6 reasons to do early morning yoga

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When I started my journey in yoga, I was not an early bird at all, and definitely wouldn’t go to a gym or yoga class before the work day started. No, I was a night owl, going to parties and sleeping in.

Oh how my life has changed, through yoga! My alarm now goes every day somewhere between 4.45am and 5.45am, so I can teach yoga early in the morning. And while doing that, I noticed how I started loving the morning and how I appreciate this early practice more and more.

So let me share with you why I think an early morning yoga routine is awesome!

  1. Sets the tone for the day

Starting the day off with meditation, stretches, movement and focus on the breath. What do you think will happen? Exactly! It will create a calm and stable state of mind. One that will help you through all that will be thrown in your direction, at work, in your family, in traffic, etc.

Also, starting the day with taking care of yourself will make you more aware of staying healthy. People tend to eat healthier and allow themselves a necessary break.

All of this leads to less stress, a healthier body and a happier live.

  1. Sets a healthy routine

Creating a routine in life is always difficult. Yes, we all have routines that are forced upon us, like going to work everyday. But setting up a routine for yourself and keeping it, is something a lot of people struggle with.

An early morning routine is easier to keep to. You are less likely to be distracted by last-minute diner parties, needs of kids, partners, work and friends. It is an easier time of day to set aside some time for yourself.

And on top of that, it will help you create a steadier sleeping routine. The better you get at waking up around the same time every day, the more energy you will have throughout the day. So building a steady sleeping routine is a great added bonus!

  1. Who needs coffee?

Starting your day with movement, meditation and breathing will create a lot of energy and get your mind and body started in a way that makes coffee not (as) necessary anymore. For lots of people coffee is part of the routine, and if you are looking into breaking that habit or drinking less coffee, yoga might help you on that quest. The energy created in your body through the movement, and the clarity in the mind through breathing can create a similar effect as coffee. So give it a try and see for yourself!

  1. Eat more, less guilt

Who doesn’t want to eat more and not feel guilty about it? I know I do!! Doing sports and yoga in the morning will increase your metabolism and burn away what you eat afterwards. The effects of an early morning yoga practice are working all day.

It is obviously not an excuse to over-eat and indulge in salty, sugary and fatty products. But we can allow ourselves to eat a little more and have that sinful piece of cake without feeling guilty.

  1. You just feel amazing, the whole damn day

When I start my day with yoga, all that happens in that day, my reaction often is: wow, and I already did yoga today.

Some days good things happen and the joy of that practice in the morning is carried out through the entire day. We feel amazing, strong, open and energized. People see, people compliment you, just because you shine.

And then other days, they are shitty or even beyond that. You have to deal with hard, difficult and challenging things. The peace and quiet we have created in our mind in the morning, will give us a buffer to think clearer. It will helps us to create perspective on what is happening. And on top of that you can tell yourself: at least I took care of me this morning, I felt great when I came off my mat, and nobody is able to take that away from me.

  1. Body is less stiff, the mind is more calm

This last one is not necessarily a benefit, it is more a given. What I LOVE about morning practice are a couple of things:

  1. I always struggle to get up for it and I ALWAYS feel better and happy that I did.
  2. The mind is calmer in the morning, it is not up to speed yet, so we can find a deeper connection inside, with the Self.
  3. While the mind is more still, the body isn’t as open and flexible as at night. You can frustrate yourself over the fact that the poses your body is creating aren’t as ‘advanced’ or deep as they normally are. You can also see it as a great way to find these deeper layers in the body – the layers that you have to wake up in order to find a deeper stretch or the necessary strength. It becomes a game of the ego vs being humble, giving in and allowing yourself to be where you are.

So yes, I am a true advocate for early morning yoga. Does that mean that I never practice at night? Of course not! I love to practice any time of day. But the routine a morning practice gives me, the feeling it creates and the effect it has on my entire day are 100% worth the early rise.

Spring cleaning

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Spring has started on the northern part of our planet, which for a lot of people means time to clean! It is time to create space in your life: have a clean house, clean computer, clean body and clean habits.

