You may recognize Erin Sanders as Quinn Pensky from the beloved Nickelodeon series Zoey 101. Sanders has also starred in Big Time Rush, The Young and the Restless, and The Call. But when she’s not in front of the camera, you’ll find Sanders perched on a yoga mat. The actress has been practicing yoga her entire life and finds joy in helping others feel empowered by their bodies through the practice. Ahead, Sanders walks us through an early morning yoga flow that’ll help us get our mind and body moving.
This is a special morning Yin flow just for Byrdie readers. If you're like me and you're always thinking, "Five more minutes of sleep, please!" when your alarm goes off, you're going to love sliding onto the ground with some pillows and blankets and starting your day with a Yin Yoga practice.
Yin Yoga is the soft, slow counterpart to more Yang styles of yoga (such as Vinyasa, which is heat-building and will have you breaking a sweat). In Yin, you hold postures supported by your own bones and joints, as well as by physical objects, for several minutes per pose. You relax all your muscles to allow yourself to simply melt into the posture as the minutes pass. For lots of people, this is a meditative practice that can lead to a deep emotional, mental, and physical release. It's okay if thoughts enter your mind, but see if you can begin to detach from them being good or bad. You can decide whether you want to give attention to these thoughts, sit with them, or let them float by. You're in control.
I love Yin Yoga because it teaches us how to be patient and reminds us of the value of being soft. Not many areas of our lives encourage that. We're led to believe that we must do everything as intensely as possible for what we're doing to make an impact. This can easily lead to burnout—and you deserve a break.
This sequence is designed to mobilize your spine, open up your chest and shoulders, stretch your hips and hamstrings, and ease your lower back pain. Try this sequence before (or after) a full day of sitting and screen time. I think this will be extra satisfying for you.
For this flow, you'll want to grab big fluffy pillows, a folded blanket, and two yoga blocks. If you don't have blocks, try rolls of toilet paper or soup cans.
This is a big stretch for your shoulders as well as a twist, which is great for your spine's mobility.
- Lie on your tummy with your arms spread wide like a T.
- Look to the right. Bend your right knee, lean back, and do your best to bring your right foot to the ground behind you. Relax your jaw. Breathe.
- You have some choices here—keep your free hand on the ground in front of you for support or bind it behind your lower back for more depth. Keep your top knee bent, foot planted for more support—or begin to straighten your top leg, stretching it behind you, for more depth.
- Hold one to two minutes per side.
- This is an intense pose that asks for a gentle and slow exit. Take your time in between sides and give your butt a little wiggle for a lower back release.
Hip + Shoulder Stretch
- From your tummy, slide your right knee up toward your right shoulder, as high as it will go. Prop yourself up on your left forearm, look to the left, and slide your right arm all the way under your left armpit.
- Come to rest on your right shoulder, ear, and cheek (or place a pillow under your cheek for support).
- In this pose, you find internal rotation of your shoulders, coupled with the external rotation of your hips. These actions oppose and intensify one another, creating the stretch you're looking for.
- Breathe deeply.
- Hold one to two minutes per side.
- After each side, take windshield wiper legs with bent knees to gently massage your lower back.
Sphinx Pose or Seal Pose
- For Sphinx, support your upper body by placing your forearms out in front of you, elbows, and wrists in line with your shoulders.
- Make sure your elbows are slightly in front of your shoulders. You can keep your head lifted or let it drop (option to take some gentle neck circles).
- As you belly breathe here, your belly presses against the ground, forcing breath and circulation to the lowest curve of your back, your lumbar spine. This decompresses your lower back, which is healing and soothing – especially helpful if you've been sitting as much as I have this year.
- If you'd like a little more depth, bend your knees (no need to point your toes or flex your feet), let your feet be soft.
- Hold one to three minutes.
For a deeper backbend, you can transition from Sphinx to Seal.
- First, release knees your knees if they're bent.
- Next, angle your hands toward the outer edges of your mat and push into your hands until your elbows lift, arms straighten. Keep your low belly on the ground.
- You can add bent knees back in if you'd like.
- Take deep belly breaths. Hold one to three minutes.
Let's counter the backbend you just did with a supported forward fold.
- Place a folded blanket under your knees for padding, spread your knees wide, and sit back on your heels.
- Place a pillow (or two) in front of you, between your knees.
- Stretch your chest out over the pillows, turn one cheek, and rest.
- Turn your gaze the other direction halfway through. Breathe.
- Hold four to eight minutes.
The grande finale. This shape is amazing for opening up your hips and hamstrings, which tend to get stiff and tight when sitting for long periods of time. Tight hip flexors and hamstrings can pull on your lower back. This final pose isn't about getting into the splits – it's about taking care of your back. Any degree of depth is great.
- Kneel on a blanket.
- Place a block under each hand. (If you don't have yoga blocks, try rolls of toilet paper or soup cans.) Step your right foot forward and wiggle it far enough away that your toes comfortably lift and you're balancing on your right heel.
- Pull your right buttcheek back in space as you simultaneously pull your chest (not your head, your chest) forward. Take a big inhale.
- As you exhale, drop your head and fold in any amount toward your outstretched leg. You might rest your forearms on blocks or use one block under your right leg to rest your body against.
- Stretch out your shape as much as you want during your time in the pose. Take deep breaths. It's okay to feel squirmy or uncomfortable (but we never want to feel pain). Remind yourself that you are okay, and this practice is an expression of love and appreciation for yourself.
- Hold two to five minutes per side.
When you decide you're ready, be very patient as you slowly exit the pose. To do this, push into your hands for some extra lift, round your back, and gently drag your outstretched leg back. Place your right knee beside your left. Take a breather in Child's Pose after each side.
Want to take a free class with me? I teach Yin Yoga (and Vinyasa Yoga) via live-stream every week, and I'd love to see you there. Check out ErinTeachesYoga.com and sign up for my newsletter to receive your first class on me.
Wang F, Szabo A. Effects of yoga on stress among healthy adults: a systematic review. Altern Ther Health Med. 2020;26(4):AT6214.
Roy I. [Burnout syndrome: definition, typology and management]. Soins Psychiatr. 2018;39(318):12-19.
Wieland LS, Skoetz N, Pilkington K, Vempati R, D’Adamo CR, Berman BM. Yoga treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;1:CD010671.
Kim B, Yim J. Core stability and hip exercises improve physical function and activity in patients with non-specific low back pain: a randomized controlled trial. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2020;251(3):193-206.