Yin Yoga is practice of stillness and awareness, which deeply connect us with the present moment and transforms our energy, rebalancing the vitality of our organs.
The following sequence of long held postures not only acts on a deep level on the connective tissue, opening the body to new possibilities of movement, but also can help us keep away the winter blues, lifting our mood when we feel a bit depleted.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder are the foundation for the balance of all other organs, and also serve as a storehouse of vital energy: targeting their associated meridians, we can allow the flow of Chi run more freely along these electromagnetic routes, and as a consequence nourish them and boost our energetic levels.
If you are new to Yin Yoga and have any conditions which might impact on your practice, please make sure you consult your doctor before starting this little journey, but as a general rule, stay away from any pain or sharp sensations, and only come to an appropriate and sensible edge.
As you gradually settle in the positions enjoy the quietening of your breath, and surrender in a gentle relaxation, trying and holding the stillness for about 3 to 5 minutes and anchoring your focus on every physical, emotional and mental experience that might arise.
Allow your muscles to soften and your entire body to melt without resisting to gravity; if necessary please use pillows, blankets, bolsters or bricks (books can do quite a good job as well), to create gentle supports. You will see some examples of "architectures" you can copy, but please explore intuitively and adopt any variations, which make you feel safe, but still guarantee an appropriate level of stretch.
Remember we are still looking for positive stress to keep our tissues healthy, so a certain degree of discomfort (not pain!) is normal, and actually quite beneficial both for our organism and our mind.
A good idea is to release every position very slowly and, before moving to the following one, to come to a more neutral place (Savasana, All fours, Child's Pose, seated...) for at least a minute of contemplation in stillness, where you can fully notice the "Rebound" of the Chi, the flushing back of the energy and fluids in the areas you just targeted.
To start... Wide Knees Child's pose
Use this first pose to connect with your breath and scan through your body, noticing every subtle movement accompanying the respiratory pattern.
Gently open your knees keeping your feet together, and allow your upper body to rest, inviting your chest to melt to the floor with each exhalation.
If your shins feel uncomfortable, please fold your mat or place some padding underneath them; to protect your knees you might want to place a blanket between your calves and hamstrings to decrease the flexion in your legs. If you experience compression in the front of the hips, try and open the knees wider, or rest your belly on a pillow and keep the upper body slightly lifted.
Start getting more familiar with the sensation of stretching in the inner thighs: that's one of the areas where the Kidneys meridians run.
Coming to seated (you might want to use a block), have the soles of your feet touching together and allow your knees to gently open to each side. Feel free to keep a good gap between your pubic bone and the heels, and slowly start folding forward. Depending on your bodily presentation, you might perceive this position is targeting your inner thighs, your gluteals, and/or your back chain, neck included.
If your knees feel any discomfort, or you need to back off a little, you can place some support underneath your outer thighs to limit the range of motion. If the issues are more related to the back and neck, feel free to rest your elbows or your forehead on a support (you can create a tower of pillows or bricks, or hug a bolster to help maintain the spine in a more suitable position). Any severe back problems, such as herniated discs or sciatica, might require you to avoid the forward fold, and may be to rest on your back in a reclined variation, still maintaining feet together and knees apart.
To rebalance the flexion of the spine of the first two positions, you can move now into an extension, which will lengthen the hip flexors and abdominals, and create a mild compression in the lower back.
From a seated position, start bending one knee and keep the other leg long in front of you; giving weight into your hands behind you, start progressively lowering the back, may be coming on your forearms, or ultimately bringing your shoulders and head to the floor. This is a very intense position for your knees, so feel free to have a bolster or pillows straight from the beginning behind your back as a support. If the bent knee bothers you, you can open it slightly away from the midline of your body, or place a little padding underneath. Only come to a place where you can experience a sensation of length in the front body, but no risky alarming feedback from your knees.
In case the first option is not offering you enough stretch, you can proceed carefully bending the straight leg and placing the foot on the floor: this variation will automatically make your pelvis slightly tip forward, creating more length in the front of the other hip.
Sphinx or Seal
Following the opening of the front body created with the previous posture, you can now come into a back extension which encourages a gentle compression in the lumbar spine.
You can start on you belly, placing your elbows in a figure 11 shape, and progressively lift your chest. If your lower back feels fine, you can gradually press your hands firmly into the floor and work towards an extension of the arms (Seal).
As this pose can potentially create fatigue in the arms and shoulders, you may want to try and adopt other options, such as placing a support underneath your shinbones to increase the compression in the lumbar spine without having to extend your arms fully, or underneath your chest to relieve some weight and still maintain the same lifting sensation.
Moving on your back, allow your spine to refind a neutral shape, and then proceed opening gently your knees, grabbing your heels, toes or inner thighs. If needed, you can modify placing a strap on the soles of your feet and holding it with your hands, still trying and finding an appropriate amount of adductors stretch.
To increase the stretch, before opening your legs further apart, try and keep your shins perpendicular to the floor and flex through the heels.
Our last position will encourage an even deeper opening in the inner thighs, incorporating a flexion of the spine.
From seated, allow your legs to separate and gradually fold forward with your torso. For any discomfort in the knees, please bend them and eventually place a support underneath the knee caps. If folding forward feels too intense, you can rest your hands or arms on pillows or bricks, and for sever neck discomfort, give a hug to your favorite bolster, or rest your forehead on a tower of blocks. Try and patiently resist the temptation to fidget, progressively accepting the mild level of discomfort, and most importantly meet your body as it is in a non-judgemental way: remember we are not aiming at specific shapes, but at embodying our own experience of the pose exploring our own individual sensible edge.
To finish... Savasana
Coming to the natural completion of the journey, allow your body to sink into deep relaxation, but invite your mind to stay alert.
Laying on your back, and adding any supports you might like, start taking note of every little signals coming from underneath your skin, as your whole self absorbs the nourishment of the practice. If you feel your temperature dropped, which can be quite common, you can keep your organs nice and protected by covering yourself with a blanket.
Witness closely the quietening of the breath and the Rebound of the energy in the areas you have just worked, peaceful and connected way of being.
If you enjoyed this short sequence, stay tuned for more, and in the mean time go and try a class in your local studio, where a teacher will be able to manually assist you with further modifications!