And even though we all think about it, we often find it too hard to start. In the beginning of 2015 I was forced to do one of the biggest cleanings I have ever done: two moves (São Paulo to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to San Francisco) which meant getting rid of stuff in my house, my mind and life.

As I sat down in the middle of all the things that had created my life in São Paulo and all the things that defined my life in Amsterdam, I felt like I was being thrown back and forth between relief and despair. It was amazing to not have the responsibility over so much stuff anymore, but at the same time I emotionally had to let go of things I had been guarding.

While cleaning for days in a row, I realised there are a few basic rules when it comes to cleaning your life:

  • A clean environment equals a clean mind. So do a detox for your body to get rid of unnecessary toxins in your body, clean your house, your desk, your social life, your social networks, your computer, your phone, etc. Simplify your life, it creates space in your mind and life.
  • Focus on one thing at the time. Either a box, a pile of papers, an emotion, one folder on your computer: one thing each time. NO multi-tasking, because you never know what comes up when the next box opens.
  • Only keep things of value, either because you use it or it has emotional value to you. Stuff that is worth something but you don’t use: sell!
  • Everything should have it’s own place; you need to be able to find your belongings in a fixed place in your house or on your computer. When it comes to emotional things, when it did not find a place yet, you haven’t dealt with it properly.

But how to get yourself started when there is no deadline or real pressure?

  • Don’t set your goals too high and don’t spoil a sunny day inside.
  • Start with 1 pile of papers, one box of stuff, one folder on your computer.
  • What you pick up NEEDS to be dealt with: keep it, throw it away, sell it, keep maybe.
  • Start small: do it 15 mins each day. Don’t overdo it.
  • Make it a game, challenge, connect it to something you like, reward yourself properly.

Other fun ways to clean up:

  • Every day give something away. It cleans out your house slowly and it is rewarding to give something away you don’t use anymore.
  • Take part in a Buy Nothing New Month.
  • Do a meditation course to clear your mind
  • Built up a discipline with yoga (or something else you like): 15 mins of cleaning, is followed by 15 mins of yoga
  • Take up the 12-12-12 challenge (or other fun challenge): 12 items to throw away, 12 items to donate, 12 items to return to their own homes.

Once you get in the flow, the fun will start and space is created. Space you can use for new thoughts, fun activities you wanted to pick up for a while, new films and music, or simply just to let the space be… We don’t always need to fill up what we have cleared.

Happy Spring!

9 poses to help improve your arm balance

9 poses to improve arm balances

There is something about arm balances in yoga. When you start out you look in awe at the people going in any type of balance. You try too, but your feet seem to be glued to the mat, your arms don’t have the strength and you simply just don’t get it. But you want to know, you want to do it too!

Once you get it, you want more and crazier, it is addictive! Writing a blog about poses to improve arm balances doesn’t make me an expert in them. I am still training like crazy to be able to master all of them. However, there are a few things you can work on when you want to improve your arm balance skills:

  • Balance (pictures: 3 – 7 – 8)
  • Core strength (pictures: 2 – 3 – 4 – 5)
  • Open shoulders (pictures: 1 – 4 – 7 – 8)
  • Strong wrists (pictures: 5 – 6)
  • Engaged legs (pictures: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8)

There are many many poses that can help you prepare and get strong enough or to improve your arm balance. But below I have put down a few that have been very helpful to me.

Some basis rules when you perform the poses:

  • Make long, deep and controlled breaths through your nose. Focus on your breath going in and out while being in a posture. Try to make your exhale slightly longer than your inhale.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. Inhale is a movement upwards, exhale is a movement downwards or a twist.
  • Work both sides of your body. Do every posture on the right side and then switch to the left.
  • There is NO pose in yoga where we have our shoulders close to our ears. So when you are settled in a pose, always pay attention to your shoulders. Roll them backwards and down.
  • When in the pose try to be aware of what comes up. What happens in your body.

Picture 1: Gomukhasana
Cow Face Pose. Legs: Bend your knees and put your feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under the right knee to the outside of the right hip. Then cross your right leg over the left, stacking the right knee on top of the left, and bring the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Try to bring the heels parallel next to the hips. Sit evenly on your sitting bones.

