1/17 Rodale Images/Tom McDonald
Stand with your feet together, big toes touching, spine straight, and head erect. Lift your kneecaps, activating your quads, and press the tops of your thighs back as you point your tailbone down between your heels. Lengthen your spine up, broaden across your collarbones, let your shoulders slide down your back, and stretch your arms down alongside the body, fingers spread and active. Take a breath or two here.
Inhale as you sweep your arms overhead, stretching from the outer edges of each foot up through the sides of your body. Reach your fingertips for the sky and look up at your hands.
Exhale as you bend forward from your hips and lower your torso toward your legs, keeping your spine straight but bending your knees if you need to. Place your fingertips on the floor in line with your toes and reach your forehead toward your shins.
Inhale as you rise onto your fingertips, straighten your arms, and lift your torso. Broaden across your collarbones and lengthen your spine, reaching out through the crown of your head.
With your hands on the floor outside your feet, exhale and step both legs back into plank pose. Reach back through your heels and forward through the crown of your head. Inhale here as you align your shoulders directly over your wrists and broaden across your collarbones, keeping your thighs and hips lifting to make one straight line with your body.
Exhale as you bend your elbows, hugging them in close to your rib cage, and lower your body to hover just a few inches above the floor. Reach back through your heels and forward through the crown of your head.
Inhale as you press the tops of your feet into the floor, straighten your arms, and reach your chest forward. Keep your legs active, thighs and knees off the floor.
Up until this point, the series has followed the sequence of the classic sun salute. But here McCarthy inserts the first deviation. This active yet relaxing position releases tension in the hips, knees, and ankles. That will help you get deeper into down dog (where you're heading into next). And by focusing on engaging your arm muscles here, you can keep your mind from wandering.
From upward dog, exhale as you push your hips back to your heels into child's pose. But rather than letting your arms relax at your sides, keep your hands where they are. Maybe even walk them out a little farther to fully extend your arms. Inhale as you press your palms firmly into the mat, root your arms into their shoulder sockets, engage your elbows so they rise off the mat, and feel an expansion across your upper ribs and through your armpits.
From child's pose, exhale as you lift your hips, straighten your arms and legs, and press back into down dog. Reach your heels toward the mat and your hips toward the ceiling.
As you move from down dog to your lunge McCarthy adds a transition. One-legged down dog releases tension in the hip and torso as it stretches and lengthens the entire extended side. Plus, the added challenge bumps up your calorie burn and tones more muscle.
From your classic down dog, inhale as you lift your left leg high, gently rolling the hip up and open toward the right and turn your gaze up under your left armpit. Aim for a straight line from your left hand to your left foot on side, pressing your chest and hip forward for optimal release in your torso and hip. For an additional challenge, lower your right elbow to the mat and straighten your left arm, keeping your palm down. Hold for one breath.
Then in one movement, inhale, straighten your right elbow, and bring your left foot all the way forward between your hands into a runner's lunge. Bend your left knee to 90 degrees, keeping it directly above your ankle, and straighten your right leg, with the ball of your foot pressing into the floor.
Now to get some bonus benefits from your lunge, McCarthy adds a twist. Your hips are opening in a lunge, and the added spinal twist makes the pose a chest and shoulder opener too. Plus, the more muscles you engage the more your mind will have to follow suit and the more calories you'll burn.
From your high lunge, exhale as you step the right foot back a bit farther, widening your stance, and lower your knee to the floor. Lift your hands off the mat, bringing your torso upright, and press your hips forward. Then place your right hand on the mat inside your left foot and lift your left arm straight up, rotating your torso to the left. Turn your gaze to look up at your left hand. Stay here for a breath.
Feel good in the low lunge twist? For an additional challenge, lift your back knee off the floor. Engage your back leg and reach back through your heel. Keep your right hip in line with the left and twist deeply from your belly. Stay here for a breath.
After the twist, McCarthy adds in a deep hip opener to help release those cardio- and chair-tightened muscles.
From your twisting lunge, exhale and rotate your torso back to center, returning to your runner's lunge. This time, bring both hands to the mat inside your left foot and lower your right knee down if it's lifted. If you can, lower your elbows down to the floor (or to a block). Then press your left knee open to the side, rolling onto the outer edge of your left foot to deepen the stretch and target your glutes and thighs. Stay here for a couple of breaths.
From your pigeon lunge, slowly and carefully come out of the stretch, press your left foot firmly into the floor and step your right foot forward to meet it, as you relax your torso down over your legs.
Then inhale and rise up onto your fingertips, lengthening your spine before exhaling back down again.
Let your inhale lift your torso, as you reach your arms overhead into urdhva hastasana. Then exhale and lower your hands to prayer position at your chest. Take a breath here then repeat the flow, focusing on your right side.