Yin Yoga Sequence: Ease and Compassion

This month’s sequence is an invitation to slow down and welcome ease and compassion as we come off the hectic pace of the summer months. For athletes, now is typically the time for peak races and events, and this sequence fits in well with the taper and/or recovery phase of a training plan. This particular sequence focuses on the inner and outer lines of the body, which is complementary to our predominant forward plane of movement, and also targets the liver and gall bladder meridians, which correspond with the emotional qualities of kindness, compassion, courage and clear decision making.

Yin Yoga is a still and passive practice that focuses on exercising the denser connective tissues of the body. By coming into poses that keep the muscles relatively inactive, gravity and time are skillfully used to place stress on the plastic-like tissue within the joint capsules, the dense connective tissue and bones. Working the body in this way greatly benefits the health of the joints by reducing fixation, maintaining functional mobility, preventing degeneration and increasing hydration.

In addition to the physical benefits, Yin Yoga opens the body’s meridian system to influence the movement and quality of Qi (chi), enhancing our overall health and state of being, and is an opportunity to settle into our experience and observe whatever may arise in the body and mind.

How to practice
There are three 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.

Lastly, 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.

Practice the postures sequentially as listed, allowing for 3-6 minutes in each pose. Give yourself at least 1-2 minutes between postures to rest in a prone or supine savasana, observing the effects. 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. Tadpole / Wide Knee Child’s Pose. Take the knees wide, settling the hips toward the heels and extend the arms.

2. Twisting Tadpole / Child’s Pose. Walk the hands over to the right any amount that allows for sensation to be felt along the side body. Repeat on the left side.

3. Dragon. Step the right foot forward, planting the hands on the floor or on blocks to target the hipflexor of the back leg. Hands can be placed on the inside of the right foot, and the foot walked out wide to allow for sensation in the right groin. Repeat on the left side.

4. Sphinx. Place the elbows under the shoulders, keeping the legs relaxed. Head may be kept in a neutral position, fall forward, or the forehead can rest on a block.

5. Seal. Transitioning from Sphinx, fully extend the arms, moving the hands toward the body any amount that allows for an appropriate amount of sensation to the lumbar spine. Hands may turn in our out.

6. Swan / Pigeon. Targeting the outer hip, take the right knee forward, allowing for an external rotation of the thigh. Use a prop for height if the knee feels at all sensitive, or allow the hip to come down completely and incline the upper body toward the right foot. Fold forward to whatever degree you can. Repeat on the left side.

7. Dragonfly. Take the legs wide and 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 with eagle arms. Wrap your right leg on top of the left as shown, or cross the shins if there is discomfort in the hips and/or knees. Sit on a blanket or block if needed. Wrap the left arm on top of the right and elevate the elbows, keeping the posture tall and steady for a minute or so. Allow the mind the scan the body and breath.

9. Shoelace with eagle arms, folding foward. Make the pose passive by folding forward, allowing the elbows to rest on the knees, on blocks or on the floor. Repeat on the other side.

10. Bananasana. Turn yourself into a banana to stimulate the side body. Start by bending your knees and moving your hips to the right. Extend the legs and move the heels to the left, crossing one ankle over the other. Try both and see which you prefer. Reach the arms overhead and shimmy the upper body over to the left and hold your right wrist with your left hand. Incline the head to whichever direction feels natural. Repeat on the other side.

I hope you can take the time to incorporate some, if not all the postures within this sequence. Please do let me know if you have any questions or comments! Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Always consult your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The information provided in this blog is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.

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