When I picture my own personal hell-scape, the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” loops endlessly while scary cartoon characters dance around me with ritualistic fervor. But I really shouldn’t be so fast to dismiss the lesson at the heart this nursery rhyme. Learning how to use your head, shoulders, knees, and toes as an outline for stretching out your full body each day is something worth carrying well into adulthood, says yoga teacher Lindsay Pirozzi of New York City’s Y7 studio.
“Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, it increases our range of motion, protects our joints,” says the yoga teacher. “Both joints and muscles are so necessary in everyday functional movements that we rarely think twice about—sitting down to go to the bathroom, walking up the subway stairs, bending down because we dropped our cell phone, or even lifting your arms to reach something overhead.” When you make head-to-toe stretching part of your daily ritual, everything else becomes that much easier.
The same tender loving care also helps keep your mental dashboard free and clear, according to Pirozzi. She explains that in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), skipping physical self-care is believed to lock stagnant, stale energy inside the body. “Stuck energy in the body feels a lot like tension, and tension is the least natural sensation we’ll experience as humans. It’s a sign we have lost sight of our breath, and our connection to self,” she says. Um, no thanks. Below, Pirozzi shares an all-grown-up version of the heads, shoulder, knees, and toes exercise that *won’t* keep you up at night.
This 5-move yoga sequence is the grown-up version of the head, shoulders, knees, and toes exercise
1. Child’s pose
Start on your hands and knees bring your big toes to touch. Open your knees as wide as your yoga mat, anchor your hips back to your heels, and melt your chest toward the ground. If your head has difficulty touching the floor, use your forearms as a pillow for your head.
Hold for 5 long, slow breaths.
2. half locust pose
Open your feet about hip’s width distance or wider to accommodate your lumbar spine. Keep your legs on the floor with the shoelace side of your foot down and interlace your hands behind your back. On an inhale, reach your chest away from the ground. Squeeze your palms together, engage your thighs, and anchor down the pubic bone to find more height.
Hold for 5 breaths then lower down release your arms by your side.
Bring your hands underneath your shoulders and come back up to table top. Stack shoulders over wrists, hips over knees, and inhale and let the stomach move towards the ground while moving your chest forward and lifting your eyes to the ceiling for cow spine. Come into cat as you exhale: press the ground away with the hands, arch your spine to the ceiling, and let your head fall below your shoulders.
Do as many as your feel like!
4. Downward Facing Dog
From table top, tuck your toes abd lift your hips up and back for downward facing dog. Keep a subtle bend in the knees to help press your heels down towards the floor. Press your mat down and away with your hands and spiral the armpits towards each other while sliding the shoulders away from the ears. Keep your tailbone heavy to stay engaged through midline.
Hold for 10 breaths.
5. Forward fold
Walk your feet to the top of the mat, keeping them about hip’s width distance. Keep a bend in your knees and find a passive forward fold with your chest laying on the thighs. Feel free to hold opposite elbows and sway or interlace hands behind the back again.
Hold for 5 breaths, then slowly unravel the spine upward until you’re fully standing.