Arms: Right leg on top, means right arm up. Raise your arm and bend it, your hand is reaching for your neck or between your shoulder blades. Reach your left arm forward and swing it sideways and back and reach up for your hand. If you can reach it, grab your shirt or a strap. Bring your right elbow up and backwards and see if you can place the back of your head against your wrist. Do at least 3 cycles of breath.

Picture 2: Abs training
Lay on your back. Bring your legs straight up in a 90 degrees angle. Lower one leg until it almost reaches the ground, while you keep your other leg up straight in the 90-degree angle. Bring the leg up and switch. Do it slow, with long inhales and exhales. Repeat with each leg at least 10 times.

Variation: interlace your fingers behind your head and take your head and shoulders of the floor.

Extra round: place your hands under your hips, keep your feet together and bring both legs down as far as you can (they do not touch the floor) and slowly bring them back up. Repeat with a minimum of 5 times.

Picture 3: Paripurna Navasana
Boat pose. Place your feet in front of you, hip distance apart. Hold with your hands under your knees; use this force to straighten your back. Keep your back as straight as possible during the entire pose. Balance on your sit bones; take your feet off the floor. If possible stretch arms out at shoulder height and a next step is to straighten your legs.

Picture 4: Utthan Pristhasana
Lizard pose. Start in a plank or down-wards dog. Take a step forward with your right foot, place it on the outside of your right hand. Make sure your back leg is straight and your hips are in line with the rest of your body. If it is in your range, bring your elbows where your hands were so you intensify the stretch. Stay for a minimum 3 cycles of breath. Switch sides.

Variation: bring your right shoulder under your right knee. Open both arms to the side, as if you are flying. You will intensify the work for your core muscles and balance.

Picture 5: Chaturanga Dandasana
Four-Limbed Staff Pose. From the plank, move your body weight forward. You are now on the tips of your toes. Bring your body weight down, like an airplane coming to land. Create a 90 degrees angle from wrist to elbow and elbow to shoulder. Your shoulders don’t go below your elbows. If you want you can hold the pose for a few breaths to build up strength.

Picture 6: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Picture 7: Parivrtta Trikonasana
Revolved triangle pose. Straighten your front leg, have your legs similar to the extended triangle pose. Have your arms out wide, bring the back arm forward and place it on the outside of your front foot. Look up to your hand. If necessary use a block to stabilize. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.

Variation arm (as in picture): if you feel stable enough, instead of bringing your arms forward, bring them behind your back. To open your shoulders you have several options:

  1. Bind your arms by holding your elbows.
  2. Bring your arms behind you, press the backs of your wrists together and then flip your hands so the palms touch each other fingers pointing up (prayer hands).
  3. Start the same as 2, but now walk your hands up in between your shoulder blades. Press the palms together firmly.

Picture 8: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose. Stand in mountain pose. Feet are hip distance apart. Bring all the weight to one foot. Take your other leg up by bending your knee. Grab your big toe with your middle finger, pointer finger and thumb via the inside of the leg. Straighten your back and start stretching out your leg. Keep your back straight, so if that means your leg will not be stretched out completely, then that is fine. Focus on a point in front of you. Stay for at least 5 cycles of breath. Switch side.

Picture 9: Bakasana
The crow pose. Bend your knees and come as far down with your hips as possible (butt not touching the floor). Place your hands on the mat, open your fingers as wide as you can. Bring your knee in your armpits or on the outside of your upper arm (not below the elbow). Push with your knees against your arm. Contract your abdominal muscles. Come to the tips of your toes and move your body weight forward. Try to lift one foot, then the other and then both. Balance on your arms as long as you want.

9 poses for yoga and horse polo: a perfect combination

Yoga for horse polo

As I am writing this blog, I am sitting in a comfortable chair overlooking a polo field, next to me in the stables Argentinian music is blasting out of the radio, while the groomers get the horses ready to play polo. I got the amazing opportunity to teach yoga for one week to a group of horse polo players, at Palo Alto polo club close to Buenos Aires. I did not know that much about the horse sport beforehand, so before I went on my trip I did quite a bit of research: where do the players tend to get sore? Where/ what do they need to stretch? What do they need to improve their riding and game? I found some useful information online, however, not much on the about the combination of yoga and polo, something which goes together perfectly, if you ask me!

