I know what you’re thinking: I don’t have time for yoga. But, hold on. Growth happens when you consistently show up for yourself— even if it’s 20 minutes at a time. It helps to think of your yoga practice—and any specific pose— as you would anything in life that’s overwhelming at first: You simply need to break it down into more manageable components.
When you’re attempting a challenging pose, this means you can explore its fundamental shape repeatedly in different, but similar, poses before attempting the most intense version of it. When your approach is systematic, repetitive, even playful, a “big” pose is just another pose with more of the same stuff going on.
For example, in this practice, you’ll find that Side Plank Pose II is essentially the same shape but in a different pose as Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose II. You’ll experience the same actions— lengthening the hamstrings and inner thighs, strengthening the core, and practicing external rotation. I swear, by the time you reach your peak pose, you’ll feel more prepared than ever to give it a shot.
And remember, your ability to come into any pose “correctly,” or at all, has nothing to do with how advanced you are. The poses are simply tools in the greater practice of being present and curious about yourself. Meet your body where it is, honor your limits, and also let yourself be surprised.
A 20-minute yoga sequence for impossibly busy days
Start on your back and bring the bottoms of your feet together in Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose). Stay for 10 breaths.
From lying on your back, bring the bottoms of your feet to the mat, hip-distance apart. Extend your right heel toward the ceiling and interlace your hands behind your right leg. Stay for 5 breaths and switch sides before starting the sequence.
Supta Padangusthasana II (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose II)
Begin by coming into a reclined position. Raise your left leg and bring it toward your chest. Wrap the first two fingers of your left hand around your big toe and reach your heel towards the sky. (You’re welcome to keep your knee bent or wrap a strap around your foot if holding onto your big toe is a no-go at this point. Always meet your body where it is at and honor your limits, especially while we warm things up!)
Rest your right hand on your right hip as a reminder to firmly root the left hip towards the floor. Flex and awaken your right foot.
Slowly lower your left leg to the side as far as is comfortable, without letting your right hip lift. (If the right hip lifts, raise your left leg a little and reconnect your left hip to the floor.) Externally rotate your left leg so your toes turn a few more degrees towards the floor and the heel turns a few degrees towards the sky. The degree of this rotation will be somewhat minimal, but it will help you level your hips. This is important because the right hip has a tendency to lift too much in relation to the left hip on this side.
From lying on your back, roll yourself forward and step back to Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Bring your hands shoulder-distance apart and your feet hips-width distance on the mat. The V between your pointer fingers and middle fingers will face toward the front of the mat with your hands in an ever so subtly outward-facing position. Bring your edges of your feet parallel with the long sides of the mat.
Rotate your inner arms toward the front of the mat while keeping your hands fixed on the mat. Broaden your shoulders and feel your shoulder blades lift toward your hips. Cinch in your lower ribs and extend the tailbone upwards.
Wrap your inner thighs back and tone your legs as you reach your heels toward the mat. Stay for 5-10 breaths.
From Down Dog, step your right foot in between your hands. Walk your hands to the left and pivot on your feet to face the long side of the mat. Angle your feet slightly inward. Bring your fingertips in line with your toes and bend your elbows. Relax your neck. Spread your toes and lift your arches. Stay for 5-10 breaths. Walk back to the front of the mat and step back to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
From Down Dog, come forward into Plank Pose. (I know. “Ugh! Plank Pose.” But this is an essential pose to build strength and stability for the peak pose.) Stack your shoulders over your wrists. Root down through all of your fingers and knuckles. As you did in Down Dog, rotate your inner arms forward. Bring your head in line with your spine and reach the crown of your head forwards. Engage your abs to create stability in the spine.
Firm your glutes and draw the tailbone toward the space in between the heels at the back of the mat. You should feel almost every muscle working. As you balance effort and ease in Plank, take 5-10 breaths.
Take an optional Chaturanga Dandasana or come straight to Down Dog.
High Lunge Twist
From Down Dog, step your left foot forward in between your hands. Firmly plant your right hand an inch or two in front of your shoulder. Wrap your right inner arm forward as if you are trying to twist the lid off a pickle jar, and firm your right shoulder onto your back. Twist to the left and reach your left hand to the sky. Keep your right leg straight and squeeze your outer hips in as if there was a block between your thighs. Stay for 5 breaths. Step back to Plank Pose and move through Chaturanga Dandasana or come straight to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Splits)
From Down Dog, step your left foot to the outside of your left hand into a Low Lunge. Lower your right knee to the mat and slide it back an inch or two. Stack your hips directly above your back knee and lengthen your spine and the back of your neck. Keep that length as you straighten your front leg. Flex your left foot and dig your heel into the mat. Stay for 5 breaths. Come back to a Low Lunge and move through Chaturanga or come straight to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Add 5 minutes: Take 3 more High Lunge Twists and Half Splits to build continuity in your breath and to warm your body. Try doing them in the style of Sun Salutations.
Low Lunge Quad Stretch
From Down Dog, step your left foot to the outside of your left hand. Bring your right hand an inch or two in front of your shoulder. Press your right hand down and rotate your inner arm forward. If it’s available to you, come onto your right forearm.
Option 1: Take your left hand to the top of your left thigh and twist. Deepen the twist by pressing your left hand down and drawing your head and shoulders back. Make it a little backbend!
