This post has been published for you to enjoy a home practice and is posted especially for my BNHC students who have been missing their Yin Yoga class during the two week Easter Break. I look forward to seeing you all next week when the new term starts.
The sequence has no particular theme except to be an all round, balanced practice for you to enjoy at home
If you already have an established home practice but are new to Yin, why not try adding one or two postures to your usual practice either at the beginning or end of your time on the mat. Or if you are an established ‘Yinster’ and don’t have time for the complete sequence, just taking 10 or 15 minutes for a couple of poses can bring about a noticeable shift in how you and your body feels.
However you choose to practice, remember that the approach in Yin Yoga differs from other styles you may be familiar with so please bear the following in mind:
– Come into the pose until you meet your edge; this may be 60-70% of your maximum stretch/range of motion.
– Relax the muscles of the target area (see each pose for guidelines).
– Resolve to stay still and harness your experience in the present moment.
– Remain in the pose for 3-5 minutes and come out slowly, resting for a minute or so before proceeding to the next.
– From a seated position, bring the soles of your feet together with knees bent to about a 90 degree angle.
– allow the inner thighs to completely relax and do not force the knees further down than they naturally fall. If you feel enough here feel free to stay upright as shown in the first image. If your lower back is rounding then please place a cushion or folded blanket under your sitting bones to help bring the pelvis into neutral.
– If you are ready to go further, ensure that you tilt your pelvis forwards and keep length in the lower back and once you feel your edge (your hips or low back will tell you), then allow your upper back to round and relax the head and neck. You may find that you can stack your hands on top of one another on your feet (second image), so that you can rest your forehead (or use a prop e.g. brick for this purpose). However, make sure that you are not striving to reach the prop by over stretching forwards.
Thread the needle
– From all fours, allow your left elbow to bend as you thread your right arm behind your left wrist. The top of your right arm and right temple will rest on the floor passively.
– You can stay here, adjusting the position of your left hand a little wider so that elbow is vertically stacked above the wrist (first image)
– Pressing the left hand into the floor will draw your left shoulder blade towards your spine, keeping the left side of the chest wide. This avoids that collapsing feeling and helps to maintain the twist in the upper back.
– Alternatively, you can bind: reach your left arm behind your back with the palm facing upwards. Find something to hold onto with the left hand – it might be your waistband or if you have the space you can tuck your hand at the top or your right thigh (second image). This pose is good for 3 minutes each side.
– You may like to rest in child’s pose afterwards.
! Only approach this pose if you are pain free in your knees…if your knee joints give any negative feedback, skip this pose for now. A strong stretch sensation in the quadricep muscles of the front thigh is fine and to be expected! It’s also crucial that the the sole of the foot (on the folded leg) points directly up to the ceiling and that you do not allow your foot to turn out to the side so that you are resting on the inner foot & heel (bad news for your knees!) My students often find that there is too much pressure on the top of the foot or front of the ankle so if this happens, pad underneath with a blanket.
– From a seated position with both legs outstretched in front of you, lean your weight over to your right buttock so that you have space to fold the left leg back with the heel beside your buttock and the sole of the foot pointing up towards the ceiling. As you send the left buttock back towards the floor,take an assessment: if it doesn’t reach the floor then raise your pelvis with blocks/folded blanket/cushion to level out the pelvis. Or if your knee feels a bit compromised then raising the pelvis often eliminates this. Here is a good place to stay if you feel sufficient sensation in the front of the thigh.
– If you need more, then start lowering yourself progressively and stop anywhere along the way: begin by placing your hands behind you and leaning back with your torso or prop yourself up on your forearms.
– If you are ready to progress further, you can lie all the way down either using a bolster or folded blankets underneath your torso and head (as pictured) or if you have the space, lie fully down to the floor. In either of these two final progressions, I like to bring the opposite foot flat to the floor so that I can lift my pelvis and tuck my tailbone under. This adjustment decompresses the lumbar spine and brings the emphasis back to the front hip/thigh of the folded leg.
– To come out of the pose, use your arms to lift you and draw your abdominals towards your spine. Always roll away from the folded leg (lifting the buttock off the floor) before you attempt to straighten the knee. Repeat the pose on the other leg.
