4 Yin Yoga Poses to Help Return Us To Ourselves
The longest relationship we have in life is with the self. How we treat this relationship will impact all of our other relationships. Creating and maintaining a yin yoga practice is the counterbalance to an active, modern lifestyle. A yin yoga practice nourishes the connection to self. It seeks to rebalance our overwork, multitasking, and newfound obsession with being productive every moment of our lives. Continuous action places our bodies and minds on the brink of exhaustion. Our sympathetic nervous system becomes overstimulated. We spend hours a day hunched in front of our phones and computers. Our hearts and chests begin to cave in on themselves. Our shoulders and necks bear the physical burden as they tense and tighten.
Yin yoga slows both the mind and the body down. The goal of yoga has always been to prepare the body for deep meditation. Yin yoga relies on time and gravity as the active agents in releasing physical, mental and emotional stress. This gentle, yet strong practice sets the yogi on an inward journey through the physical and emotional landscape. Yin yoga works to release tension stored in the physical body by acting on the fascia. Imagine the fascia as a thin, white film that covers our muscles, internal organs, and nerves. Slowly and gradually stretching this connective tissue creates more flexibility, space, and strength within the body.
On average, yin postures are held between 3–5 minutes. Savasana is recommended from 10–20 min. There are 20 yin yoga poses. The length of time spent in the yin postures leads to deep, emotional releases. We know that the mind stores our memories. The physical body also stores emotion and memory. Every experience we have had from birth until this very moment exists in a physical imprint in the body. Like the mind, the physical body releases and replaces memories as they are formed, and according to their significance. We know that the longer we hold a physical object, the heavier it becomes. The same is true for tension, anger, and sadness. The longer we hold on to them physically, and emotionally, the heavier they become. We must create the time and space in which to release them.
The amount of time dedicated to your yin practice is up to you. Although consistency helps, even a few minutes a week can add considerable benefits. Whether you are practicing at your favorite studio, or at home, the setting should be calm. The room temperature should be mild to warm, because the poses are static. Wear comfortable clothing, and have socks, extra layers, and a blanket handy for savasana. If you need extra support, place your mat on top of another, or fold a blanket, especially under the knees. For the purpose of our 4 yin yoga poses, we will use a bolster for support during child’s pose, and savasana. The bolster is optional. The bolster offers a deeper level of comfort and relaxation.
You can create a soothing atmosphere at home or in the studio with the aid of candles, dim lights, soft music, and as few external distractions as possible. Give yourself a set period of time for your practice. If you are practicing at home, you can set a timer for how long to hold each pose. Poses that are done on the right side of the body will need to be done on the left side as well. This brings us into balance. You will notice, especially with the hip openers, that your right and left side will feel completely different from each other. Please, try not to judge or pick favorites. We are experiencing change in the mind, in body, and in our emotions daily. Your yin practice will feel different every day. Never push yourself too deep, and always pull away from the points that feel too intense. Your yoga practice should never cause you pain. Your inhales will take you into a pose, and the exhales will release you deeper into it.
Supported Child’s Pose: Hold for 5 min. Opens the hips, and relaxes the shoulders. We used an organic, buckwheat filled bolster for added support to demonstrate this pose. You can substitute a couch bolster, cushion, or a folded blanket to provide support. You can also place a blanket under the knees for extra padding.
Begin by coming down to the center of your mat, and dropping down to the knees. The knees will be spaced about hip-width apart. Bring the big toes together so that they touch. Allow your hips to draw you towards your heels, and rest gently on the tops of your feet. Nestle your bolster comfortably between the inner thighs. Take a deep inhale into the chest, and as you exhale release the belly, chest and head to the bolster. Place your left or right cheek on the bolster, and relax the arms down, on either side of the bolster. Make sure that your belly is soft, and that your shoulders soften with your exhales. This is an asana of surrender. You can take a child’s pose at any time during your practice.
Sphinx Pose: Hold for 3 min. A gentle backbend, it targets the lower back, and shoulders.
Come to rest fully on your belly. Extend the legs out behind you, about hip-width apart, and bring the tops of your feet to rest firmly on the mat. Place your elbows right underneath the shoulders. Press your forearms and palms firmly into the mat. Spread your fingertips wide and apart, so you can feel the webbing stretch between them. Keep your chest open, and begin to bring your gaze softly upward. Allow the belly and thighs to soften. Relax the shoulders. This will help create a gentle compression in the lower back. To come out of sphinx pose, lower all the way down and come into a child’s pose as a counter balance pose.
Inside Dragon Pose (Right Side, followed by the left): Hold for 3–5 min on each side. Focuses on opening the hips and hamstrings.
Begin in an active down dog pose. Step the right foot towards the right hand. Make sure that the right ankle is stacked underneath the right knee at a 90-degree angle. Place the right palm on the inside of the right foot. Slowly, release your left knee to the mat (add a blanket for support if needed), and fully extend the left leg back. Allow the top of the left toes to release onto the mat. You can remain here if this feels comfortable, or you can go deeper as illustrated in the photo. If you want to go deeper, lower your forearms down to the mat. Allow the head to hang heavy, and for a natural curve to take shape at the base of the neck. To come out of the pose, come back into down dog, peddle out the legs, and then head into the left side for the same amount of time.
Supported Savasana: 10–20 min. Releases tension in the physical, mental and emotional body. We used an organic, buckwheat filled bolster for added supported to demonstrate this pose. You can substitute a couch bolster, cushion, or a folded blanket to provide support.
Savansa is known as corpse pose. It is considered the hardest of all the asanas. It demands that we release, and relax fully from the toes to the top of the head. Anyone who has spent a few minutes in it will vouch for its wonders, though at first, some might find themselves restless in this pose. Begin by sitting on your yoga mat, and spread the legs about hip-width apart, into a wide, open V shape. Place the bolster under both knees, and wiggle on it until you have found your comfortable spot. Allow the heels of both feet to touch your mat. Slowly lower down, vertebrae by vertebrae, until the whole body is released onto the mat. Bring the arms beside the body, and allow the palms to rest facing up. Relax the shoulders and shoulder blades low into the mat. Allow the neck to relax, close the eyes. Consciously begin to relax the feet, legs, torso, arms, and head. Allow your mat to hold and support you fully. To come out of savasana, roll on to your left side (your yin side) and open your eyes. Slowly lift the torso, and then finally the head up and away from your mat.
Take your time during your yin practice. Notice the subtle differences as you come to your mat each time. Revel in the changes, and stay with the emotions as they arise. This is how we learn.
“Yoga is the journey of the Self,
Through the Self,
To the Self.”
The Bhagavad Gita
Model: Jennifer Varsalona
Studio: Calm on Canning Street, Edinburgh