We’ve all seen the Yin Yang symbol; most of you have seen it associated with martial arts or maybe tattooed on someone’s arm. Perhaps some of you wore it as jewelry or doodled it on your notebooks in the mid 90’s.
This well-known symbol depicts the balance of complementary forces that are seemingly opposite from one another on the surface, for instance: Dark and Light, Female and Male, Moon and Sun, Inside and Outside. Much like water is complementary to fire, Yin yoga complements Yang, or Hatha/Vinyasa yoga. I began my journey into Yin about two years ago and started to unravel the synergistic relationship between these opposing elements.
I didn’t know much about the style when I walked into my first class other than having heard it being inaccurately compared to Restorative yoga, and that you were to hold postures for several minutes. There was not a single expectation in my mind when I unrolled my mat, placing a folded Mexican blanket on top of it to create a cozy space for myself. I gathered some props: 2 blocks, a bolster, and an extra blanket — Yin loves its props! The instructor was a bubbly and encouraging woman who explained that Yin is based in the Hatha style except here you take a shape, soften your muscles into that shape finding stillness, and hold the shape for time (typically three to five minutes) usually while remaining seated, on your knees, belly, or back.
I can remember the very first Yin posture that I took. Frog pose. I widened my knees as I would in Child’s pose and stretched out on the bolster before me. I was then guided to slowly slide my feet out, away from my body, not bringing them past my knees and stopping just shy of my sweet edge in sensation. We lay there in this juicy hip opener for five minutes. Immediately my muscles tensed, my thoughts were all over the place. Our instructor gently reminded us to relax our muscles explaining that when the muscles soften, the physical benefits of Yin begin to take hold. In the Yang style of yoga we engage our muscles, in Yin our softness allows us to work our joints, ligaments, connective tissue, and fascia while also stimulating the numerous meridian lines that are the energetic pathways of our bodies. Different poses correspond to particular meridians. After that first class I was so blissed-out I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive home!
The biggest and most unexpected obstacle that I’ve found with Yin as I began to incorporate it into my weekly practice was not physical in nature but mental. Our teacher often said during class that Yin increases flexibility in one’s body. As time went on I found myself creating more flexibility in my mind. I was able to free myself more and more from many unnecessary attachments that popped up while holding the postures. Typical thoughts that had earlier raced through my mind like “how much longer do I have stay in this shape?” or “I think I’ll make veggie burgers for dinner tonight” began to dissipate and I could start to feel the sweet surrender of my body and mind relaxing, deepening my inward journey.
We live in a very Yang culture, constantly being active in our physical and mental worlds. But now I am able to embrace a more Yin attitude, which restores and maintains a healthy balance in my yoga practice and in my life.
Here’s a short Yin sequence to try on your own or infuse into your Yang home practice:
Child’s Pose(Hold: 1-2 minutes)
-Child’s, also a Yin posture that gently stretches the spine and stimulates the stomach, spleen, kidney and urinary bladder meridian lines.
-Connect with you breath here and settling into your hips.
Frog Pose (Hold: 4-5 minutes)
-Keeping your knees wide and your arms stretched overhead, begin to slide through onto your belly, sinking your hipbones closer toward the floor.
-See if you can separate your knees a little bit more. If you have a lot of tightness in your hips grab a bolster and place it length wise under your pelvis, belly, and chest either resting your head on the end of the bolster or on a block in front of it.
-Staying where you are if that’s deep enough or you can walk your feet away from your body not going past your knees, pointing your toes outward.
-Remember to soften the muscles, unclench those hips, your buttocks, and your jaw.
-Frog not only works the groin area but also aids in digestion and helps relieve cramps. It stimulates the liver, spleen, and kidney meridians.
Counter Pose (Hold 30-60 seconds): To come out of Frog, you can either sit back into Child’s Pose or you can come onto your belly (removing the bolster from under you) then flip over onto your back and hug your knees into your chest.
Sphinx Pose (Hold 4 minutes)
-Find your way onto you belly letting your legsbe long and the tops of your feet rest on the mat.
-Bend the elbows right under the shoulders so that your forearms and hands rest parallel from each other.
-You can place a folded blanket or yoga towel under your elbows for a little more cushioning if needed. Have a block handy as you start to soften into this shape, allowing the upper arm bones to support you, letting your head bow down gently resting your forehead on the block.
-To deepen the compression of your lower spine, turn your toes outward, away from your body as you walk your feet further apart. Play around with it and see what your body responds to best.
-Again, remember to soften the muscles and stay with your breath.
Counter Pose (Hold 30-60 seconds) Slowly lower your chest on the floor as you slide your elbows out wide and rest your head to one side, then the other. Come into Child’s pose.
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Photo: Jaime Rodominick