So what do you need to work on, and why is doing yoga in combination with horse polo a perfect match?

Horse polo players and horse riders in general have very sore and tight inner thighs, they have sore shoulders and a tight neck and their wrist & lower arms tend to be tight or sore. Besides that they need to work on their core strength to be stable and balanced on the horse. They need to strengthen their quadriceps to be able to stand up while the horse is running and they need to twist the core region of their body and become flexible in this part, to be able to twist and turn to hit the ball and have a better reach.

Yoga can help with all these challenges for polo players. There is a wide variety of poses that help players to get ready for a game or stretch out right after it. Below nine basic poses, that I noticed are the best to do when riding a horse and in particular playing polo.

Twist
Photo 1: Reclining twist
Reclining twist pose. Lay on your back. Arms are out in a cross. Bring your knees towards your chest. Make a 90-degree angle with your hips and your knees and knees and ankle. Move your legs to the right, look to the left; keep both shoulders on the mat. If you want you can place your right hand on your knees, to add extra pressure.

Loosing up the lower and upper back
Photo 2: Marjaryasana
Catpose. Come to your hands and knees. Knees in a 90 degrees angle with your hips, shoulders with the wrists. Inhale, look up and arch your spine. Exhale, look down and round your spine. Do this with a minimum of 5 times.

Strething of the legs and inner thighs
Photo 3: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog: Come onto the mat on your hands and knees. Knees are 90 degrees with your hips, hands straight under your shoulders. Tuck your toes under and on an exhale lift your knees away from the floor. Keep them slightly bent. Stretch one knee, bend the other. Switch several times. Bend both needs slightly and push your sitbones up in the air, while you push yourself away from your hands. On an exhale push your heels towards the mat. Stay for a minimum of three breaths.

Building core muscles
Photo 4: Plank pose
Plank pose. Make it look like you are a straight plank. Have your hips aligned with your body, so not high in the air or close to the ground. Shoulders are 90 degrees over your wrists. Contract your abdominal muscles. Try to stay here for 5 cycles of breath.

Working the upper back & opening shoulders
Photo 5: Salabhasana
Locust pose. Start by having your whole body on the mat. Bring your arms back. On the inhale take both your arms and legs up. If this is too much to begin with, then start with only taking your chest off the mat. Second time only the legs. And third time both the chest (arms) and the legs.

Creating balance & strengthening the leg
Photo 6: Vrksasana
Tree pose. Put all the weight on one leg. Place the other one in your thigh or on your lower leg. Never on the knee!! Focus on a point in front of you and don’t let it go. Stand up tall. Hands in prayer in front of your chest. Minimum of 5 cycles of breath.

Stretching the legs and inner thighs
Photo 7: Utthita Trikonasana
Extended triangle pose. Straighten your front leg. Have your torso similar to the Warrior 2 pose. Bring your body weight forward. Bring your arm down towards your leg. Either grab your thigh, lower part of the leg or ankle. Make sure your torso is parallel with your front leg. Stay for at least 3 cycles of breath.

Stretching the back of the leg
Photo 8: Paschimottanasana
Seated forward bend pose. Sit on the mat. Bring both legs forward. Pull your toes towards you. Inhale bring your arms up and straighten your spine, push your chest forward. Exhale come to a 45 degree angle. Grab where you can, knee, calf muscles, ankles, toes. Inhale straighten your spine again and exhale come forward as far as you can with your back straight. Look towards your knee.

Twist
Photo 9: Marichyasana 3
Sage Pose. Sit on the mat, both legs forward and back straight. Bend your right knee and place your heel close to your hips. Have a fist distance between your leg and your heel. Inhale take both your arms up. Twist from your belly button towards the right. Left hand goes on your right knee, bring your right hand behind your back. Twist your head as last, to look over your shoulders. Stay for a minimum of three cycles of breath. Change side.

