional practice focused on cheerful postures that also invoke inner power and personal resilience. This sequence is ideal on days when you need an extra lift or a spirited spark to brighten your heart.
An uplifting yoga sequence
Breath of Joy
Standing with the feet hip-distance apart and the knees soft. Please note this movement flows with three inhales and one exhale. Inhale and fill up one-third of the lungs as your arms lift up in front of the chest (shoulder height). Inhale again (same amount), and bring your arms out to the sides. Inhale a third time, swinging your arms over the head. Then take a big exhale with the sound of “ha” as you bend your knees and allow yourself to release forward, hinging from the hips. Repeat the movement and breath for 1–3 minutes. At the end, remain standing with your arms alongside the body and take 5–10 long deep breaths, and simply feel as you move into Mountain Pose.
Remain standing with the feet a few inches apart and parallel. Spread the toes wide and feel your weight evenly distributed between both feet. Lengthen your spine with a gentle lift of the sternum. Draw the shoulder blades down the back and lift the crown of the head toward the sky while keeping the chin parallel to the earth.
From Mountain pose, gently bend your knees, and slowly fold your torso over your legs as you exhale. Make sure you are hingeing from the hips. (Know that you can bend the knees slightly if you have a tight lower back or hamstring.) I recommend leading with your chest but keeping the neck aligned with the spine. Your hands may rest near the feet, in front of you, or you can use a block or books for support. Be mindful not to hyperextend your legs, but instead, lift your kneecaps and spiral your upper and inner thighs back.
High Lunge (Crescent with Cactus Arms)
From Standing Forward Bend, inhale and extend your crown and chest forward, supporting yourself with your hands on the mat, blocks, or books. As you exhale, slowly step your right foot to the back of your mat. With your left foot grounded on the earth, remain on the ball of your right foot. Stack your left knee over the ankle. Activate your right leg by lifting and engaging the quad and reaching back through the right heel. On the inhale, lift your torso upright and float your arms up into a cactus or goal-post shape, palms facing forward and elbows aligned with the shoulders. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Relax your shoulders, broaden your chest, and draw your ribcage in. Stay in the posture for 3–5 breaths.
Twisted High Lunge
Keep your legs in the High Lunge position. Open your arms wide, aligned with your shoulders. Breathe in, and on the exhale, slowly twist your spine to the left. Allow the arms to move with the body. Maintain an elongated spine by extending the crown of your head up. Actively reach through the arms and fingertips as you remain in the pose for 3–5 breaths. (Image shown on opposite side for clarity.)
Slowly moving from the twist, open your torso to the right side of your mat. Lower your right heel so the side of that foot is parallel to the back of the mat. Your left knee remains bent, stacked over your left ankle. Slightly rotate your left leg outward so the knee doesn’t roll inward. Firmly press your right thigh back as the tailbone releases toward the earth. Reach through your fingertips with your arms aligned with the shoulders and the crown of your head lifted up. Hold the pose for 3–5 breaths as you relax your shoulders.
Peaceful Warrior (Shanti Virabhadrasana)
Maintaining the Warrior 2 leg stance, slowly lower your right palm to rest on your right leg. Inhale to lengthen the spine, and on the exhale, lean to the right side. Continue to bend deeply through the left leg while stretching through the left side of the body. Be mindful not to put weight on the right side or over-compress the right ribcage. Hold the pose for 3–5 breaths, then slowly lift your torso up to Warrior 2.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist)
Slowly lift the torso up to return to Warrior 2. Turn to face forward, coming into a High Lunge, then lower your hands to frame your left foot. Slide your right knee up and to the outside of the left foot, so the left foot rests outside your right thigh. Lower yourself down and make sure both hips are firmly grounded to the floor. You have the option of keeping the right leg bent or straight. On the inhale, lengthen your spine. On the exhale, slowly twist your torso to the left. Turn your head in the direction of the spine or remain in your ideal comfortable position. Keep your shoulders relaxed. As you take 5–7 breaths, keep the inner left foot pressing into the floor and release the left groin. (Image shown on opposite side for clarity.)
Slowly unravel the body from the spinal twist, and come to Tabletop. Before moving, spread your fingers and turn your toes under. Begin to lift your knees off the floor, straighten your legs, direct your hips to where the ceiling meets the wall. Gently press the heels toward the floor. (Keep in mind the heels do not need to touch the floor.) It may help to keep your knees bent at first as you find length in your spine. Activate the outer arms, press the base of the index fingers into the floor, and lift the inner arms from the wrists to the shoulders. Spread the shoulder blades against the back, then broaden them. Hold the posture for 5–7 breaths.
From Downward Dog, slowly lower to your knees to come to Tabletop. Extend your legs out behind you and lower your chest toward the mat. As your belly touches the floor, your hands remain beside your ribs. Keep your elbows bent and tight to your body. Press down with the tops of your feet and all 10 toenails to activate your quads. There should be a subtle inner rotation of the thighs to broaden your lower back. Inhale, press down with your hands, and lift your head, chest, and belly off the mat. Roll your shoulders back and down. Maintain a long neck with your chin parallel to the floor. The arms may have a slight bend as they hug toward the body. Hold for 3–5 breaths. Return to Tabletop.
From Tabletop, exhale and begin to draw your hips back to meet your heels. Allow your chest to relax down. You can keep your knees aligned with your hips, or you can also open the knees wider than your hips and bring your big toes together to touch. Breathe. As you exhale, slowly sink the hips deeper toward the heels. Remain here for 5–7 breaths.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog )
From Tabletop, return to Down Dog: Spread your fingers and turn your toes under. Lift your knees, straighten your legs, and direct your hips to where the ceiling meets the wall. Gently press the heels toward the floor. (Remember that they don’t have to touch the floor.) Keep your knees bent if you like, as you find length in your spine. Activate the outer arms, press the base of the index fingers into the floor, and lift the inner arms from the wrists to the shoulders. Spread the shoulder blades against the back, then broaden them. Hold the posture for 5–7 breaths.
From Down Dog, step both feet to the top of the mat, positioning them as wide as the mat with your toes turned out. Grab a block, bolster, or pillow and place it between your feet. Breathe in, and on the exhale, bend the knees into a squatting position. Rest the hips on your prop. Bring your palms together at your chest and press your elbows against your inner knees. Close your eyes and hold the position for 7–10 breaths.
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
From Yogi Squat, place your hand on the earth for support and slowly straighten your legs. Heel-toe your feet together until they are hip-distance apart and lift your torso to stand in Mountain Pose. Close your eyes once again as your arms release alongside the body. Spread your toes wide and feel your weight evenly distributed between both feet. Lengthen your spine with a gentle lift of the sternum, draw the shoulder blades down the back, and lift the crown of the head towards the sky while keeping the chin parallel to the earth. Take 7–10 deep breaths.
Repeat the entire sequence on the opposite side.
More from Faith Hunter
Practice more heart-focused sequences with Faith Hunter.
About our contributor
Faith Hunter, a yoga and meditation teacher based in Washington, D.C., is the author of Spiritually Fly: Wisdom, Meditations, and Yoga to Elevate Your Soul.