– From a seated position with your legs outstretched, sit up tall with a straight spine allowing your legs and feet to be relaxed. In this position, if your pelvis is tipping backwards causing your back to round, please sit on a folded blanket or cushion to tip the pelvis into an upright position. If your hamstrings feel tight, a rolled up blanket underneath the backs of the knees will feel more comfortable and if you feel sufficient stretch in your hamstrings already, then stay here.
– If you feel ok to fold forwards, always begin with a long spine and initiate the forward bend by hinging from the front of your hips so that your pelvis is tilting forwards and the lower belly is moving towards the top of your thighs. When you reach your edge (this may be sensation in the hamstrings or lower back), allow your upper back to round forwards. You can support yourself with your hands or forearms on the floor or you can place blankets or a bolster between your thighs and torso.
– Allow your head, neck and shoulders to relax – you are not trying to pull yourself forwards so resist holding onto your shins or feet; simply drape and allow the pose to unfold.
– From a seated position, cross your legs with your right shin parallel to the short edge of your mat and the left shin behind, so that your shins meet about halfway up and your heels rest underneath your knees (as opposed to crossing the ankles with the knees wide). Lightly flex your feet but allow your hip and thigh muscles to be relaxed.
– If your knees are much higher than your hips, then elevate the pelvis with folded blanket or cushion. If this is the case, sitting upright probably gives you enough sensation in your hips.
– If you have little or no sensation in your outer hips, then initiate folding forwards by hinging from the front of your hips (as in caterpillar). As long as the lower back is still lengthened, you can then allow your upper back to round a little. You may support yourself with your hands by your sides or in front of you. If you have the space in your hips then resting down to your forearms may be an option but stay heavy on your sitting bones.
– When the above variation does not offer much in the way of sensation, then you may try this pose with the shins stacked one above the other (second image) but ensure that your top ankle bone rests on the inside of the bottom knee and keep your ankles lightly flexed i.e. do not allow the ankles to ‘sickle’. Repeat the pose with the other leg in front or on top.
– Time to get on your back! Bend your knees over your chest and take them shoulder distance apart with the soles of the feet facing the ceiling. Holding the outer edges of your feet, pull down with your hands so that your knees work themselves towards your armpits.
– If you are open in your hips your may find that your thighs get close to the floor beside your ribs whilst your lower back stays nicely grounded. However my hips don’t allow this range of motion and I find that my sacrum lifts off the floor so in order to keep it grounded (which feels much more beneficial to my hips) I match the resistance of my hands pulling downwards by pressing my feet into my hands. So my legs stay in the same place but this resistance allows my pelvis stays grounded whilst the shoulder heads drop back down to the floor to keep my collar bones wide.
– If it’s not comfortable to hold the feet, you can do this pose by wrapping the forearms around the backs of the thighs, but keep the soles of the feet facing the ceiling.
– I like to stay in this pose for just a couple of minutes.
Psoas release on a yoga brick (supine lunge to lengthen hip flexors)
– Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor as you would do to set up for bridge pose. Lift your hips to place a yoga brick (not a narrow block) on its middle level underneath your sacrum (the bony part of the back of your pelvis above your tailbone). You’ll know you are in the right place as it should feel stable and supportive – this is your centre of gravity.
– Draw your right knee in towards your chest and firmly hold the top of the shin or behind the knee with clasped hands. This will tip your pelvis slightly backwards which is what you are looking for but check that the block hasn’t tilted with it! Lengthen your left leg away from you, keeping the foot flexed and dig the heel firmly into the floor,working your left knee as straight as possible. Check that you don’t allow your straight leg to externally rotate i.e. keep the inner thigh slightly rolling in and down and your kneecap and toes point straight to the ceiling, not rolling out to the side.
– Keep this action in the legs: right knee strongly pulling into your chest with the left leg actively lengthening and the heel digging down. Now allow your pelvis and lower back to relax and feel heavy. You’ll feel a nice lengthening in the left psoas – anywhere from the uppermost part of the thigh, to the front of the hip or even the low abdomen inside your hip bone.
– Hold this for 2-3 mins before releasing the right foot back to the floor then your left. Repeat on the other side.
Finally, allow your mind and body to absorb the fruits of your practice with by resting in savasana.
You can join me for Yin Yoga at Brighton Natural Health Centre on Thursdays 5.15 – 6.30pm. See the classes page for full details.