Option 2: Bend your back right leg and capture the pinky toe side of your right foot with your left hand. Press your foot into your hand and resist by drawing your hand back towards the hip.
Whichever option you take, rather than collapsing your hips towards the mat, lift your hips a few inches and scoop your tailbone downward between your legs (a.k.a. tuck your seat!). Firm your low ribs in. Stay for 5 breaths. Take an optional Chaturanga and come back to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Vasisthasana Variation (Modified Side Plank)
From Down Dog, step your left foot halfway toward your hands and place it at the outer edge of the mat. Pivot on your heels to turn both feet to face the long side of the mat. You should end up on the pinky toe side of your back foot and fully rooted in your front foot. Twist to the left and reach your left hand high to the sky. Press through everything that is in contact with the mat. Rotate your left inner arm forward (twist that pickle jar open!). Bring the back of your head in line with the spine and lift your left hip higher. Stay for 5 breaths. Lower your hand, step back, and take a Chaturanga or come straight to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana II (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose II)
From Down Dog, walk your feet forward to meet your hands at the top of the mat. Come to a halfway lift on your inhale, and then fold on your exhale. Inhale, reach your hands all the way above your head. Exhale, bring the hands to heart center in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
From Mountain Pose, lift your left knee up towards your chest as you firmly root through your right foot. Take your right hand to your right hip. Capture your left big toe with your pointer finger and middle finger. Before you straighten your left leg, open your left knee out to the side with your left arm inside your leg. Slowly straighten your leg, pushing through your heel. Reach your right arm to the right so your arms are in a T position.
There’s a tendency to stick the butt out here, so just like you did on your back, externally rotate your left thigh bone. It might only be a few degrees of rotation, but it will help you level your hips.
Stay focused with your eyes on one point straight in front of you, drive your standing right heel into the floor, and extend the crown of your head up to the sky. After 5 breaths, bend your knee and plant your foot back to the ground. Congratulations! You survived this standing balance pose, hopefully without knocking over any fine china. Repeat on the second side.
From Down Dog, shift forward until you’re about halfway to Plank. Roll onto the pinky-toe side of your right foot. Stack your feet and legs. Check that your right hand is an inch or two in front of your shoulder. Root your right hand down and, once again, twist the lid off the pickle jar. Engage your glutes and shift your hips toward the long side of the mat. Broaden your shoulders and reach your arms wide. Stay for 5 breaths. Bring your left hand down to the mat and return to Plank Pose. Take a Chaturanga or press back to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
From Down Dog, step your left foot between your hands and rise into Warrior Pose II. Root down through your heels and the base of your big toes and pinky toes. Tilt your hips to the right and lean forward over your left leg, hinging at your hips to bring your torso into a parallel-ish position with the floor. Reach your right arm toward the ceiling and place your left hand on the floor at the outside of your ankle or on your shin, or a block. Reach your arms wide. If it feels OK on your neck, look up to the ceiling.
Just as in Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose II, externally rotate your right thigh bone. (“Jack, what the frick is external rotation!?” Picture this. Imagine that you are squishing something underneath your left heel. You want to create the action of rotating the heel towards the left without actually moving the foot. Although your foot stays fixed to the mat, your thigh bone will rotate externally a little and your left hip will draw back and down, allowing your spine to lengthen.)
Stay for 10 breaths. Release your hands to the mat and take a Chaturanga or step back to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Vasisthasana II (Side Plank Pose II)
Let’s give Side Plank II a try! You’ve basically already done the pose in Side Plank and both Reclining and Standing Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose II. Remember, a pose like this, with its many dynamic elements and actions, can seem overwhelming and unattainable at first, but you just have to break it down!
Start in Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Shift forward until you’re about halfway to Plank. Then, roll onto the pinky toe side of your right foot. Keep the hips fairly lifted, so you can firmly press almost the entire bottom of your right foot to the floor. The more contact the bottom of your foot has with the floor, the more stable your pose will be.
Now, like you did in standing Hand to Big Toe II, draw your left knee up towards your torso and capture the left big toe with your first two fingers. Before you stretch your left leg towards the sky, straighten your bottom right leg completely and send your hips forward and up. Press through your right hand as you slowly reach your left heel toward the sky. Externally rotate your left hip bone.
You’re basically in the pose at this point. So perhaps quit now…or stick around for a moment, and refine your Side Plank II with some further technical nuance.
As you extend your left heel up and lift your hips like you mean it, draw back through the base of the skull and extend your spine into a little backbend. Trust me. Drive down through the finger pads and knuckles of your right hand and turn your inner arm forward towards the front of the mat. Broaden your shoulders and maybe even turn the gaze up to the sky.
Stay for 5 breaths. Lower your hand and foot to the mat and come back to Down Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Cooling down and wrapping it up
If you’re feeling more energetic, take a reclining backbend, such as Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) or Matsyasana (Fish Pose) or an inversion, such as Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand).
If you’re looking for something a bit more soothing and cooling, end with a reclining twist and Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby).
Do not skip Savasana, no matter how rushed you are.
Jack Workman teaches alignment-based vinyasa yoga and uses a lighthearted playfulness to communicate yoga’s most important teachings in an approachable way. He is a full- time yoga teacher in San Francisco.