Unglamorous YogaAlthough Yin offers balance for yogis who love a more active practice, many students initially find it a turnoff. The poses aren't sexy. The sequences don't offer much to intrigue the mind. And Yin Yoga doesn't play into that sense of accomplishment that keeps some students coming back to the toughest of vinyasa classes every day.
The pace of Yin Yoga also deters yogis who crave speed. It is an adjustment to go from holding poses for five breaths to holding them for 5 minutes. But within the stillness you'll find the gems of Yin. "Landing in this practice helps you take up residence in the body without a need for it to perform," Powers says. When you stop striving and tune in to what's happening, you begin to truly feel the sensations in your body and mind as they arise.
Once you accept that you will feel many things during a Yin practice—discomfort, boredom, anxiety—and learn to stay with the chorus of thoughts and feelings, your relationship to them will begin to change. You will learn that you have the inner strength to stay in situations you previously thought you couldn't handle. You will see the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings as you watch them arise and then pass on their own. And when you stop resisting what's happening around you, you'll gain a sense of liberation and trust in life.
Before You BeginAs in any style of yoga, you may need to modify or abandon a pose. Come out of a pose if it produces a sharp pain or exacerbates a joint strain or injury, if you cannot breathe smoothly, or if you simply feel overwhelmed. An experienced Yin teacher can help you modify any pose with props, which can bring you to a level of comfort you might not otherwise be able to achieve.
Powers says that the breath is your best guide: "If your breath feels tight, shortened, or jagged, if you're holding it, or if you're involuntarily in survival mode, pushing your way through your hold time rather than being curious and interested in the experience, it's a good idea to come out."
With the exception of Seal and Saddle, begin by holding each pose in this sequence for 1 to 3 minutes. Eventually, you can build up to 3 to 5 minutes. Seal and Saddle may require that you begin with a shorter hold of 1 minute, eventually building up to 3 to 5 minutes.
Benefits Lengthens the inner groins and lower-back muscles; increases range of motion in hips.
Instructions Sit with the soles of your feet touching, about a foot in front of your pelvis. Keep your sacrum tilted slightly forward. If your hips allow it, lean forward. When you reach an appropriate edge, let your back round gently.
Modifications For knee or hip strain, support the thighs with blankets or bolsters. For neck strain, support the head with bolsters or hands. For sacroiliac strain or disk displacement, lie with your back on the floor and feet on a wall.
Contraindications Knee strain or sharp back pain.
Saddle (do Sphinx if you have knee issues)
Benefits Restores and maintains the arch of the lower spine; restores and maintains full knee flexion; lengthens quadriceps.
Instructions Sit on your heels, knees slightly wider than hip width. Moving slowly and evenly, lean back until you reach an appropriate edge. You may be able to bring your head or even your upper back to the floor; otherwise, place a support (blankets or a bolster) under your middle and upper back. Come out of the pose on an inhalation, using your arms and abdominal muscles and trying not to torque to one side.
Modifications For knee pain, sit on a low support; in addition, place a thin towel directly behind the knees, between the calves and hamstrings. For ankle pain, place a towel or blanket roll at the bottom of the shins.
Contraindications Limited knee flexion or sharp back pain.
Benefits Restores and maintains the arch of the lower spine.
Instructions Lie belly-down with your forearms on the floor in front of you, shoulder-width apart. To go deeper, place your hands about a foot in front of your shoulders and turn them out. Straighten the elbows. To lessen the intensity, take the hands farther away from you. Exhale to come out of the pose.
Modifications To decrease sensation in your lower back, try engaging or releasing the buttocks and varying the space between the legs.
Contraindications Disk displacement or sharp back pain.
Benefits Stretches external hip rotators; opens the groins and the lower back.
Instructions Begin on all fours. Cross your right knee behind your left so that your right knee and shin come to the floor, then sit back between your feet so that your knees stack on top of each other. If your lower back rounds, sit on firm folded blankets to keep your sacrum tilted forward. If your hips allow it, lean forward, letting your upper back round gently.
Modifications For discomfort in the lower knee, do the pose with that leg pointing straight forward. If the hip sensations are overwhelmingly intense, sit on blankets or bolsters and use your hands on the floor to bear some of your weight.
Contraindications Knee pain. Omit forward bending if you have sciatica or disk displacement or are in your second or third trimester of pregnancy.
Benefits Opens the hips, groins, hamstrings, and lower back.
Instructions Sit with your legs spread 90 to 120 degrees apart. If your lower back rounds, sit on firm folded blankets. If possible, walk your hands forward with a straight back. Rest on a bolster if needed. When you reach an appropriate edge, let your back round gently.
Modifications For pain at the back of the knees or painfully tight hamstrings, bend your knees; you can also place a rolled blanket or towel behind each knee or engage your quadriceps. Alternatively, bend toward one leg at a time, either facing each leg in turn or sidebending over each leg.
Contraindications For lumbar disk displacement or sciatica, remain upright.
Benefits Stretches, rotates, and releases tension around the spine.
Instructions Lying on your back with your arms straight out at shoulder height, bend your left knee and draw it toward your chest; then draw your left leg to the right and let it descend toward the floor. Gently draw your left shoulder toward the floor as well. Experiment with the following: moving the knee closer to your feet or your head, extending your left arm overhead, and keeping your head neutral and turning it to each side.
Modifications For lower-back sensitivity, bend both knees in the twist. For rotator cuff injury or other shoulder pain, use blankets or a cushion to support the shoulder that you are twisting away from.
Contraindications Continued shoulder pain or sharp lower-back pain.
Benefits Opens the hips, groins, and hamstrings.
Instructions Lying on your back, draw both knees toward your chest, shoulder-width apart. Aim the soles of your feet straight toward the ceiling, making your shins perpendicular to the floor. Grasp the soles of your feet (from the inner or outer edges, whichever you prefer) or your toes, and actively draw your knees toward your armpits. Experiment, first allowing your tailbone and sacrum to curl up toward the ceiling, then drawing them more toward the floor.
Modifications If holding the feet is uncomfortable, hold the backs of the thighs.
Contraindications Pregnancy; neck, disk, sacral, groin, or knee injuries. Finish After you come out of the pose, bring both knees briefly to your chest, then stretch them out along the floor and spend 5 to 10 minutes in Savasana (Corpse Pose) as your final relaxation.
Sara's note: I'm pleased to find more and more Restorative and Yin Yoga information on both Yoga Journal and Yoga + Joyful Living magazines lately. We all have such "busy" lives that taking some time to settle in and listen to our bodies can be more refreshing than pushing through another active practice. Enjoy!