Yoga on your wedding day

Yoga on your wedding day

A week and a half ago I made a big step in my personal journey; I got married. Many people tell you beforehand, it is supposed to be the best day of your life and it goes by really fast. Well that turned out to be true! I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect and amazing love-filled day, and afterwards I couldn’t believe how quickly it passed by.

On the day itself I woke up extremely early, an hour and a half before the alarm was supposed to go off. I tossed and turned, thinking I should stay in bed, but then quickly realized that the nerves and excitement that were waking me up, were most definitely not going away. So I looked over at my soon to be husband and also his eyes were wide open; “Morning”, he said, “can you also not sleep anymore”. I responded, “No, too much excitement, want to do some yoga?” And so we did.

On the day itself I made a rather big and great decision about life, but this small decision to do yoga was amongst the best of that day. We went outside and started practicing. Instead of thinking of a routine I was letting my body tell me what it needed. Which was not my standard fast-paced and more hardcore sequence, but a gentle one: a sequence with lots of twisting, warriors, but all in a slow pace. The slow pace helped me to calm down, get more control over the nerves, but most importantly it gave me more confidence to face the day however it would come to me.

A wedding day is one where everything is about you as a couple, so all guests want your attention and many small decisions have to be made, and most definitely at some point in the day things will go differently than you had planned. Doing yoga in the morning truly helped me to face this day in a calm matter (as far as that is possible), gave me a clear mind to experience all that comes to you at the day and got me focused on what was most important: enjoy and be present, whatever happens.

So lesson learned: whenever you have an important day ahead. However much work you have left in front of you, or how ever many nerves or excitements are running through your body: practice yoga!

How yoga can help in difficult times

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As I am a Dutch person, born and raised, the news of last week’s plane crash, of the MH-17, hit me hard. 298 beautiful souls were killed in a plane crash of which 193 Dutch citizens.  Not that it should make any difference, every person on that plane had its own story and leaves behind family and loved ones, but all of a sudden a tragedy like this came a whole lot closer.

The day after the crash I went to my regular yoga class, I dedicated my class to these people, and it was then when it hit me. And instead of calming down, I noticed I started feeling more and more upset about this insane injustice. When I came home I felt the need to share some thoughts, which I did via Facebook:

” I am literally lost for words and sick to my stomach reading about the crashed plane. Shooting down a passenger flight with 300 people, for what exactly? To claim your land, to get what you want, to show who is the boss? It brings me to tears to know that this is the world we live in today. We kill innocent people to enlarge our ego’s, we kill innocent people over grudges we hold, we kill innocent people because we believe we own things. And the saddest part of it all is, that nobody owns anything. We all live on a piece of this earth, with our families, friends, neighbors, animals & plants. This land belongs to the earth and everybody that lives on it. Because in the end, when you die – like these 300 beautiful souls – we don’t leave behind what we own, that is not important anymore, we leave behind loved ones & memories. And they would turn in whatever you ‘own’ to get you back. So let’s take a lesson from this: let’s be extra good to each other, spend extra time with the people you love, be kind to your neighbors, connect with the nature around you and really see who else lives on that space you call ‘mine’. Share it with them and everybody else who comes along. I know I will <3″

I decided to see what yoga has to say about these occasions, these disasters, and this kind of suffering. And what I found was compelling and interesting to me. In yoga there is a word to describe this: Dukha, which means suffering.

In one of the oldest scriptures of yoga; the Yoga Sutra’s, there are some interesting insights.

Sutra 2.15: Parinaama Taapa Sanskaara dukhaihi guna vrittivirodhaascha dukhameva sarvam vivekinah

This sutra basically describes that every event causes some sort of pain. Suffering is in our lives, always, because we are on a constant search for happiness. The pain is caused by the amount of joyfulness we experience, because we will start craving for more. Because however joyful something is, there is a moment that it will end. And the greater the joy it created, the greater the pain when it ends.  The memories of this pleasure bring pain. The fear over losing it causes pain. Love creates pain, especially with separation.

So losing a loved one, is extremely painful, it causes a lot of Duhka, suffering. Losing a lost one over such a useless act makes it even worse.  The grief and the grudges we feel can create deep wounds. Wounds that will shut you down, wounds that will make you forget that you are alive – you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you have actual physical pain in your body and muscles.

