Yin Yoga Sequence: Spring Renewal

The first week of spring in New England has given rise to some doubt that winter isn’t quite done with us.  Despite the current frigid temperatures and a March blizzard, spring is showing signs of emergence, with the sun observed higher in the sky and stretching longer into each day.

This is a time for renewal and growth.  What has been lying dormant in the winter is now ready to come to light.  This is what we see not only in nature, but within ourselves.  This is the time where we innately feel a pull to do some “spring cleaning” within our homes, and in the structure of our lives by becoming better organized and creating new habits.  By tapping into the energy of the season, there can be a clear sense of what we want to accomplish and how to get there.

According to the Five Elements Theory, a Chinese philosophy used to describe interactions and relationships between things, each element has it’s own characteristics and associations with a different aspect of nature.  Spring corresponds with the wood element; having been nourished by the water element of winter, wood can now emerge and grow.  We can nourish this wood energy by practicing yoga postures that stimulate the liver and gallbladder meridians, which are the organs associated with this element.  These meridians are located on the inner and outer lines of the body, and this month’s sequence was created specifically to create seasonal balance.

As you practice this sequence, pay close attention to the subtle nuances of the Qi moving through the tissues, softening and spreading through the entire body.  Allow the mind to explore the intentions or goals you may have.  Stay open and receptive as you develop the capacity to see clearly and directly all that your heart desires, fostering this expansive and creative wood energy.

Happy Spring!

How to Practice

There are four main principles of Yin Yoga.  First, we come into a shape and go to the first point of resistance, and from that mild “edge” of sensation, observe what is being felt.  Sensation should be no more than a mild, dull ache, and not gravitate toward anything sharp, stabbing or burning.

The second principle is to remain still. With the muscles relatively relaxed, the stress will transfer to the denser connective tissues. Keep in mind, you are not fixed in a single spot for the duration of the pose. Do be sure to change the angle of the pose to accommodate for any release, or to back away from sensation that becomes too intense.

Third, yin postures are held for longer periods of time. Postures can be held anywhere from three to even 20 minutes, but start with a time frame that makes sense for you, honoring the foregoing tenets.Lastly, be sure to release each pose with care.  There will likely be a sense of fragility in the body as the tissues respond to the stress.  Move slowly and mindfully as you transition.

Practice the postures sequentially as listed, allowing for 3-6 minutes in each pose. The postures that are suggested to be practiced in a series can be held for less time if needed. Get creative with how you sequence, and be sure to give yourself at least 1-2 minutes between postures to rest in a prone or supine savasana, observing the effects. Static, muscular holds and even some slow, controlled dynamic movement are also appropriate ways to transition. It is normal to feel some fragility as you exit a posture, and that sensation may stay present for a minute or two.

The Sequence

1. Neck Release.  Sit with a neutral pelvis and tall spine and allow the right ear to fall to the right shoulder.  Slip the left hand behind the back and catch hold of the inner right arm.  Repeat other side.
2. Toes Pose.  Tuck the toes under and sit on the heels.  Decrease the sensation by elevating hips with a bolster, or bearing weight into the hands.  A block or bolster under the knees may also minimize the intensity.
3. Tadpole. Fold the upper body over the thighs with the hips settled toward the heels.  Extend the arms forward.
4. Squat. Sit low, sinking the hips, and let the upper body relax forward.  Add whatever you may need for support under the heels or hips if the deep flexion in the the knees causes too much strain.  To release, lean forward and place the hands on the floor or block, raising the hips and straightening the legs.
5. Dangle. Directly after squat, raise the hips and allow the body to fold over the legs.  Keep any amount of bend in the knees and let the upper body be completely relaxed.
6. Side Dragonfly.  Take the legs wide and let the right arm rest on the ground or elbow up on a prop, supporting the head, as shown, with the left arm draping overhead to invite sensation along the left side of the trunk.  Repeat on the left side.
7. Dragonfly.  After the lateral positions to the right and left, allow the upper body to fold forward, resting the palms, forearms or torso on the floor. Sensation may be felt along the inner lines of the legs or along the back line of the body.
8. Shoelace. Wrap your left leg on top of the right as shown, or cross the shins if there is discomfort in the hips and/or knees. Sit on a blanket or block if needed. Make the pose passive by folding forward.
9. 1/2 Shoelace.  From Shoelace, extend the bottom leg and fold forward.
10. Square.  Cross the ankle over the knee and sit upright or fold forward, depending on what you experience in the outer hips.  If ankle to knee is inaccessible, cross the shins and fold forward.
11. Supported backbend.  Place a bolster under the sacrum, extending both legs as shown. If this creates sensation that’s beyond an appropriate edge, bend one leg and alternate.
12. Easy twist.  Lie on your right side, with the knees pulled up toward the hips.  Lift the left arm to peel open the upper body, allowing for an easy spinal twist.  Arrange the arms however it feels best.
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