Calm your nerves down with Yin Yoga: a Liver and Gallbladder sequence
Do you get easily irritated and struggle with making plans and taking action? According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, your Liver and Gallbladder might be suffering from excess or stagnant Chi (energy).
Some Yin Yoga poses, held in stillness for a significant amount of time, can help clear the meridian pathways associated to these organs and at the same time have a positive effect on the health of your joints and connective tissue.
The Liver, also known as the organ in charge of strategy, is responsible for balancing our emotional wellbeing, for making plans and creating.
When Liver Chi is in harmony, positive emotions arise, such as kindness, compassion, and generosity; on the contrary, when this is dysfunctional, its negative attributes are anger, irritability, frustration, resentment, jealousy, rash decision making or indecision.
On the physical layer, unbalanced Liver and Gallbladder Chi can also manifest as fatigue, headaches, poor vision, irritability, inflammation, muscle pain and weakness, dizziness and vertigo.
The following sequence acts upon areas, where the Liver and Gallbladder (its pair organ) meridians run: back, inner and outer thighs and sides of the waistline.
You can hold these poses for 3 to 5 minutes to begin with, but feel free to stay longer as you get more familiar with the practice. As always, take your time to enter and exit the positions, staying away from any pain and sinking progressively in a deeper but sensible stretch.
Pillows, blankets and books (or proper Yoga blocks, bricks and bolsters) can be useful to support your body if you cannot fully surrender in the positions and therefore wish to contain your range of motion safely. You will see some examples of "architectures", but allow yourself to experiment and adapt, knowing that these configurations might also vary from one side to the other.
As you hold the stillness, maintain alertness in your mind and observe the feedback from your breath.. If this gets shallow, is your body telling you you went too far, or is the discomfort a new sensation you might not be that familiar with, but which you can progressively surrender to?
To start..Reclined Twist
I like to come in this position by gently mobilising the spine first: laying on your back with the feet hips distance apart, you can slowly let them drop from side to side. You can inhale and let them move to the right, keeping the feet and shoulders in contact to the floor, and exhale to come back to centre grounding the sit bones on your mat; then you can proceed to the other side, slowly increasing the torsion and may be turning your head in the opposite direction of your legs.
When you feel the spine is more mobile, bring the knees to your chest and let them drop to one side, as your shoulders try and stay grounded without lifting from the floor.
Experiment with the position of the opposite arm, extended or bent, towards the high diagonal at the back of the mat or closer to your hips, and with the distance of your knees from your chest (when they are close you might experience a lovely stretch in the lower back).
Allow the knees to soften to the floor and at the same time the opposite shoulder to stay anchored; if any of these body parts hurt, please support them with a pillow or block.
Embrace the opening of the side body and imagine you are mostly inflating the lung, which is away from the floor, to allow the intercostal muscles (the little ones in-between your ribs), to fully extend.
Before moving to the other side, please come on your back and take a minute to notice any differences between the right and left half of your body (one might feel much more open..)
We move now to a restful hip-opening posture: from seated, please bend the front leg in front of the body and let the other reach back straight (or bent for more comfort), and slowly allow the upper body to fold forward, letting the head and arms rest on the ground.
If your front knee doesn’t like this pose, sometimes moving it towards the mid-line of the body can take some pressure off.
If it’s the knee of the back leg complaining, a small rolled up towel or a blanket under the thigh of the back leg will often help, as well as curling the back toes under can take some pressure off the knee cap. Try and experiment with supports, for instance you can sit on a block, or if you feel the tension in the upper body is too intense, you can rest your forehead or elbows on a tower of bricks and pillows, and maintain yourself more elevated.
Give yourself the time to settle into this pose, which is soothing for the nervous system and perfect to calm the mind if you find it hard to fall asleep!
Sphinx or Seal
Both poses encourage a gentle compression in the lumbar spine and an extension of the front body, and they are very useful if are a bit scared of back bend and need the time to understand, which is the appropriate amount of arch your lower back can safely sustain.
You can start on you belly, placing your elbows in a figure 11 shape, and progressively lifting 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).
If you experience fatigue in you arms, you can place a bolster or pillow under your chest or belly as a gentle support, as this will alleviate the weight you will have to sustain with your upper body.
It is quite common in this pose to start tensing the neck or the gluteals, so try and notice these patterns and feel free to drop the chin to the chest and internally rotate the thighs, to switch off the muscles you don't need to support yourself.
Shoelace is an incredibly efficient positions to release contracted gluteals, especially the Piriformis muscle, as it offers both a deep external rotation in the thighs and a forward fold for the torso.
You can come to Shoelace from seated, bending one knee over the other, directing the soles of your feet towards the back of your mat. The closer to the front of your mat you bring your feet, the deeper the stretch you will experience in your gluteals. If this doesn't feel right on your knees, you can extend the bottom leg, and this will target the hamstrings of the stretched leg as well. To help your lower back, you might want to sit on a support, so that your hips end up being slightly higher than your knees.
Unless you have serious issues with your lower back (herniated discs, sciatica..), you can progressively soften your chest towards the front. Eventually you can also rest your head on blocks or pillows in case the tension in the back of the neck becomes too strong.
Lateral Half (or full) Dragonfly
To begin with, sit in the Half Dragonfly position, with one knee bent and the other extended on the side (or slightly bent if needed), as shown in the first picture below.
If your knees feel uncomfortable, please pad them with cushions, blanket or small bolsters, or try and keep the angle between the legs smaller.
If this feel fine, please start tilting your torso towards the extended leg, and eventually rise the top arm over your head and eventually catch the foot. Try and maintain both sits bones grounding and feel free to bend the top arm resting the hand behind the neck or rest your head on your bottom hand (elbow on a block) for support if this is feeling too intense for your shoulders.
If your thighs feel quite open, you can choose to extend both legs completely, coming into full Dragonfly.
The magic of this pose is that, when your arm is overhead, it creates a delicious stretch for the fascia of the side body, and targets the Lungs and Heart meridian as well (those apparently connected to our feelings of joy and courage!)
We start now to unwind, targeting inner thighs and hips in a more restorative place for the spine.
Laying on the floor, please bring the soles of the feet together with the knees out to the side, making a little diamond shape. The arms can rest on the side of the hips, or, if you want to create opening through the chest, they can be extended overhead. A soft pillow or block can also be placed under the shoulder baldes to elevate the chest and allow the ribs to slide nicely apart (this is one of my favourite mood boosters ever!)
If your knees or adductors feel too much pulling, you can support the thighs by placing some supports just underneath.
Coming to the natural completion of the journey, allow your body to sink into deep relaxation, while your mind to stays alert.
Laying on your back and adding any supports you might like, start noticing 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.
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 assist you with further modifications!