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Brighten Up: Five Simple Yoga Moves

November 2, 2015

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Author Alexa Mergen demonstrates yoga moves. / Photo by Matt Weiser

FEELING TIRED OR  glum?  Metaphorically lighten your heart.

Literally take in some air.

Brighten your mood with five simple yoga moves.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching increases blood flow to muscles. Gentle movement, like yoga, increases flexibility.

According to yoga legend Vanda Scaravelli, moving through yoga poses shifts a person’s energy levels.

“While the process of transformation is going on,” Scaravelli writes in Awakening the Spine, “various changes are taking place in the substance of which the body is composed: in the heart, blood, lungs, bones, etc., bringing order and new vitality to the body.”

It makes sense that gentle movement, with attention to the body’s alignment and breath, can cheer us up. After all, the heart is positioned between the right and left lungs. When its muscular walls beat, blood pumps to all parts of the body.

The lungs allow the body to take in oxygen from the air. In addition to the diaphragm, muscles in the neck and collarbone area, the abdomen and between the ribs help the lungs expand and contract for breathing.

Five minutes, five moves.

1. Seated pose with simple breath flow (first pose).

Sit toward the front of the seat in a sturdy chair. Place feet under knees, connecting the soles with the floor. Bring the spine long to align shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders. Palms of the hands rest on the thighs. Inhale.

On an exhale, slide the palms forward on the thighs to round the shoulders and back, drawing the chin toward the chest (second pose).

On an inhale, slide the palms back toward the hips, elbow points behind, lifting the chest and face. Picture the collarbones “smiling” (third pose).

Repeat four more times, exhaling to round, inhaling to lengthen.

2. Return to the seated pose.

Lift the arms, bringing the upper arms parallel and the forearms perpendicular with the floor. Keep the feet engaged. Inhale, gentle pressing the feet into the floor, the sitting bones into the chair seat and rising through the crown of the head and then… (fourth pose)

Exhale to gently rotate to the right, placing the left hand on the right thigh, finding a resting place for the right hand on the chair seat behind you (fifth pose).

Stay in this shape for two breaths. Release on an exhale, returning to the seated mountain pose.

See if you can let the head follow the heart, unwinding in this order: torso, shoulders, neck, face.

Repeat, gentle rotating to the left. Hold the shape for two breaths.

3. Return to the seated pose. Stay seated and on an inhalation, raise the arms overhead, palms facing each other. On an exhalation, keep the fingers toward the ceiling as the shoulder blades descend down the back. Imagine the bottom tips of the shoulder blades reaching in to the torso toward the back of the heart.

Hold for three additional breaths. Awaken the whole body, from heels to toes up through fingertips. Keep the spine long, face relaxed. Smile (sixth pose).

You can also stand for this movement (seventh pose).

You can also lift the face toward the ceiling, echoing the gentle backbend you practiced in the chair. Stay strong through the legs (eighth pose).

4. Still seated?

Make sure the feet remain connected with the floor. Inhale and lift the arms, gently grasping the right wrist with the left fingertips. Exhale and bend to the left.

Notice the right sitting bone. Imagine lengthening all along the right side of the body from sitting bone to fingertips while maintaining space along the left ribs as well (ninth pose).

Inhale and return to center. Exhale to release the arms.


Same movement with a balance challenge. Lengthen and bend. Create space in the side body, moving with the breath (tenth pose). Practice the pose on both sides.

5. The last movement synthesizes these movements in a standing peaceful warrior flow.

Stand with the feet hip distance apart. Step the left foot in front of the right. The left toes point forward. Turn the right foot out at a slight angle.

The torso: shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders, gaze ahead.

Feel engaged across the soles and edges of both feet. This is home base.

On an inhalation, lift the arms and bend the front leg slightly, keeping the knee moving straight forward and behind the tips of the toes.

On an exhalation, lower the arms as the front leg straightens, return to home base, where you started.

(For balance support, stand near a wall or sturdy chair. Keep the left fingers on a solid surface and raise only the right arm.)

Repeat the action five to 10 times.

Notice how the relationship of crown of the head over the pelvis needn’t change. Feel how the body’s weight shifts slightly and fluidly.

Imagine the movement creating space among the ribs and collarbones, throughout the upper back. Imagine breath traveling through that space.

“There is also great beauty in following, while breathing, the slow spreading of the lungs so delicate and, and at the same time, so powerful, bringing life into all of us,” Scaravelli says.

Let breath guide the movement, slow, steady, bright.

When you feel complete on both sides, stand or sit for a moment to absorb the effects of lifting, lengthening, bending, revolving, reaching and returning the body for a few minutes in space.

“You will be amazed to discover that, if you are kind to your body, it will respond in an incredible way,” teaches Scaravelli.

–Alexa Mergen
Alexa Mergen teaches private lessons in yoga and meditation in Washington, D.C. and edits Yoga Stanza.


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