Nothing can take this pain, disbelief and injustice away. However, there are some things we can practice to help us try to come to a state of mind where we can learn to accept, where we can learn to find a place for what is happening.

In this case, from the perspective of yoga, we can do the following:

  1. Calming our mind through breathing
  2. Practice compassion

Breathing

Breathing exercises practiced in yoga can help to calm our minds, create more clarity and create space. Through breathing we can stop our mind from lying to ourselves and give in to this suffering. We can stop repressing it and express it through our bodies.  We can start on the path to not undo what has been done, fight against the loss, but transform ourselves. Find strength and new different perspectives that can help us come out of our misery. Of course this can not all be done through breathing, but I believe it is a starting point.

Compassion

When we have found our way to calm our mind and work on coming out of our misery, there is a way to practice compassion. Even though in this situation it feels like an impossible act to practice compassion against the ‘bad guys’, we can practice compassion with our close surroundings and ourselves. The yoga sutra’s say the following about this:

Sutra 1.33: Maitri karuna mudito pekshanam sukha duhkha punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam

In our lives we see people that are happier then we are, but we also see people who are less happy, people who suffer even more. Whatever our attitude is towards these people and their actions, if we can be pleased with others being happy and compassionate to others who are unhappy, joyful towards the things that are praiseworthy and remain undisturbed by the mistakes others make, our mind can stay calm. This way we can develop traits in ourselves such as love (maitri), helpfulness (karuna), friendliness (mudita) and eveness of emotions or temper / calmness (upekṣa).

I believe that when everyone practices more compassion, the world will become a better place. We will share love with our loved ones, neighbors, strangers in the street, nature and animals. By simply smiling to each other we create a different atmosphere and we can make a small change in this world.  Practice to not judge, but taking time to listen and by staying close to our own emotions and feelings. By being compassionate we stop fighting violence with violence, but instead we choose for compassion and love. Does this mean that people can get away with horrible things they do (to others)? No! Justice will find its way to these people, one way or another. But by calming our mind, creating clarity in our thoughts and by practicing compassion and love, we do not let these 300 un-necessary deaths go to waste. We honor these 300 beautiful souls, by changing our direct environment, and with that the whole world.

And so, this blog will end as I closed off my Facebook post:

So let’s take a lesson from this: let’s be extra good to each other, spend extra time with the people you love, be kind to your neighbors, connect with the nature around you and really see who else lives on that space you call ‘mine’. Share it with them and everybody else who comes along. I know I will ❤

 

NOTE: I found it extremely difficult to write about this subject, since I am very deeply touched by the downing of MH-17. If I have offended anyone with my writing I sincerely apologize. I merely tried to share my opinion and my thoughts for what it all means and how to deal with such a tragedy. 

Office yoga in 5 minutes

Office Yoga Complete

To be able to do yoga, you don’t necessarily need a mat or a calm and quiet room. Calming down your mind in a stressful situation is very important, no matter what the conditions are or the place you are in. The picture shows a sequence of yoga postures that you can do in your office chair. It will take about 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how long you hold the poses. A perfect quick escape from a hectic moment at work! And believe me, taking these 5 minutes to calm your mind, will save you time later on because you have a clear mind and be stress-free.

So what are the basics you should know when doing the postures on the chair:

  • Follow the sequence as reading a book. Go from left to right and then a row down.
  • Make sure to work on both sides of your body. If you have twisted to your right, or took up your right leg, then do the same for the left.
  • Sit on the front end of your seat, so your back is not touching the back of the chair. By doing so you force your spine to stay active and upright.
  • Have both your feet flat on the ground and knees 90 degrees over your ankles.
  • With the first and the last photo you take 3 deep breaths in to your belly and all the way out (through the nose). You can take more breaths depending on your need and time.
  • Let your breath initiate a movement. So when you inhale make a movement upwards. When you exhale make a movement downward or twist.
  • If you feel uncomfortable standing up behind your chair, then skip these 3 poses and continue with the seated ones as shown in the sequence.

But most importantly, enjoy, breathe and clear your mind!